There are two things that rob us of our present life by chaining us to the past. Both types of chains require our willing submission. Guilt ties you to the past, and so does unforgiveness. The truth is that you cannot return to the past. Nothing of God ties you to the past. It is only the accuser. God does not live in your past – Satan does. Consider this passage from Psalm 109:29-31
29 Let my accusers be clothed with shame, And let them cover themselves with their own disgrace as with a mantle.
30 I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.
31 For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, To save him from those who condemn him.
The Hebrew word for accuser is the word satan. That is where the New Testament gets the name Satan, for he is the accuser of the brethren. Look at Revelation 12:10
Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening.” He then affirmed that He gives His church authority over this accuser. When Jesus triumphed over all principalities on the cross, Satan was expelled from heaven. Before this, he came before God to accuse people (See Job chapter 1). He no longer has that right.
When the law was nailed to the cross and sin was destroyed in Christ, there is nothing else Satan can bring before God. He has no law by which he can accuse the brethren. So now he accuses the brethren to each other, and to our own hearts. He can no longer accuse you before God, so his primary tool is to accuse us before each other.
Guilt is when the enemy accuses you to your own heart and denies the trustworthiness of God’s grace to remove all sin. If he can convince you that sin remains, he chains you to his accusation.
It should intrigue you that the word guilt is strangely absent from the New Testament. The English word ‘guilt’ is only mentioned in Romans 3:19, 1 Corinthians 11:27, and James 2:10. Many translations also use the word guilt in Matthew 23:32, but the word is implied and not in the actual biblical text. That’s why the word appears in italics.
1 Corinthians 11:27 and James 2:10 uses the word ‘guilty’, but the word does not mean what we normally think of when we define guilt. The Greek word is ‘enochos’, which means: to be under obligation to, or to be subject to. When James 2:10 says that the person who tries to keep the law is guilty of the whole law if he offends in one point is not saying that we are now under condemnation. The Bible is telling us that we are putting ourselves under subjection to all the law and its consequences. So the person is not truly under condemnation. They are submitting themselves under a condemnation system. Their guilt is self-appointed and not God’s judgment.
The ONLY time guilt is actually mentioned in the Bible (as in guilty and under condemnation) is in Romans 3:19. Those who are under the law are declared guilty before God. The law was designed to make those who trusted in their own righteousness guilty so they could see that justification is through Christ alone.
The only declaration of guilt is to the world who have not trusted in the work of Christ. Yet our accuser knows that if he can convince you that you are under guilt, then he can bind you to the past by convincing you to subject yourself under the condemnation of the law. God does not put you under guilt, but you can put yourself under false guilt. If Satan can convince you that your sin is greater than the work of Christ, which defeated sin, then you will trust in guilt more than in Christ.
In the same sense, unforgiveness is the act of holding on to wrongs done to you. With unforgiveness, instead of obsessing over what you have done under the law, you are placing yourself under the burden of what was done to you. Yet in both cases, we have chained ourselves to the past instead of living in the liberty of life in the Spirit.
Let’s look at how the Bible sets us free from both guilt and unforgiveness.
Guilt is a powerful weapon of manipulation. Religion uses guilt to keep people in line. People use guilt to manipulate others under their control. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Satan uses this tool against us. Once you are under guilt, you are defeated. However, this defeat is only accomplished when the target is a willing participant.
This is why God spends so much time in the scriptures explaining that we have been set free indeed, can never be put back under condemnation, and His wrath against sin has been satisfied once and for all. In Christ, you have escaped wrath, yet if you don’t believe this, you will be under fear. It is God who said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” There are plenty of scriptures that explain why this is a concrete promise, but time doesn’t permit me to go into these here. I’ve written about this in several books and some of the studies I have online.
The Bible has relegated sin to the flesh, but has given us life in the Spirit. The real challenge of the Christian life is NOT trying to overcome sin, nor is it trying to rectify wrongs. We are called to learn how to walk in the Spirit, where sin cannot go. Take some time to meditate on 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
In the flesh, no good thing dwells. (See Romans 7:18) We are called not to regard anyone according to the flesh. This includes ourselves. The Greek word for regard is ‘oida’, which means to see or perceive with our eyes. No longer are we called to view other Christians, Jesus, or even ourselves through eyes looking at the flesh. We look at the reality of the life of the Spirit within us.
