We all have a past, but how do we move forward when the weight of our past impacts our ability to live in the present?
- What comes to mind when you think of “guilt”?
- Does guilt express itself in your current relationships? If yes, how?
- Has the type of Christianity you’ve experienced in the past condemned you or offered you freedom from condemnation? Explain.
- Have you ever felt that your past disqualifies you from a relationship with God? If yes, explain.
- Is someone from your past waiting for you to make the first move? If yes, what would it take for you to make that move?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So today we’re in part two of the series that we just began this past week called “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” And the subtitle kinda says it all and kinda sets the direction for what we’re gonna talk about these next few weeks. How, this is kind of a how-to series, how to say “no” to the emotions that compete for control, how to say no to the emotions that compete for control.
So to kinda get us moving in the same direction today as we talk about what I wanna talk about for the next few minutes, I want you to turn to someone, preferably someone you don’t know, and I want you to answer this question. What would you do [laughter] if you knew you could get away with it? What would you… I’m just kidding, please don’t do that, because we don’t even wanna know. In fact, we could probably guess. We already know that when the external filters are off, when the fear is gone, when we know we can’t get caught, what happens in those moments and what happens in these surveys, this is what makes it so terrifying, is that our hearts are exposed. All of a sudden people discover what’s in there. They just hadn’t thought about it. And the people asking the questions discover what’s in there, and they’re not even sure they wanna hear about it.
And, because of our childhood and our culture and because we’re responsible people, we learned to monitor our behavior, like I said last time, in order to get jobs and get dates and get second dates and preferably second dates with the same person over and over. So we learn to monitor our behavior, but no one’s ever taught us, in fact, we’re not even encouraged to monitor what’s going on in our hearts. In fact, worse than that, our culture oftentimes encourages us to follow our hearts. Is that a good idea? It all depends upon what’s in there.
Or let me describe it this way. Shaking this glass container or tipping this glass container over does not determine what comes out. What is already in here determines what comes out of here. More importantly, does anyone on the front row want a Skittle? [laughter] You probably don’t. Let me say that again. Shaking this does not determine what comes out of here. Shaking this exposes what is already in here. And so it is with you. And so it is with me. And so it is with us.
So, bottom line is we should heed Solomon’s advice. Solomon was the king of Israel, lived way, way, way long time before Jesus, and he made a whole bunch of extraordinary statements in this document called Proverbs. It’s part of the Jewish scripture and a part of the Christian scripture, and here’s what he said. He said, above all else, as in, this is the most important thing you can do… I mean, this is an extreme statement. Above everything else… guard your heart.” Why? Because everything you do…
Everything you do, everything you say, ultimately flows from it. Solomon says, “It goes beyond behavior.” Jesus says, “It goes beyond behavior.” We have to learn to monitor our hearts because what’s in here, what’s in here is eventually gonna be out there. Think about this, what your parents, what your parents carried in their hearts eventually spilled out on each other and ultimately spilled out on you. And as we said last time, what’s in your heart, what’s in my heart, what’s in our hearts will eventually spill out on those who are closest to us. So this is a big, big, big deal.
So I’d like to begin with one particular thing that all of us need to know what to do with it, many of us have in our hearts, in fact, I think I’m sure all of us carry a little bit of this. The question is, is it the boss of us, and what do we do with this thing that resides in us? Because we’ve lived long enough to accumulate some of it. So today, I wanna talk about this word: Guilt. Guilt. Guilt, is the emotion, because it is an emotion, you feel guilt, right? Or, you should when you’re guilty. Guilt is the emotion that’s associated with acknowledging, we’re gonna talk about that, when we’ve done something wrong. It’s the emotion associated when we acknowledge, when it comes to our mind that we’ve done something wrong.
