The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Escaping the Trap of Guilt

Escaping the Trap of Guilt

AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

If you sincerely care about pleasing God with your life, Satan is going to do everything in his power to convince you that there is friction between you and God. He will do this by whispering lies into your mind and manipulating your emotions. The end result will be you walking around with a nagging sense that all is not right between you and God.

Your natural response to this kind of attack is not to question the source of your guilt, but to immediately accept the idea that God is upset with you and then start searching for ways that you can appease Him. This leads to multiple confessions of the same sins, awkward prayer sessions, and great distress of soul. In this post, you’ll learn how to recognize when Satan is trying to suck you into this most effective trap and you will learn how to avoid being such an easy target. We all start off as very easy victims for demons—for them, taking us down is like fishing in a bucket. This is because we are young, unseasoned, and uninformed about all the cunning tricks that demons will try to pull on us.

UNDERSTANDING THE MIND OF SATAN

Suppose you meet someone who you really like and a friendship rapidly forms between the two of you. Now suppose that I’ve known this new friend of yours for a very long time and I hate him. I hate him so much, that when I hear about how excited he is to have met you, I make it my mission in life to destroy that relationship. How can I do this? How can I use this new relationship to really stick it to the person that I hate? Well, if I can get you to reject his friendship, that would be perfect. Now the best way for me to do this is to make you doubt his sincere love for you. Right away I’ll try to get some nasty rumors circulating that make you think your new friend really doesn’t like you as much as he says he does. Who will I get to circulate these rumors for me? It has to be someone whose opinion you respect—people who you believe know this friend of yours better than you do.

Who does Satan find to fill your mind with false rumors about the way God feels about you? Pastors and teachers and other Christians who seem to know more than you do. He tries hard to lead you to a church where the speakers aren’t listening to God, and therefore they are easy for him to manipulate. Then he feeds them sermons filled with twisted truths and warped applications of Scripture while you sit there feeling all anxious and upset. By the time you leave, you’re plagued with guilt over how you’re not serving God well enough or being perfect enough, and Satan can ride with you in your car the whole way home and keep going over and over those lies that he’s planted in your mind.

This is all fine, but secondhand gossip isn’t going to get Satan far enough. It’s a hassle for him to try and keep you constantly exposed to his best zingers, and too often his clumsy human helpers fumble the ball. So if he really wants to mess up your relationship with God before it can grow too strong, he needs to attack you directly. But of course if he comes at you exuding the hatred that he feels towards both you and God, you’re going to go running to God for protection and you won’t listen to a word he says. So he has to hide his true feelings about you and quietly sidle up alongside of you in a way that your spirit won’t be able to detect. Then he can whip out one of his skillful impersonations of the Holy Spirit and plant some thought in your mind that has to do with something from your past.

“Flipping people off on the road is hardly Christlike. What kind of message do you think that sends when they see the fish on your bumper? Do you think Jesus appreciates you misrepresenting Him like that?”

The more you care about pleasing God, the less hard Satan has to work to find something to criticize you about. Any little flaw will do. And of course the minute he points out your wrong behavior, you feel bad and you try to confess.

You: “God, I’m so sorry I lost my temper like that.”

Here is where the fun begins as Satan continues his impersonation of the Holy Spirit. Speaking with a slight edge to his tone, he says: “This isn’t the first time. If you’re going to act like this, you should take the fish off of your car. I have enough people dragging My Name through the mud in this world. I don’t need any more help from you.”

And of course you rush to re-apologize, feeling worse than you did before. How fun for Satan.

Satan: “Do you ever stop to think about what that particular hand signal means anyway? It’s really a very crude and disgusting gesture. This is how you act when you haven’t even been out of church for five minutes?”
You: “I’m so sorry, God. Please forgive me.”
Satan:“Your apologies obviously aren’t sincere when you keep doing the same sins over and over again. This temper of yours is really getting in the way of our relationship. I have given you the resources you need to control your temper. Why are you refusing to use them?”
You: (awkward silence)
Satan:“It’s called rebellion, and rebellion displeases Me. Don’t expect Me to be blessing your life and listening to your prayers when you’re putting so little effort into honoring Me. When you clean up your act, then we can continue to move forward. But I want to see evidence of real change before I accept you back into My good graces.”

By now you feel just terrible, and Satan is in the perfect position. All he has to do is get some distracted soul to cut you off on the freeway tomorrow and he knows you’ll lose control again because you have such a short fuse. Then the he can start another long discussion about how disgusted God is with you. If he keeps this cycle up, pretty soon you’ll be walking around with your head down, feeling convinced that God wants nothing to do with you. And all of this was so easy because you didn’t know how to see through Satan’s act.

