The Message of Jesus: Going on a Guilt Trip?


Guilt trips. They’re all the rage, you know. Everybody’s taking them. No date restrictions. Availability unlimited. People of all ages are welcome. But there are a few hidden costs.

Among other things, guilt trips cost you your stomach lining, your sleep, your sense of humor, your ability to have fun, your productivity and any realistic sense of who you really are and what your purpose really is.

But we stand in line for tickets anyway, as though it’s our chief call and duty to leave the world of confidence and hope and set sail for the land of dread and gloom. We stuff every mental container we own with depressing emotions, fear and blame, and then, with the whole load strapped on securely, we lug it across the gangplank and down the narrow hall to our room deep in the bowels of the S.S. Guilty Conscience.

Yet we’re religious people, people who know that God forgives sin and that we don’t have to be crushed down with burdens of guilt.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe religion is not the solution to guilt after all. Maybe, if the truth were known, we’d find that religion and guilt are sweethearts. After all, wherever you find one, the other will usually be buzzing nearby like some annoying housefly.

That’s because religion is designed to give people a list of things to do to stay on good terms with whatever deity they profess to worship. The trouble is, no one has ever kept their particular list of rules well enough to be absolutely sure their deity isn’t one day going to hurl a nasty curse their way. Religion isn’t enough. All it manages to do is make people feel worse for their failure. It pumps out guilt like some magic grinder gone mad. What people really need is some hope, some good news, not more religious talk about how bad they are.

Good news

Christians should know better, of course. We have the gospel – the good news. Sad to say, however, a lot of us are experts at turning even the gospel into religion, which means we end up spending more time on guilt trips (or sending others on guilt trips) than we do resting at home with our Lord of grace.

Freedom from a guilty conscience is so foreign to most of us that as soon as it happens we start feeling guilty for not feeling guilty. It’s as though we think we stand in better with God if we refuse to feel forgiven and clean.

Hebrews 10:19-22 says,

Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.

This passage speaks of confidence – confidence to be at home in the presence of God, not hiding guilt-ridden behind a trashcan in the corner. That confidence is not confidence in ourselves or in how well we’ve behaved; it’s confidence in God himself who loves us so much that he sent his Son to remove our guilt and give us all the privileges of beloved children.

The gospel, thank God, is not religion. It is the end of religion. It’s good news, the good news that God loves you so much that he sent his Son to bear the curse of your sinfulness and be raised from the dead so you can be forever at peace with him.

You don’t need religion to be at peace with God; you just need to trust your Savior. You don’t have to pack your guilt-trip suitcase with plenty of fear, doubt, worry and anxiety. You don’t have to wonder whether God really loves you, or really forgives you, or really has saved you.

Instead of a guilt trip, why not believe the good news – the good news that cleanses you from a guilty conscience?

Author: J. Michael Feazell

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