And there’s lots of different kinds of guilt. There’s false guilt. That is you feel guilty and you’re not guilty. You feel bad about something that you either didn’t do or you feel bad about doing something that wasn’t even a big deal. That’s false guilt. We’re not gonna talk about that today. The guilt that we’re most associated with, and that we’re most concerned with today is the guilt associated because you are guilty. You did something wrong, you did something wrong to someone and you’ve hurt someone and you rehearse it and over time if you’re not careful, what you did in the past, begins to define you. And then there’s the guilt that is real because we did something, but we don’t feel it, most of the time. There’s the guilt that it was so bad, what we did was so bad, in that season, in that relationship, in that job, whatever it might be, and we did it, we’re guilty but it is so terrifying, and it’s so overwhelming that we just stuff it, we stuff it, we stuff it. We know we’re guilty, and then every once in a while it comes looming up, and when it does, we all do the same thing. We retreat to the narrative that we have created, that allows us to carry our guilt without it overwhelming us.
And we all have a narrative. The narrative goes like this, “Well, it wasn’t just me. Well, they participated as well. Well, I was only 20. Okay, I was 25, but I was only in my 20s,” right? “Well, I was a college freshman. Well, it was my first job. Yes, I’m guilty. Yes, I did it.” But we create a narrative and the narrative allows us to distance ourself from our actual guilt and we suppress it. But here’s the thing, and here’s why we’re gonna talk about this as uncomfortable as
it is, denying it, denying it, well, or excusing it, denying it or being defined by it, always empowers it, and guilt throws you and throws me off balance. And when guilt throws us off-balance in our relationships, especially the relationships most important to us, guilt becomes the boss of us, and here’s why: Because guilt creates what I refer to as a debt-debtor relationship. A debt-debtor relationship. Guilt creates a debt-debtor relationship within us, between us and ourselves, and between us and other people.
Every single wrong, and hear this is so important for where we’re going in the series, every single wrong you’ve ever committed against another person, there was a sense in which you took something from them, you stole something from them. And because you took something from them, either something physical or mental or psychological or lots of different realms, we create this disparity within them, but when we take something from them, we owe them. So there’s this debt-debtor relationship. In fact, we’ve created a terminology for this, we use it all the time. We say I owe her an apology. I owe her. I took something, and now I need to give her something back. I can’t give her back what I took exactly But I owe her something, or I don’t know how I can make it up to them. Somehow, I owe them, I’m in debt to them.
But here’s the trick, and here’s what makes it so difficult. We don’t experience guilt as debt. We don’t experience guilt as debt. We experience guilt as a weight, a weight that throws us off balance. In fact, some of you, because of your unresolved guilt, that we’re gonna talk about in just a minute, you are off balance in your parenting, you, over-parent or you’re a permissive parent as you’re responding to something in your past, you are too aggressive in your relationships, you’re too timid in your relationships. Your ability to forgive, your ability to love were off balance because of this debt-debtor relationship, and because we experience it as a weight, an unnecessary weight, it throws us off balance, specifically in our relationship to ourselves, and our relationship to other people. Again, we have terminology for this. When you finally resolve the guilt, when you finally get rid of guilt, how do you feel?
This is the terminology we use, we say, “You know what, I just feel like a weight has been lifted off of me”. But here’s the other tricky thing about guilt. We carry the weight everywhere we go. And if we don’t resolve it, and if we don’t connect some dots that we’re gonna do in just a few minutes guilt evolves into something very different and something very sinister. Guilt evolves into anger, because at the end of the day, you are angry with yourself and I’m angry with myself. I did not live up to my expectations. And the problem with anger is that anger leaks.
