Guilt – the great destroyer of joy

The joy is ripped out of Christianity by guilt – the constant awful feeling we’re falling short of expectations. We should be doing more, praying more, studying more, helping out in the community more, inviting people over more, getting to know the neighbours better, talking more openly about God with our kids and workmates, visiting the sick more, staying longer at church, evangelizing more, and the list goes on (and on). But we do more and it still feels like we’re not doing enough. It’s horrible. No matter how hard we’re trying, it never feels like God is satisfied with us.

But how much of that is the influence of the culture? Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded by guilt. Endless guilt-trip magazines harp away at us how we’re not eating right, not exercising enough, not looking after our skin, hair, feet and sex life properly, we’re drinking too much coffee, downing too much sugar, missing out on sleep, spending our money carelessly, not investing enough for our retirement, ignoring our families, leading chaotic, disorganized lives and our homes are a mess. We’re constantly falling behind in our responsibilities, growing old before our time and letting life pass us by. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

We live in a culture that feeds on guilt, backed up by very influential people telling us from the great heights of their superiority how lacking we are, like mothers-in-law, TV evangelists, priests, preachers, well-known health fanatics, documentaries by famous people with a bee in their bonnet, patronising politicians, newspaper and TV commentators, letter-writers to the editor – all the usual know-it-alls who figure if everyone was like them the world would be a much better place.

And how many Christians get caught up in all this rubbish, thinking God is looking down on us from his great superior height too, rating our behaviour, timing our prayers, and tut-tutting constantly at how lacking we are? But God sent his Son to show us he isn’t like that at all. He tells us outrightly, frankly and as clearly as anyone could – in John 3:17 – that it wasn’t to condemn, evaluate, rate or judge us that Jesus came for, it was to help us see how much, how intensely and how personally God loves us, verse 16. He even loved us “while we were yet sinners,” Romans 5:8, and he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5.

We don’t have to be good enough for God to love us. He loved us at our worst – and how can you feel guilty when you’re loved at your worst?! God doesn’t want us eaten up by guilt, he wants us realizing we’re loved, because it’s joy he wants us filled with, not guilt.


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