My dad has always told me that in his work as an evangelist the big problem is not getting people saved but getting them lost. People who really feel lost reach for the gospel. But there are others today who say just the opposite. They say that guilt is such a widespread disease in our society no preacher needs to tell people they are sinners. Trying to make people feel guilty is like carrying coals to Newcastle, they say. Everyone is so oppressed with guilt already that all the preacher needs to do is preach good news of deliverance. Now who is right? My dad, who says it is hard to get people to see their true guilt before God? Or the preachers of pop psychology, who say people are already so guilt-ridden you just need to be positive all the time?
My dad is right because his view of guilt is so much more profound than the others’ view. There is a world of difference between the misery of a bad self-image because of masturbation and the profound and terrible remorse of having despised God through unbelief. The reason the message of secular psychology (and the Christians who imitate it) is so superficial is that its assessment of guilt is so superficial. If you think that the guilt which prepares us to receive the gospel is merely the bad feeling that comes from a low self-image or sagging self-esteem, then the gospel you preach will be just the kind of man-centered, ego-stroking pap that has emasculated the pulpits of our land and obscured the glory of God’s mercy.
The guilt which readies a person to receive the great gospel of the glory of Christ is as rare as the conversions we seek. Hardly anyone experiences the crush of real guilt! We have failed to see that what usually passes for guilt is in fact just more sin, because it is the bad feeling we have, not from our failure to trust God’s promises but from our failure to preserve our image as cool, self-sufficient people. Most of what passes for guilt feelings is an expression of pride. We do something impulsive that hurts someone and feel remorse. But does our remorse come from a deep spiritual grief that we have despised God by not trusting his promises and not waiting for his wisdom and help? Or does it more often come from the fact that we did not preserve our image as cool and self-sufficient? Real guilt is very rare!
Satan is sly. Not only can he imitate real virtue with legalism; he can also imitate real guilt with low self-esteem. He has achieved a stunning victory by alluring the church into battle with imitation guilt which has transformed the gospel into a message that is powerless against the real enemy. Real guilt is the crushing sense of fear and remorse at the thought of having despised almighty God by casting a vote of no-confidence against his word of promise and counsel. Real guilt is radically God-centered. Satan’s substitute is the bad feelings we get from a wounded ego. O yes, it is painful. That’s why we think we are preaching gospel when we try to relieve it. But it is based squarely on pride. The guilt feelings caused by Satan’s accusations are not remorse for pride, but the remorse of pride. Yes, there is a nation-wide epidemic of this. But this kind of guilt produces no repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). It does not prepare the way for the gospel; it hardens against the gospel.
Real guilt is very rare. That’s why my father can say: The really hard work of evangelism is not getting people saved but getting them lost. How about yourself? Do you battle real guilt with a glorious gospel, or is your guilt what pride produces when you haven’t been cool?
For the sake of the gospel,