Old things have passed away (which is the old life of the flesh) and all things are made new. Life is new because we are a new creation, born of the Spirit with the DNA of God. In our spirit, we are in union with God’s Spirit. If you can start learning how to view yourself as God views you, you’ll begin learning to walk according to who you are in the Spirit instead of who you were in the flesh.
The past is dead. You cannot go back and unscramble the egg of your mistakes. God is the God of now. There is therefore NOW no condemnation. God never revisits the past. If you do, you are walking in willful defeat. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13-15
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.
Like the rest of us, Paul had to remind himself constantly to reach forward, not back. That maturity of mind was not something he could say he had apprehended, but it was something that he always reminded himself to focus on.
Paul had a horrible past. He was instrumental in the murder of countless Christians. In his testimony, Paul said, “I compelled them to blaspheme against Christ.” He wasn’t content with merely arresting and casting his vote for their execution. He felt compelled to torture them into speaking against Christ. Many people refused to allow Paul into their fellowship after he came to Christ. Yet Paul did not try to go back and fix the past. If he did, he would have been crippled in his calling to reach toward the high calling of Christ. That was his God-ordained ministry. It is also your God-ordained ministry.
There is nothing wrong with telling someone you are sorry, but if you are guilt driven and trying to undo the past so that you are unable to move forward, this is not the call of God. Every moment slips into the past, and while we don’t want to make mistakes, when we do, there comes a time when we must forget what is behind and press toward what is ahead. This is hard to do if you are submitting to guilt.
We must train our minds to stay in the Spirit. If we don’t, our minds will keep returning to wrongs we have done or wrongs done to us, and it gives Satan an advantage over us. Sometimes we feel guilty over something we have done. Though we apologize, we struggle to forgive ourselves, or maybe the apology is not accepted. Other times we feel guilty when we haven’t actually sinned. The Bible guides us in this as well. Look at 1 John 3:20-21
20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.
Where do we put our confidence? In guilt? No – in God. When guilt tries to overtake us, we can still rest knowing that God is greater than our hearts. As we learn to trust in God’s promises and acceptance, we are training our hearts not to condemn us. When guilt dies, confidence in God grows.
Guilt is not of God. According to Jesus’ teaching in John 16:7-11, the Holy Spirit ONLY convicts the believer of righteousness. The world is convicted of sin because they don’t believe in Christ, Satan is convicted because he has been judged through the cross of Christ, but we are convicted of righteousness because Christ goes to the Father for us. Keep in mind that righteousness is a gift, not something we earn. We are righteous because we are in Christ, who is always righteous.
When guilt arises, you must claim the promises of God. Let’s review a few briefly:
- Romans 6:14 – Sin can never regain dominion over us because we are not under the law, but under grace.
- Romans 5:13 – Where there is no law, sin is not imputed.
- Romans 4:6 – You are blessed because the Lord has imputed righteousness to you apart from your deeds.
- Romans 4:7 – You are blessed because your sins are forgiven and covered.
- Romans 4:8 – You are blessed because the Lord will not impute sin to you.
This is why Satan accuses you here on earth. There is no longer a law that he can use against you before God, for Jesus is the end of the law to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) Since Satan cannot accuse you before God, he accuses you before your own heart. If he can get you to condemn yourself, you are in bondage just as if the law had imprisoned you under its condemnation. He does this through feelings, thoughts, and the accusations of others.
When he does so to your mind, the Bible tells you to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is not your obedience, but your faith in Christ’s obedience. When Satan condemns you through feelings, you have the promise that God is greater than your heart. When he condemns you through others, the Bible commands you not to allow yourself to be judged by the conscience of others. (See 1 Corinthians 10:29, Colossians 2:16, Titus 2:15).
You are free, but you must walk by faith to experience that freedom. Don’t let guilt take up residence in your heart or mind.
