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I enjoy every study I prepare for the women in jail, and I have learned that God always works ON me and IN me before He works through me.  But this particular study has probably impacted me more on my own spiritual walk than any other I have prepared.  I pray it will be a blessing to anyone who reads it.

Have you ever felt guilty when you did something wrong?  I certainly hope so!!!  But have you ever wondered what God’s purpose is for guilt in our lives?  Why did God create us to experience feelings of guilt?


Sometimes it helps to look at the opposite first.  The definition of innocent is to be “free from guilt”.  To be guilty is to be responsible for committing a wrong or breaking a law.  Guilt has nothing to do with getting caught.  The result of committing a sin is a legal position of guilt.  To be guilty is to be “worthy and deserving of blame”.   Guilt isn’t about our feelings… it is a legal position; a legal standing.  The moment we commit a sin, we are guilty before God, whether we experience the emotion of guilt or not.  And when we ARE guilty, we rightly deserve a penalty or punishment so justice can be restored.  Guilt creates a debt to God and a debt to justice.

Guilt is personal, and it is individual.  You are guilty for your own wrong actions, not the wrong actions of others.  Our legal position of guilt can’t be put on anyone else.  We are responsible and no one else can be GUILTY in our place.  BUT… the DEBT we owe CAN be paid by someone else.  A substitute can pay the debt we owe, on our behalf.

The sacrificial system in the Old Testament is a picture of the substitutionary payment of a debt.  God decreed that blood must be shed to pay the penalty for the sin of the people.  God provided the animals as the sacrifices to pay for the sins of the people.  The animals that were sacrificed were completely innocent of any guilt.  Their blood was shed as a substitute for the blood of the guilty person.  However, animal sacrifice wasn’t a lasting or final solution.  The animals had to be sacrificed DAILY, day after day after day.  Animal sacrifice was a partial picture God intended to point forward to the coming Messiah.  The One who would be the ultimate and FINAL sacrifice to atone for sin and restore justice.  When Jesus Christ came as God in the flesh, He was identified as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the people.


We were created by God, in the image of God, to LOVE Him, OBEY Him and live for His glory.  God created us with a conscience to warn us of danger.  We have an understanding of right and wrong, and our conscience is our built in radar for evil and sin.  It lets us know when we are straying away from God’s purposes for our lives.

Our sin affects us, and it affects other people… but ultimately ALL sin is sin against a Holy God.

Psalm 51:4  Against You, and You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight. You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgment against me is just.

1 John 3:4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.

When we sin, we are rebelling against God’s authority.  It is wrong, and we know it.

Romans 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

When we sin, we feel guilty because we ARE guilty.  Our conscience condemns us because we know we have betrayed God’s laws and His purpose.  That is a good thing, and a sign that our conscience is working.  Because we ARE guilty, we owe God a debt.

Romans 6:23a  For the wages of sin is death,

Justice means we should have to pay the debt we owe with our death, spending eternity in hell.  But we obviously aren’t dead… so there must be some reason God is delaying His justice.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

On our own, our situation is hopeless.  We owe a debt we can’t possibly pay.  But because of God’s love, His grace, and His mercy, God HIMSELF has provided a way out for us.  God is patient (longsuffering).  He gives us time to see our inability to save ourselves, and to see His solution to our dilemma of sin and guilt.

John 3:17 [Jesus] God sent His Son into the world not to judge (condemn) the world, but to save the world through Him. 

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Colossians 2:13-14 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful  nature was not yet cut away.  Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins.  He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

See also Romans 2:4-8, 5:17, 5:21, John 3:14-17, 3:36, 4:14, 5:24, 5:39-40, 6:27, 6:32-33, 6:40, 6:50-58, 6:68, 10:28, 17:2, 1 Peter 1:3-4, 1 John 5:11-12


Jesus wants us to experience His salvation, but that is the beginning of spiritual life, not the end.  He wants to come into our hearts and fill us with His Spirit.

John 16:8, 13 [Jesus] And when He (the Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. … When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.

The Holy Spirit exposes (brings to light) our sin.  He convicts us and guides us to the truth.  To convict means to bring us to the point of recognizing and being convinced of our wrongdoing.  Conviction means we recognize the truth of our sin and our guilt.  The Holy Spirit shows us through conviction that we are guilty of committing sin against God.

Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God.  Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the One to whom we are accountable.

And no matter how hard we try, we can’t ever outrun our guilt!  That is a GOOD thing, because God has a critical purpose for our guilt.  We just need to learn how to respond to our feelings of guilt correctly.

Romans 2:4-8 Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?  But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.  He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.

If we continually reject the work of the Holy Spirit, we can eventually scar and sear our conscience so that it doesn’t function as it should (1 Timothy 4:1-2, Romans 1:28-32).  The conviction of the Holy Spirit has the critical and divine purpose of allowing us to recognize our sin so we can confess it to God, seek His forgiveness and receive His cleansing.  God wants to motivate us to repent and seek Him.

But that isn’t what normally happens when we feel guilty, is it?

Why not?…  (we will pick that up next time!)

Note:  Click on the link for the “speaker’s notes” version of the Getting Past Guilt study.  Feel free to use, copy, and distribute as God leads.