RAISING YOUR GUARD

Satan’s goal is to create a sense of division between you and God so that you will shut down in the relationship. Once you understand that this is what he’s going for, you need to make one hard and fast rule in life: NEVER STOP TALKING TO GOD. No matter how rotten you feel or how mad you think God is at you, don’t stop talking to Him. Keep attempting conversation and keep sharing your heart with Him, for God is NEVER going to cut you off. As a Christian, you are His dearly loved child and you have entered into an ETERNAL covenant of peace with Him. The covenant that Christ ushered in through His death on a cross is not a conditional contract with a bunch of fine print on the bottom. God has assured us that we never, ever, ever have to worry about being spiritually cut off from Him once we are accepted by Him through reverential submission to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Once you refuse to severe communications on your end, Satan’s job becomes a lot tougher. But now let’s make him really strain by equipping you with some critical truths about how God responds to sin in your life.

THE HOLY SPIRIT’S CONVICTION

God’s conviction is not a guilt trip, nor is it a shaming lecture. Conviction is guidance. When the Holy Spirit convicts you, He is like an instructor who sees that his favorite student is going about a project in the wrong way so he gently says, “Don’t do it that way. Do it this way instead.” When God convicts you, He isn’t mad at you, He is trying to help you. He is expressing loving concern for your spiritual welfare. We often make very bad choices in life. God understands that we don’t usually recognize the mess we are getting ourselves into because we are like little children who aren’t very wise and who often don’t stop to consider what the long-term consequences of our actions will be. So when the Holy Spirit suddenly raises a warning flag, He is not criticizing us, nor is He expressing irritation and disappointment in us. Instead He is like a father who quickly snatches his little son’s hand right before the boy steps out into a busy street. “Don’t go out there,” the father says. “Stay with me.”

WHEN GOD GETS UPSET

God most definitely gets upset with Christians. If you’ve been taught otherwise, you’ve been misinformed. Unfortunately, God’s anger is poorly understood in the Church. We either try to pretend it doesn’t exist or we teach that He is ready to flip out on us over every little thing. Neither of these extremes is correct.

Let’s get back to the father who tries to pull his son to safety. Is the father angry at the boy for trying to walk out into the street? No, he’s just concerned. The father doesn’t expect a little boy to have the wisdom of an adult. On the contrary, he expects him to go sticking his fingers into electrical outlets, touching hot stove burners, and trying to drink poison chemicals. This is why the father sticks so close to his son and carefully monitors all of his activities—not because the father is just waiting for the boy to screw up, but because he dearly loves him and wants to protect him from harm. When the Holy Spirit convicts you, He is acting on those same warm feelings of affection that a father has towards his small son. Only in God’s case, His love for you is infinitely deeper and better than any human’s love could be.

But now let’s suppose the boy feels his father snatch his hand, he sees the dangerous cars that the father points out to him, and he understands that his father is trying to protect him from harm. But instead of cooperating and returning to his father’s side, the boy yanks his hand away and races towards the street. The father rushes to snatch him again, but this time the boy swings his fist at his father’s leg and shouts, “NO! Leave me alone!!” This is rebellion. This is a heart attitude of “I know what you want me to do and I am so not going to do it.” When this is the attitude that our souls take with God, then God starts getting irritated with us. Does He hate us? Never. Does He get so mad that He revokes our salvation and damns us to Hell? No, because God stays true to the covenant He made with us.

WHY GOD STAYS UPSET

Along with understanding WHEN God gets upset, you also need to understand WHY He stays upset. It’s commonly taught that His anger is focused on our actions—some outward wrong behavior that we are engaged in. But this is not correct, and it leads to many false assumptions about how to get right with God. If I am a porn addict, for example, and I think God’s anger is focused on my behavior, then I will naturally think I can never have a good relationship with Him until I kick my habit. When I find that I can’t kick my habit, I will conclude that my relationship with God is permanently damaged, and then I will spiral down into defeat and despair.

Yet the truth is that God’s anger never focuses on our behavior—it focuses on our heart attitude. Remember that God doesn’t even begin to get upset with us until we start rebelling against Him, and rebellion is an ATTITUDE not an ACTION. Once God becomes upset with us, He remains so only as long as we continue to defy Him in our hearts. God wants our rebellious attitude to change back to an obedient attitude. An obedient attitude is when we say in our hearts, “Pleasing You is what matters most to me–I really want You to have Your way in my life.” The moment our attitudes become obedient, our souls are back in alignment with God, and He ceases to be angry with us. God’s pleasure with us is restored the very instant we return to an obedient heart attitude. This is called “repenting.” Repenting is not apologizing over and over for the same sins. Repenting is not about hating ourselves or wallowing in shame. Repentance is simply a change of heart attitude. It’s when we stop rebelling against God, and we go back to sincerely desiring His will in our lives.

We can’t fake repentance. God sees our hearts and He knows if we’re sincere or not. The moment we sincerely repent, everything is once again fine between us and God. There might still be activity in our lives which He wants to change, and He will walk us through the steps in making those changes. But even before we complete the changes God wants, He will not be upset with us if our heart attitudes are obedient.

THE DECEPTION

Whenever possible, Satan will try to deceive you about the WHEN and WHY of God’s anger. It is a misunderstanding of these two principles that is behind most ongoing feelings of guilt. Let’s compare Satan’s lies to God’s truth.