Unforgiveness is one of the most destructive forces in the Christian’s life. It destroys all lives, but the Christian has the power to escape. I have met many bitter people, but I have never met a bitter person who had life. Unforgiveness begins by focusing us on a person who has wronged us, but when it festers into bitterness, it spreads and begins consuming other areas of our lives and other relationships.
What begins with a wrong done to us can become a permanent part of our life – unless we learn to handle it in a healthy way. The person who focuses on wrongs is clinging to the past. The deception of unforgiveness is that Satan lies to us. He tells us that we are losing if we forgive, when in reality we are losing because we cling to a past wrong.
I met a bitter person who felt like life was swallowing them. They kept saying things like, “Jesus rescue me,” but they continued to descend. Why would God not answer such a prayer? The reason is that God takes our hand. He does not drag us along with the bitterness we are clinging to. If someone refuses to forgive and clings to bitterness, they have no hand for the Lord to take. The weighty rock of anger that is pulling us under cannot return to the surface of life in the Spirit. If we cling to the anger, we cannot be rescued. It is the life that is truly broken that learns to let go. We can’t say, “God rescue me, but I set the conditions. I will not let go of what is destroying me.”
Let me give an illustration from parenthood. One of my daughters has a lot of trust in me. As a little girl, she got something in her eye. It was very painful and she couldn’t open her eye. I had her lay on her back, put a towel under her head, and got some eyewash. She turned her head and I said, “If you’ll trust me, I can get this out.” She yielded to me. I poured eyewash in her eye, helped her force the eyelid open, and quickly plucked out the debris from her eye. In 5 minutes she was back in action.
Years later, another daughter had almost the exact same scenario. I did the same preparations, started to put the wash in her eye, and she covered her eyes with her hands and turned away. Again I said, “If you trust me, I can get this out.”
She said, “It will hurt.” I coaxed her, tried to assure her, and did everything I could to get her to relax, but she fought me every time I tried to touch her eye. After 45 minutes, the debris was still in her eye.
This is exactly what we do with God. We think letting go of a wrong will be too painful, so we cling to it and turn from God’s promise. Sometimes it is painful. Kids sometimes get splinters that are very painful. When they let me get it out, it hurts for a moment, but then the pain is gone. If they refuse to let me work, it remains and festers. A splinter can become infected and become a health crisis. People have lost limbs to severe infections that began with a splinter that went untreated.
An emotional wound is painful. Letting God take away the splinter from our soul can also be painful, but the healing begins when we allow God to take the wrong. If we turn from God, He won’t sit on our arms and force us to let Him work. Instead He shows us the promises of His word and says, “If you trust Me, I can remove this.”
The flesh tells us that letting go is too great of a loss. God tells us that letting go will take away the pain, and He’ll replace the pain with peace and joy. Now we have to decide who we trust – our flesh or our God?
One thing unforgiveness reveals is that we don’t understand how much we have been forgiven. Look at Colossians 3:12-13
12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
Under the law, obedience was how people attempted to get into God’s favor. Under the New Covenant, we are already in God’s favor, and commandments have a different focus. God gives us commandments to lead us toward the promise, and He gives commandments that teach us how to avoid harm. This commandment reminds us what Christ has done so we can understand that those we are tempted to hold a grudge against are no different than we are. In order to experience the fullness of the life of grace, we have to let go of the things that hinder us and hinder grace.
When you put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, you will already have a heart ready to forgive. Most unforgiveness is founded on pride. Without meekness, we feel we are owed honor from people. Without patience, we get frustrated with people. Yet when we recognize what we have in this life of faith, forgiveness is a natural byproduct. When we are tempted to take up anger, we are reminded that just as Christ forgave, we must also do. The Bible reiterates this in Ephesians 4:31-32
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Notice that bitterness, wrath, evil speaking, and clamor (or making an outcry of protest) has to be willfully and intentionally put away from us. The flesh wants to cling to these things, but you have a renewed mind that has the power to stop this temptation in its tracks. If you have lived in the flesh for a long time, it is hard to train your mind to stop focusing on negative things.
