Haunted by the Ghost of Guilt
So many Christians today are haunted by the ghost of guilt. Perhaps your sin is not as egregious, for example, as murder—but within your heart, guilt is gnawing at you.
Many trudge to church Sunday after Sunday, sing hymns, give money, attend classes, underline their Bibles, but do not have the freedom they ought to have in the Lord Jesus Christ. An old proverb says, “He is not free who drags his chains with him.”
In this study we will see from God’s Word how to lay down the burden of guilt and greet every morning free in the Lord Jesus Christ, without dragging yesterday into today.
The Haunting Results of Guilt
Guilt brings anxiety. It brings depression. The soul becomes a window covered with the dirt and grime of guilt. Everything we look at is colored or discolored by the guilt within. Guilt can make you sick. If you carry around a load of guilt, it can make you emotionally, spiritually and even physically ill.
1. Turn to Psalm 32:3. Who is speaking here?
“When I kept silence [concerning his guilt], my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.”
What consequences of guilt is he experiencing?
Guilt will do the same thing to you that sand will do to machinery. Guilt brings spiritual sterility.
The person haunted by the ghost of guilt is not driven to God. You would think that he would be. But the truth is that a person with unresolved guilt is driven further and further from God.
Some may turn to alcohol, trying to assuage guilt and kill the pain. A psychologist, by medication or counseling, may help you to deal with the pain, but he cannot deal with the burn. No psychiatrist or psychologist can deal with guilt apart from the Word of God. They deal with the guilt feeling. But they cannot take away one particle of guilt. Only God can do that.
BITTERNESS, PROJECTION, SUPRESSION, DISTRACTION, CHEMICALS, SUICIDE
- Sometimes we pour out the venom of bitterness on other people when we ourselves are guilty
- Or we take our problem and project it onto someone else when they’ve not done anything wrong.
- Or sometimes we just simply try to forget that we’ve done wrong. We think there is a statute of limitations and the clock will somehow cause it to evaporate.
- Sometimes people turn to amusement, excessive time in hobbies or TV.
- Many turn to alcohol or drugs to drown their problems.
- Sometimes people try suicide—never the answer and no solution at all. It is the ultimate act of a lack of faith and the most selfish thing you could do. It’s a way of saying, “God, this problem is too big for You.”
2. Turn to the book of Zechariah, the next-to-last book in the Old Testament. See Zechariah 3:1.The prophet Zechariah is speaking. Fill in the missing words:
“And he showed me ____________, the high priest, standing before the _________ of the __________….”
When we hear the name “Joshua,” we first think of Moses’ close companion, Joshua, in Genesis and Exodus, who led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. But this is another Joshua, many centuries later, serving as the high priest. He represents the people of God.
3. Who is “The Angel of the Lord”?
(We have studied this before, back in March’s Digging Deeper.) Jacob was asleep when he was suddenly pounced upon by an angel. Later we find out Who this was. The prophet Hosea (in Hosea 12) identifies “the Angel of the Lord” as the messenger of Yahweh, an Old Testament description of—the Lord Jesus.
From March 2014 Digging Deeper:
Hosea tells us that the mysterious wrestler was really the Angel of the Lord. Not an ordinary angel. Scholars agree this was the Angel of Yahweh, the Angel of Jehovah. It was a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jacob himself said when he finished this wrestling match,
“I have seen ____ ________ face to face.” (Genesis 32:30)
The word angel literally means messenger. And Jesus is the messenger of Yahweh, the God of the covenant.
4. “…and ___________ standing at his right hand to oppose him.
Notice Joshua has a problem:
2And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! [Two rebukes in one utterance.] Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
A Courtroom Scene
Zechariah chapter 3 is a courtroom scene with
- the accused
- the adversary (the prosecuting attorney)
- the advocate (the defense attorney)
Joshua, the accused, stands before Jesus, the Angel of Jehovah (the advocate), and “…Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (the adversary). The word Satan literally means adversary.
The Accused—That’s Us
Joshua represents you and me—all of us. We are nothing more than a brand plucked from the fire. Had it not been for Jesus, an eternal hell would have been our destiny.
5. What was Joshua clothed in?
4 Then He [the Angel of the Lord] answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him [to Joshua, the high priest] He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”
5 And I [Zechariah] said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.”
So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.
Joshua in Zechariah 3:1 was in the wrong, and God will not accept an alibi or an excuse for sin, because Jesus did not die for alibis or excuses. As the accused, we must plead guilty or we cannot we deal with this ghost of guilt.
A CLOSER LOOK AT INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE
Joshua stands for the people, you and me. As the accused, he has to plead guilty. He is guilty.
6. What do his clothes represent?
Does Satan have a case against Joshua?
Yes, Satan does, for verse 3 doesn’t say he might be in filthy clothes, or that they only appear to be filthy. He is dressed in filthiness. That’s a picture of all of us who are not dressed in the righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Joshua has no defense. He’s obviously guilty.
