One time a while back he did something wrong and said, “It’s my fault. Everything is my fault!” So now whenever something goes wrong anywhere in the ministry, everybody kids him about it being his fault. It’s kind of become a standing joke around Key Life.
That’s good-natured fun.
But frankly, that comment‒It’s all my fault!‒is no longer funny if you start thinking that everything really is your fault. You would be surprised by just how many Christians live there. I visit quite often myself.
You’ve heard about the client who said to his psychiatrist, “I have an inferiority complex.” The psychiatrist replied, “That’s because you’re inferior.”
But what if you’re not inferior and the psychiatrist is just a whacko con artist?
That happens to Christians with Satan‒“the father of lies” (John 8:44) and the “accuser” of Christians (Revelation 12:10)‒as the whacko con artist. I suppose that when we feel guilty about something and we’re not, we could rebuke Satan in the name of Christ. There is something to be said for that, but let me dig a little deeper with some things I’ve discovered. Because I’m the adult child of an alcoholic parent, I could hardly ever please authority figures (teachers, preachers, and coaches), and I have a rebellious streak in me, I’ve grown quite accustomed to thinking and sometimes saying, “It’s my fault.”
Jesus told me to stop it.
Now before we go too far down this road, let me say that a lot wrong with me really is my fault. “It’s not my brother or my sister, my father or my mother…it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” And just so you know, I’m not the only one. A lot wrong with you really is your fault too. Jeremiah was right: “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). We need to be careful because it’s so easy to justify ourselves, to make excuses, and to rationalize our failure and sin. But we also have to be careful in going the opposite direction‒apologizing when we’ve done nothing wrong, confessing when we haven’t sinned, and repenting when we have nothing of which to repent. When we do that, we become not only sinners (we were that anyway), but also neurotic sinners. That makes us‒and everybody around us‒miserable.
You may have participated in our Born Free seminar from a number of years ago. Buddy Greene, Charlie and Ruth Jones (Peculiar People), Pete Alwinson, and a whole lot of others taught and demonstrated grace as God meant it to be‒the center of the Christian faith. If we don’t get justification, imputation, and adoption before anything else, we don’t really get anything about the Christian faith.
In that seminar there was a section on guilt, teaching the difference between real guilt and false guilt. We talked about the four-step process (simplified but helpful) of healthy guilt: 1) The sinful act, 2) The feeling of guilt, 3) the punishment, and 4) the freedom. I don’t have the time or space to go into it in detail here, but that is the way healthy people deal with guilt. (There is, of course, a biblical side. Jesus took the punishment, #3, for Christians.)
Unhealthy guilt (guilt when we’re not guilty), on the other hand, cycles around and gets stuck between #2 and #3, never reaching #4, because there wasn’t a real #1 in the first place. We become defined by guilt and her ugly sister, shame.
What to do?
First, I’m learning to not let anybody other than God define what is appropriate guilt and what isn’t. One of the great things (and there are a lot of them) about the teaching of Scripture is that it’s a reliable guide for our behavior‒those places where we need to feel guilty and repent, and those places where there is no need to feel guilty and repent. Paul said to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Conversely, all Scripture is profitable for showing us where no reproof and correction are necessary.
I’m learning to not let anybody other than God define what is appropriate guilt and what isn’t.
In G.K. Chesterton’s novel, Manalive (a fun exploration of guilt and innocence), Innocent Smith is accused of bigamy, violence, stealing, sexual misconduct, etc. In each instance, Innocent is shown to be innocent of the charges and revealed as an “out of the box” man whose only desire is for people to discover the joy of life. Someone, in reviewing the book, said that Innocent Smith knew and believed the laws of God, and felt free to ignore those that weren’t from God. That’s a good idea for all of us. So many people try to assume the role of “mother” in our lives. We must remember that we have only one mother...and even she is sometimes wrong.
Second, I’m learning to recognize that we live in a bad and fallen world. Paul was making another point in Romans 8:20-21, but he did reference the reality of the fallen world: “For the creation was subjected in futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption...” In other words, we live in a bad and fallen world. Every time locusts attack a crop in a far away country, it isn’t always appropriate to ask, “What have I done wrong?”
It has become a trend to take almost any disaster in the world, any terrorist attack, or any mass murder, and blame it on the president. It was done with Bush and Obama, and now it’s being done with Trump. The politicizing of tragedy (or anything bad) is not only dishonest; it furthers the belief that everything bad is somebody’s fault. If you’re a partisan political type, it’s “their” fault, and if you’re a neurotic Christian, it’s yours. The truth is that bad stuff happens just because bad stuff happens. Sometimes blame is irrelevant.
Third, one other thing (actually, I’m learning a lot of things but I’m running out of space here), I’m learning not to own anything that isn’t mine...and sometimes to do it aggressively. Paul defends himself in 2 Corinthians 10-11...and probably too much (he says as much when he points out that he’s speaking like a fool). But bottom line, Paul says in effect, “I’m not going to own what’s not mine.” He says that his accusers have said that he is humble when face-to-face with the Corinthians; but bold when he didn’t have to face them. Paul then goes on to say that his accusers don’t know what they’re talking about.
When Satan accuses you, it’s appropriate to tell him to go to hell where he belongs. It’s also appropriate to tell those who take our feelings of guilt (after all, we do know we are sinners and in need of forgiveness) and manipulate us into fulfilling their “godly” agenda, to simply go away. It’s also appropriate, when other Christians tell us that God loves us and they have a wonderful plan for our lives, to ask, “Who made you the boss of me?”
One other thing before I “land this plane.” Everything I’ve written here is irrelevant.
It’s irrelevant because we’re forgiven no matter what the reason for our guilt. If it’s inappropriate and unhealthy guilt, a counselor will probably help as well as a more detailed study of Scripture. But even if you don’t want to do that, you’re forgiven for all your sins and even the ones you think you committed and didn’t. And we’re forgiven when it’s ours and the Holy Spirit calls us to own it. We’re great sinners and have a great Savior. But not only that, when we’re doing better with the obedience thing and yet still feel guilty, we’re forgiven there too. We’re great guilt magnets and we have a great Savior there too. God loves neurotics too!
I may have told you about Richard Dortch, the sidekick on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s television program. Richard got caught up in the scandal of that time and went to prison. After his release, Richard wrote a book, Integrity: How I Lost It and My Journey Back. I had Richard on a television program I hosted back then, The Late Steve Brown Show. (It was on late at night. Some people, though, given the show’s name, thought I had died. And some, I might say, were glad. But I digress...)
At the beginning of the program Richard turned to the camera and in an emotional and powerful way said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I thought that was cool and authentic. But fifteen minutes later, he did it again. And then five minutes after that, he did it again. That was when I said to him, “Richard, stop it! You’re forgiven, okay? God forgives you and so do we! Don’t say it again.”
I would say the same thing to you when you’re eaten up with guilt‒both the healthy and the unhealthy kind‒“Just stop it! You’re forgiven, okay? Don’t say it again.”
He told me to tell you!
There, don’t you feel better?
Don’t thank me. I was glad to help.