You’ve disappointed you, but now you’re constantly disappointed with the people who are closest to you. You didn’t live up to your expectations and now nobody else can live up to your expectations, either. See guilty people don’t feel the debt-debtor relationship guilty people feel the weight and the weight throws us off balance. But here is the really difficult part of this. Guilty people. Guilty people and we are all guilty. Guilty people rarely ever make the connection between their guilt and their anger, they are rarely able to put their finger on the source of their fury. And when anybody ever points it out, they are quick. You are quick to point out what’s wrong in the other person. And consequently their failures, my failures, your failures, disappear to the recesses of our hearts while everybody else’s failures are so plain and evident to see…
Now, there’s a really good reason why we don’t wanna face our guilt. Because to face it and to embrace it leaves us with no recourse it leaves us standing condemned. There’s no recourse. There is no way to undo the past, you can’t go back and be a freshman again, right? We can’t undo we can’t un-say you can’t un-leave you can’t be un-unfaithful. You can’t un-drink too much, you can’t un-work too much, you can’t return child’s childhood you can’t return his or her first marriage. So again, we create a narrative. And we just try to move on. Except you can’t really do that either. Because your past. Your past, my past, the past was not designed to be left completely behind. It’s your story, it’s part of your story.
And as much as we wanna distance ourself from it, if you don’t resolve it, it travels with you. Here’s the great news, You do not have to be defined by your past and neither do you have to spend this season of your life denying your past.
There is a third option that Jesus offered. And someone who experienced this third option in a way that we can’t even begin to imagine, is the one that put it into words best. The Apostle Paul wrote something I wanna read you in just a minute, but real quickly, this is so important when I read what I’m about to read that he wrote if you grew up in church, I don’t want you to hear me reading the Bible, and if you didn’t grow up in church, and you don’t have much use for the Bible, I definitely don’t want you to hear me reading the Bible.
What I want you to hear are the words of a man who had more regret than everybody in this room, combined. A man who carried more guilt than everybody in your room combined. A man who carried more guilt and more regret than we can even begin to imagine this was not theory for him. This is a man whose life experiences left him so broken and so ashamed, and so guilty because the Apostle Paul steps on to these pages of history as most of you know as Saul of Tarsus, and Saul of Tarsus began arresting torturing and in some cases, imprisoning and in some cases, executing innocent men and women in the name of God.
And here’s the amazing thing about his story. He didn’t deny his guilt. He didn’t sand off the rough edges of his guilt. He documented it we know his story, because he tells us his story. But instead of allowing it to define him, and instead of spending every minute of his day trying to distance himself from it and deny it, the Apostle Paul, when he became a Jesus follower, he discovered this third way, and so in a letter he wrote to Christians living in Nero’s Rome here’s what he wrote, and here’s what he wrote to them and here’s what he wrote for you.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation, therefore something new has happened. It’s a new day, it’s a new era, it’s a new covenant. God has done something new. And as a result of what God has done there is therefore now no condemnation. There is a space, there is a place, there is a space, there is a place where the actual past, where your actual past is neither forgotten nor condemning. It can be faced even though it can’t be erased, it can be embraced, and you can live without condemnation. You no longer have to pretend it didn’t happen, you no longer have to live with that narrative that gives you excuses you can face it, and yet, not feel the terrifying consequences, and condemnation either self-condemnation, or condemnation from God. And where is this space? He tells us.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Those who are willing to face the condemning truth about themselves acknowledge it to God and surrender to the lordship or the boss-ship of his son stand un-condemned and are able to regain their balance. And why is this true?” He tells us, he says, “Because through Christ Jesus, that is through a relationship with Christ Jesus, through embracing everything God through Christ has done for us. Through stepping into this new covenant relationship with God that has different standards and different rules and a different way of thinking and a different relationship with God,” He said, “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life,” I’ll come back to that, “Has set you free from this other law; the law of sin and death. The law of sin and death is simply this, that when you sin you’re stuck, that when you hurt somebody, you’re just guilty, and you’re guilty forever and there’s no way to go back and undo it.
Nothing, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can grovel in it or you can deny it, but you’re stuck. Guilt is the boss of you.” He says, “But the law of the spirit of life has set you free from that. How?” He says, “Let me tell you how, for what the law was powerless to do.” Your rules, your personal rules of behavior how you should have behaved in that relationship, how you should have behaved in that marriage, how you should have behaved at work, the law whether it’s the federal law, the state law, the municipal law, the laws of marriage, whatever it might be, the only thing laws can do are set the standard as low as we can go, and then once we go too low, it simply condemns us and in some cases it punishes us.