7. Turn to Romans 3:19. The Bible says concerning all of us,
“Now we know that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that _________ mouth may be stopped, and ______ the world may become guilty before God.”
How much of the world’s population is guilty before God?
The first thing we must do is admit our guilt. As the accused, we must always plead “guilty as charged”—because we are. But what is guilt?
A CLOSER LOOK AT GUILT
If you were to ask the average person on the street, they would say that guilt is the feeling you get when you do something you think is wrong. But guilt is not a feeling. If you put your hand on a hot stove, you’re going to get a feeling, but you’re also going to get a burn. The burn and the feeling are two different things. Many people are dealing with guilt feelings, but just as the burn is the raw flesh and the blisters, guilt causes the feeling. But the guilt is not the feeling. Guilt is a reality. It’s the result of the filthiness of our sin.
Sometimes you may be guilty and not feel that you are.
Guilt can cause all kinds of emotional and physical baggage.
The Adversary—That’s Satan
You have a very real adversary. Satan is coming against you like he had no one else to come against. Don’t get the idea that only “some people” have Satan for an adversary. We all have Satan for an adversary. He is pictured in the Bible as a prosecuting attorney.
8. Turn to Revelation 12:10. John says,
And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven [talking about the final days], “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the ________________ of our brethren is cast down, which ________________ them before our God day and night.”
a. Who is Satan the Accuser accusing?
b. Who does he present the accusations to?
c. How often does he show up in court?
He is accusing me and he’s accusing you. He’s never missed a court date.
You would think Satan would want to hide our sin, but no! Satan wants you first to sin and then suffer the consequences. He wants to cripple you and then blame you for limping. He wants you to be doubly defeated.
ACCUSER and ENTICER
Satan is both the accuser and the enticer. First he entices, “Go ahead, do it. You can get away with it.” Then afterward he says, “You’ll never get away with it.” Not only will he accuse you before God; he’ll accuse you to your face because he wants you to suffer.
LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACCUSATION AND CONVICTION
The Holy Spirit is the convicter. He will convict you of sin. The devil is the adversary. He will accuse you of sin. Accusation comes from Satan and causes you to feel hopeless and helpless. True conviction draws you to the Lord.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:75
Simon Peter was convicted of his [specific] sin when he denied the Lord [true guilt], but he wept bitterly [godly sorrow], and God restored him [restoration of fellowship with God].
God wants His conviction to lead our guilty hearts to Him in true repentance so He can have restored fellowship with us.
Satan wants to beat us down, defeat and destroy us, rendering us useless for God’s kingdom.
True Guilt>Holy Spirit>Conviction>Godly Sorrow>Repentance>Restoration
9. Turn to 2 Corinthians 7:10:
“10 For ___________ sorrow produces repentance leading to ________________, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the _____________ produces _____________.”
Godly sorrow brings repentance. The sorrow of the world works in them death. It may be physical; it may be spiritual. Satan accuses you not only before God, but he accuses you to your face. He wants you to live under a dark cloud of guilt and despair, focusing on your sins, on yourself, on himself—anything but Jesus. Thus Satan gets the advantage over you.
The Advocate—That’s the Lord Jesus
Our Advocate Rebukes the Accuser
And the LORD said to Satan, The LORD ________ thee, O Satan.” (Zechariah 3)
We the Accused may have sinned, we may have done wrong, but we are a brand plucked from the fire—redeemed—and the LORD stands up as our defense attorney.
Our Advocate Redeems the Accused
10. Turn to 1 John 2:1. John has been telling believers how to get their hearts clean and to live in fellowship. He wants to help them not live in sin.
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not…”
But knowing human nature, he adds,
“…but if any man sin, we have an _______________ with the Father, ___________ _________ the ________________.”
We have a lawyer to plead our case.
Holy God is upon the Judge’s bench. Joshua is there in his filthy garments. Satan is accusing him; and he is guilty. Jesus steps forward as the advocate, and He begins to plead the case. “Father, Joshua is guilty, but he has been redeemed. He is a brand plucked from the burning.” Today, after Calvary, He would say, “Holy Father, see these nail-pieced hands. For those sins I died.”
Jesus never defends His children’s sins, but He does defend His children. He never makes it easy on sin; and even when He forgives, He may chasten, but Jesus, our defense attorney, stands there against the accuser. On what basis does He defend us? His redeeming grace. And He doesn’t stop there.
We thank God for the finished work of Calvary. When Jesus died on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished!” But thank God for the unfinished work of Jesus.
11. “What?” you say. “Jesus’ work is unfinished? I thought on the Cross He said Tetelestai!—it is finished.” Yes, redemption’s work is done. But there is another work of Jesus which goes on.
Turn to Hebrews 7:25:
“Wherefore ____ is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by _____, seeing He ever liveth to make _________________________ for them.”
What is Jesus' continuing work?
Jesus is able to save you all the way through. He will never lose you. Saving grace is securing grace. Why? Because He ever lives to make intercession for you. Jesus is praying for you.