When I struggled with unforgiveness, it came out in my life. It nearly destroyed my life. But God revealed to me that I was no different than the person I was angry toward. The process of learning forgiveness began. I found myself dwelling on wrongs, but when I realized what I was doing, I had to intentionally say, “No, I forgave that. It’s no longer mine to dwell on.” At first, I had to catch myself many times a day. As I cast the memories out repeatedly, they began to invade less and less. In time, the anger died and forgiveness began its good work in my life.
We are called to be on constant guard against bitterness. A bitter spirit invades. If allowed to rule, it takes over our minds and begins to poison relationships – even those that have not wronged us. Then the bitter person becomes the one wronging others, yet they will be blinded to their own behavior. Consider the words of Hebrews 12:15
Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
You must carefully watch for bitterness. Those sucked into the conflicts of bitterness will also be defiled, and this causes us to fall short of God’s grace. It’s just like the person sinking and crying out for God’s help but not experiencing it. God’s hand is outstretched, but the bitter person is holding the hands of anger and bitterness. Grace is not absent, but the person in bitterness misses it. They fall short because a bitter spirit cannot lay hold of the grace being offered; therefore, they fall short of it.
Many justify bitterness and anger by claiming that it’s the principle of the matter. That principle is pride and not God’s principles. Others believe they must defend themselves, when God has promised that those who trust in Him will be rescued, delivered, and blessed. The flesh finds ways to justify anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness, but this is a demonic lie. Look at James 3:14-15
14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
Anything that we cling to in order to justify unforgiveness is a demonic lie. Satan rules the life that trusts in the wisdom of the flesh, but God gives us victory through the life of faith. Consider 1 John 5:4
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.
The wisdom of the world (which is earthly) only produces an opportunity for Satan to bring us back under bondage. It robs us of life, steals peace, and causes us to fall short of grace. Yet the person who is born of God has the promise of victory. That victory is already yours, but it can only be obtained through faith. Our faith is that God’s word is true, His promises are sure, and anything I release into His hands is restored with a blessing.
It’s a rejection of faith to push grace aside and handle the matter through human effort. It takes true faith to release the wrongs of others into God’s hands. It takes true faith to entrust God with our failures and guilt.
Will those who wronged us get away with it? Absolutely – if they enter the life of faith. Just as we also escaped the wrongs we have done when we entered the life of faith. God’s will is always grace and mercy. The person who has forgotten he was purged from his old sins clings to guilt. The person who does not recognize how much they have been forgiven will refuse to let go of wrongs and demand justice – a selfish form of justice. We quickly demand justice against others, but expect mercy for ourselves.
Now you have to decide whether you are going to live in the past, or in the present life of grace. You can trust in condemnation and be bound to your past wrongs, or you can believe God’s declaration that you are a new creation and now all things are of God. When you enter faith, you escape the world and any claim it has over you.
You can trust in the flesh’s call of anger and bitterness and cling to the earthly, demonic wisdom that is the entrapment of death, or trust your life – all of your life, to God.
Both unforgiveness and guilt live in the past. There is absolutely no life in the past. The only time you should look at the past is when you are testifying of the power of grace that helped you escape it. Escape unforgiveness. Escape guilt. God is the God of NOW. If you are not looking ahead to the promise and experiencing the life of the Spirit in the present, you are not walking in grace. Yet once you receive faith, the past has no power over you. Healing now begins.
One final thought is that once you begin experiencing victory, you will be tempted to turn back. Don’t get frustrated or give up. The moment you realize the past has returned, kick it out. You have the authority to cast it out. When guilt calls, thank God for your new life and slam the door on the accuser. Once you find yourself brooding over a past wrong – or even a newly past wrong, cast it out. Claim the promise that God will guard your heart and mind through Christ and read Philippians 4:8. Meditate on the things God directs you to.
You are blessed when you live by faith. Walk in it. Don’t let the flesh rob you of the promise.
To learn more on this topic, see the recommended Exchanged Life Books here. Most books are 99 cents, but if you are not able to purchase these, send an email through the Contact Page and an ebook version will be provided for free.