But the law can’t restore you. And the law can’t set you free from your past. The law is a constant reminder, you’re just
guilty, good luck with that, live with it, deny it, come up with some narrative, but live the rest of your life limping around and live the rest of your life off balance. And Paul discovered that when Jesus came to create this brand new kind of relationship with God, that God through Christ did something even the best law in the world cannot do. For, what the law was powerless to do, are you ready for this? This is such good news, God did.
How did he do it? He says, “Hang on I’m about to tell you. By,” means by which, “By sending His own Son, His own perfect son who wasn’t guilty of anything. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful death… Of sinful flesh,” this is so powerful, “That the God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is why, the fact that God came to live among us in the person of Jesus. This is why this is so extraordinarily important. That God didn’t send Jesus down here just to show us how to live, though he did, just the show us how to love though he did, just to show us what God was like though he did. He sent him in the form of sinful flesh to take upon Himself what you deserved and what I deserved so that we could be free.
And so that we wouldn’t be trapped between either facing it, and being defined by it or denying it and living a lie. He said, “For what the law couldn’t do God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” That at the cross, Jesus took what you actually deserved on himself. That at the cross, Jesus took exactly precisely what you actually deserved on himself. And do you know what He took on himself? You say, “well, he took my sin, he took your sin.” But it’s even better than that. He took on himself the condemnation associated with your sin.
He took the divine condemnation, he took the self-condemnation, he took all the condemnation. And when Paul recognized this and stepped into this and began living this, he said, “Church, Christians, those of you who are almost as guilty as me, those of you who are less guilty than me, if it’s possible to be more guilty than me, when you step into and receive what God has done for you, in Christ, there is no condemnation.” He says, “Come on, bing your guilt to me, with your eyes wide open, no stories, no excuses, no narratives, no blaming and together,” God says, “Together you and I will agree that you are guilty. You actually broke his heart, you actually betrayed her. You lied to get your way, you were irresponsible with your body, you knew better, but you did it anyway, so let’s own it. You are guilty but you are not condemned.” God says, “When I see you, I don’t see that, and I don’t want you to see it either because I want you to see you the way I see you, and I don’t want it to stop there, I want you to see her the way I see her and I want you to see him the way that I see him.”
He finishes this, with this, he says, “And so, God condemned something, but not you. God actually condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us.” Do you know what that means? That means that God has restored you to guiltless relationship with Him in spite of your actual guilt. That God chooses to love you and to listen to you and to relate to you as if it never even happened. You’re guilty because you did it, but you’re not condemned because Jesus took your guilt upon himself.
Now, is this just a bunch of theological gobbledygook? It’s like, “Andy, I don’t even understand what the verses said. You kind of smoothed right over it.” I know ’cause Paul was very complex in his language. Is this a big deal? This is a really big deal, and this is a really big deal for you and it’s a really big deal for everybody close to you. Four big implications I wanna share with you real quickly. Because this is true when you step into a relationship with God through Christ, when you step into this new covenant relationship that Jesus came to inaugurate for everybody on planet Earth that wants to take advantage of it. Four things happen.
Number one: You actually forfeit the right to condemn yourself because you are not yours to condemn. Let me say that again. You forfeit… When you become a Christ follower, you give up your right to condemn yourself because you don’t belong to you anymore. Guilt is not the boss of you, you don’t get to be the boss of you. You got a brand new boss and your boss says, “You are not condemned,” which means, you can tell that voice of shame, “Hey, I know I’m feeling it again. I’m reminded again. But let me just tell you something, shame. Let me tell you something, guilt. Yes, I’m guilty, but I’m not condemned. Yes, I’m guilty. But I’ve lost my right to condemn myself because I have been purchased with a price. I have been purchased with the blood of Christ. I am not my own, I lost my right to condemn myself.” Yourself is not condemned because the one who purchased you declares you guilty, it’s in the past, it’s paid for. You are not condemned.