You ask: “WHEN does God become upset with me?”
Satan says: “The first moment you do something which goes against God’s moral code.”
God says: “The moment I explain to you that I want you to make a change and you refuse to even care about My desires.”

There is a big difference between these two answers. It’s also very important to note that a lot of time can pass between the moment you do something wrong and the moment God convicts you about it. Suppose you grew up being taught that abortion is morally acceptable. So you get an abortion and you have no idea that God considers it wrong to do. Five years later, the Holy Spirit educates you about His feelings about abortion. Now is He also going to accuse you of willfully defying Him? No, because you didn’t. At the time you got your abortion, you had no idea it was wrong and God didn’t convict you about it. Here’s a key principle: you can’t become guilty of rebellion until God convicts you. You can’t disobey until you’re given a command. In this scenario, God is well aware of the fact that you’ve already had an abortion and that the damage is done. He does not expect you to travel back in time to undo your mistake, nor is He going to hold some grudge towards you for the past. Why should He? You were not defying Him and He knows it.

Now Satan is going to try and spin this whole situation differently. The moment God educates you about His view of abortion, Satan will try to convince you that God became furious with you the moment you did the thing that He hates five years ago. Satan tries to get you focused on ACTION instead of attitude. He will say it’s irrelevant that you didn’t know better at the time—he will insist that you have massively offended God by your behavior. And now that you’ve gone five years without apologizing for it, well, clearly God is in a major huff. It doesn’t matter that you’re genuinely sorry for what you did—what matters is that you sinned. You did what you weren’t supposed to do. Your ACTIONS were wrong even though your attitude was not. According to Satan, actions are all that count.

Do you see how Satan tries to flip the truth around on you? And once he gets you focused on your actions instead of your attitudes, he can easily keep you feeling plagued with guilt. He can make you feel trapped in an impossible bind because you can’t go back and change the past. Let’s look at the whole chain of deceptions that Satan will try and throw at you.

You ask: “WHEN does God become upset with me?”
Satan says: “The first moment you do something which goes against God’s moral code.”
God says: “The moment I explain to you that I want you to make a change and you refuse to even care about My desires.”

You ask: “WHY does God stay upset with me?”
Satan says: “Because you did something that He says is wrong.”
God says: “Because in your heart, you are refusing to care about what I want.”

You ask: “HOW can I get back in a good place with God?”
Satan says: “You can’t. The past is set in stone. The damage is permanent. God is never going to fully forgive your sins. He is going to keep reminding you about them for the rest of your life.”
God says: “The moment you sincerely want to please Me again, all is well between us. The past is behind us. Your current flaws and failings can’t come between us. I want your heart. As long as you are giving Me that, I am very pleased with you.”

Notice how easy God makes it for you to please Him. Notice how impossible Satan makes it. To combat guilt effectively, we need to understand the truth about how God operates. When feelings of guilt arise, we can quickly uncover a deception by asking ourselves the following questions:

“Do I sincerely want God to have His way in my life, even if what He wants upsets me?”
If the answer is yes, then God is not upset with you.
If the answer is no, then you can fix this problem by asking the Holy Spirit to align your priorities with His. If you can sincerely make such a request, then you obviously care about what God wants in your soul, regardless of what state your emotions are in.

“Is there something God is asking me to do that I’m not doing?”
Are you receiving some kind of instruction from the Holy Spirit? Remember that God convicts us because He loves us and wants us to experience His best. If God is asking you to do something that scares or upsets you, then once again ask the Holy Spirit to align your priorities with His. We can’t always find the courage to force our feet forward down the path of obedient actions, but we can still retain right attitudes in our hearts by wanting God have His way in our lives. As long as our attitudes are obedient, God is NOT going to be upset with us. Instead, He will be pleased, and He will help us deal with our distress about obeying Him with our actions (see Confronting Your Convictions).

Once you can determine that you sincerely want God’s way in your life and that you are not intentionally ignoring His convictions, then you know the guilt you are feeling is being manufactured by Satan. Satan is very good at agitating our emotions and creating nagging feelings of distress. He wants you to look to your emotions, not the Holy Spirit, as your guide in life. If you do this, then every time you feel emotionally off balance, he can convince you that all is not right between you and God. Our emotions are like dry leaves which scoot across the ground in response to every passing breeze—the slightest thing affects them. This makes them very fickle, false guides which cannot possibly be counted on. We must look directly to God for truth, and rely on Him to clearly communicate when there is something He wants. We must also remember that God never tells us to obey Him in our own strength, but that He walks alongside us in life and empowers us to do the things that He wants. When we see sinful behaviors in our lives which God is not giving us the resources to overcome, we need to stay focused on our desire for Him to have His way in our lives and trust that He will. Without God, we can do NOTHING, so it’s utterly futile to beat ourselves up for not having resources that He is refusing to give us. When we remember that our soul attitude is the most important thing to God, then we can counter any guilt trips by saying, “God sees my heart and He knows that I sincerely care about pleasing Him. All is well between us, and I am not going to listen to any message which tries to say that God cares more about my actions than my internal attitude.”

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