12. What takes away your guilt forever? Turn to Romans 8:33-34:
“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is _____ that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is ever at the right hand of God, who also _____________ _____________________ for us.”
We have a defense attorney. We have an advocate. When the accuser comes to accuse us before God and to our face, God forbid that we should start to alibi, or conjure excuses, or try to hide it, thinking that time will take care of it.
The blood of Jesus does totally and completely forgive and cleanse. There is no court on earth that can justify—none! Only God can do that. Thank God for the One who ever lives to make intercession for us.
Our Advocate Restores the Accused
13. Return to Zechariah 3:3-5. What does Our Advocate do for us?
a. What gets taken off?
b. What happens to our iniquity (sin)?
c. What is put on?
d. What does the change of clothing represent?
Notice that Zechariah wants Joshua to receive a clean miter (a head piece, like a turban. In Exodus 28:36 we see that the high priest’s miter had written upon it “Holy to the Lord.”).
e. Who removes Joshua’s iniquity and provides the new clothing?
f. What does this say to you?
Not only does our Advocate, the Lord Jesus, take away our filthy garments, But He then clothes us with His righteousness and His purity.
What Should We Do When We’re Haunted By The Ghost Of Guilt?
Consider the source. Is this guilt real or manufactured? Some little children feel guilty because they were abused as little children. They’re not guilty, but they feel guilty. Is it Holy Spirit conviction? Is it satanic accusation or is it just psychological wrong thinking?
Confess it. 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Confess your sins individually. Don’t say, “Well, I’m just an old sinner.” No. Name them. Nail them. Call sin by its first name.
The Holy Spirit will convict you specifically, legitimately. He won’t convict you of sin that’s already been forgiven and put in the grave of God’s forgetfulness. He will name it. He’ll say, “You were rude to your wife. You had a lustful thought. You were dishonest. You took God’s name in vain. You committed adultery,” whatever it is. The Holy Spirit will name it exactly. You will never get peace until you confess it.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CONFESS IT?
The word confess is a combination of two Greek words, Logeo (speak) and homo (same.) They literally mean “to speak the same thing.” To “confess” your sin means to say about your sin what God says about it - not merely to admit it, but confess it. Agree with God. Say with God what God says about your sins. Name it. Call it by name.
Do you know what I sometimes do in my study? I don’t let my wife see it, but I’ll sit down there in my quiet time and list everything, lay myself open to the Lord, and say, “Search me, O God, and try my heart. God, show me.”
Sometimes it’s very painful. God will show me things that I say, “No, Lord, that’s really not true. You’re wrong, Lord.” He says, “You, you’re wrong, Adrian. I’m right.”
And I’ll write it down on a slip of paper. And sometimes that list will get pretty long. But then I’ll take that and I go by one at a time and I’ll deal with each one of those. I’ll name it. I’ll call it by name. I will repent of it. Then take my pen and just write 1 John 1:9 over the whole thing and tear it up in little pieces. When I get up, I’m free. Just free. It’s so wonderful.
How you can tell when you’re free? There’s nothing lurking in the shadows that you’re afraid may come out somewhere between you and God or between you and some other person. You are free.
14. Someone has said, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” You’ve tried to bury it/them in the sea of your forgetfulness, but never confessed it to God so that He could bury it forever.
I don’t know what may haunt you. It may not be something terrible. Maybe there’s some wickedness, something secret, and it’s in your heart and mind. You may be haunted by a misspent youth. Now you’re middle aged; you look back and say, “I failed. I missed my opportunities.” Maybe you’re haunted by neglected duty—you failed your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your children. You would give anything if you could just turn the clock back, but you can’t. Maybe you committed adultery. Your spouse still doesn’t know, but you know, and it’s eating away at you.
You wonder, Will anyone ever find out? You’ve never been able to get release and you’re haunted by it. Sometimes you can put it out of your consciousness, but it’s still there. This is a personal study, and no one will be reading your responses. As you have been reading this study, has the Lord brought to mind something you have been denying? Write that here:
Or get a separate sheet of paper and list everything that comes to mind.
Don’t be haunted by the ghost of guilt. That sin now is buried in the grave of God’s forgetfulness, and God has crowned you with a turban that says, “Holy to the Lord.”
- There is the accused. That’s us.
- There is the accuser. That’s Satan, the adversary.
- Then there is the advocate. That’s the Lord Jesus Christ.
“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
And He has never lost a case, not one!
Why don’t you say to the Lord,
“Lord, I want to be holy, not a little holy, not partially holy; I want to be holy. I want to be clean. I don’t want to begin tomorrow carrying the baggage of today. I want to thank You, Lord, that Your blood cleanses from all sin. And, Lord, don’t let me be so foolish as to make alibis and excuses. Help me to be clean. Thank You, Lord, that You can deliver us not merely from guilt feeling, but from the very guilt itself, and no one can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect, because You’re the One who justified. In Your name I pray. Amen.”