Number two: Your guilt will remind you, but it will not define you. You did it, but you are not what you did. God condemned sin, he did not condemn you. Your past, this is what’s so powerful and this is where I hope that all of you can get and all of us can get. And I know the process I had to go through to get here personally. This is not you, you, you, you, you. This is us, us, us, us, us.
This is what makes it so powerful. Your past, your guilt, your worst sin, your worst day ever, your worst spring break ever, your worst moment ever becomes a pivot point for you. Not to condemn yourself, but to look up in gratitude for God. One day, Jesus was teaching and at the end of a little encounter with a woman who embarrassed the people who are hosting him, he said, “Look, the person who is forgiven the most, loves the most.” The more you’ve been forgiven, the more you have in your past to be embarrassed of, the more that there is that you hope nobody finds out about, but suddenly you’re free to talk about it.
He says the more of the stuff like that there is, the more your capacity is, the greater your capacity is to love and the greater your capacity is to be grateful. Because your past is a pivot point to look up and to express your extraordinary gratitude to God.
Number three: You forfeit the right to condemn others because that would make you a hypocrite. When you finally get this, you forfeit the right to size folks up and just write them off. In fact, I would just say this, my experience is this. The more judgmental you are, the less aware you are of your own sin. In fact, the more judgmental you are, the more likely it is that you have some big sin that you’ve created a narrative for, and all that energy and all that guilt that you’ve never faced up to, it’s just gone somewhere else. Because the people who are confronted with and embrace and face their past and their failures, and bring them with eyes wide open to God, they find it almost impossible to judge anyone else or to condemn anyone else because they know what a hypocrite that would make them.
You are perfectly positioned when you get this, you are perfectly positioned to love the unlovable, you are perfectly positioned to forgive the unforgivable. After all, you freely received. How could you not freely give? Look, that one idea changed the world once.
The last one is this. Now, you’re free to make restitution without expectations and without excuses. Let me tell you what’s not Christianity. Christianity is not this, “I hurt you, I betrayed you, then I went home and I asked God to forgive me, and now things are good.” That’s not Christianity. That’s something else.
Christianity is this, “I hurt you, I faced my guilt, I asked God to forgive me, and he gave me what I don’t deserve. So the least I can do is to come back to you and give you what you do deserve.” That’s Christianity. Your new covenant. Your new covenant marching orders is to love as you have been loved. And God in his perfection humbled himself through Christ to give you what you don’t deserve. How dare we not go back and make restitution to the people that we have hurt? But when we go back, we don’t go back with our narrative, we don’t go back with our excuses, we don’t go back with our stories. We make restitution freely because what of God has done for us freely.
Your restitution. Your apology, Your willingness to go back may unlock a vault of bitterness that’s been eating them alive from the inside.
And it’s possible that your humility as you model the humility of Christ, may be the thing that allows them to deal with stuff in their heart that they don’t know what to do with. So I hate to ask you this question, but maybe this is the reason you’re watching today. Is somebody waiting for you to make the first move? Is somebody waiting for you to make the first move? Is there somebody from your past and they’re carrying the shrapnel of what you did to them, or around them, or what you didn’t do for them? And they’re just hoping and waiting, they think it’ll never happen because they’ve written you off and you’ve gone on, and you’re successful, you live in a different state. You got remarried, you got a second family, you’ve gone on, you got a new job. They think you don’t even have a conscience, it hasn’t bothered you a bit and they’re churning on the inside. Is there someone waiting on you to make the first move? Is your pride keeping you from making it? Is pride the boss of you?
Jesus humbled himself for you and now you’re free to humble yourself for others. So are you ready to stop telling yourself that same old story? Are you ready to stop the excuses? Are you ready to get honest with God, and maybe get honest with others? I understand the tension. We fear the consequences of confession more than the consequences of concealment and this is a mistake because this just makes shame and guilt and denial the boss of you. My past will remind me, it will not define me. Only in Christ, can I stand guilty but not condemned. So here’s some good news. If you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself, the good news is this. Yourself has already been forgiven.