T. PIERCE BROWN
We read with increasing frequency some preacher with psychiatric ambitions who claims that we are doing great psychological damage to our audiences by making them feel guilty. The usual expression is “taking them on a guilt trip.” Like most false doctrines or wrong opinions, the charge may have enough truth to make it interesting. It is possible to preach or teach in such a fashion that a person feels guilty because he does not measure up to some self-imposed or human standard. Those who were involved in the Crossroads movement and other similar ones were adept at that.
However, many of those who make these charges are convinced that the job of the preacher is to make his audience feel good. The philosophy is, “If you can get a person to feel that I’m O.K, you are O.K., and make sure he has a sense of self worth, you do him a far greater service than if you make him feel guilty.” Again, there is enough truth in it to make it interesting. A person does need to know he is not a worthless character, but is valuable enough that Christ died for him. However, this has little to do with whether you should make him feel guilty. In fact, if he feels worthless, he should be made to realize that he is guilty of disregarding his God-given qualities.
Part of the problem is that we have not taught a person to properly distinguish between a guilt complex and actual guilt. A simple, although incomplete, explanation of the difference may be of value. When one is guilty of something, he needs to know what that is, repent of it and take whatever action needs to be taken to get rid of the guilt. If he is an alien sinner, outside the family of God, he needs to trust implicitly in the Lord Jesus Christ, accept in faithful obedience the sacrifice He made on our behalf, repent of every sin of which he is guilty and be baptized for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:36-38). If he is a child of God who has sinned, he needs to “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee” (Acts8:22). A guilt complex, on the other hand, is a feeling of guilt, with an inability to repent of it or get rid of it. One may simply feel unworthy, but finds no way to get worthy.
When Peter was preaching to the Jews on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, he did not give them a guilt complex. He showed them that they were guilty (Acts2:36). Then he told them how to get rid of that guilt (Acts2:38). When Ananias came to Saul of Tarsus, he did “Lay a guilt trip on him.” Neither did he try to make him feel good. He told him how to get rid of his guilt (Acts22:16).
Those of us who preach or teach should make sure that we do not merely teach in such a general way that we make a person feel guilty for not doing enough for the Lord, not giving as we should, not being as interested in personal evangelism as we should, or some other thing, without specifying exactly how and why we are guilty and how to get rid of the guilt. Try that with “not doing enough for the Lord.” Are you? If you are not, what are you going to do about it? When you do that, will you then be doing enough for the Lord and no longer guilty?
We need to teach in such a specific way that those who hear may know exactly what they have done wrong so they may repent of it by changing that attitude or action in a specific way. Then we need to tell them how to be forgiven of that guilt. However, the false idea that one may help a person who is guilty of adultery, homosexual activity, stealing, or any other sin, by telling him that he is O. K., because everyone sins and the grace of God will cause Him to overlook it because God loves us, is a false and dangerous philosophy.
The best way to get rid of a guilt complex is to recognize it for what it is and realize that there is no way to repent of it and get forgiveness of it, for it is not a sin of which you are guilty, but a feeling of unworthiness or inferiority. The way to get rid of guilt is to be shown clearly what the guilt or sin is, and told the specific God-given remedy for it. Then apply that remedy as God decreed, trusting in his love and grace to forgive you when you accept that grace on the terms He offered.