Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

The question today is from an anonymous woman, a young woman, who listens to the podcast regularly. She struggles with the painful memories of her sinful past life. “Dear Pastor John, I’ve been a follower of Christ for a while now,” she writes. “But my conscience still haunts me for all the really bad and dumb things I did when I was younger. Does that mean I am not saved? I’ve prayed for forgiveness many times, talked to pastors and even Christian therapists, but I don’t feel forgiven because the guilt is always there, no matter how much I pray and seek God. I feel far from God and not sure what else to do.”

Oh, how I would like to be used by God to give some measure of relief, freedom, and boldness to our friend.

So, let me start by saying that there’s one thing you said that I don’t believe is true. You said, “I don’t feel forgiven.” That’s true. She said, “I don’t feel forgiven because the guilt is always there.” That’s not true. I’m just going to say, “That’s not true.” The guilt is not always there. The feelings of guilt are always there; the guilt is not there. And if you think that’s quibbling over words, that may be your biggest problem. It’s not quibbling. It’s absolutely essential to distinguish the presence of real guilt and the presence of feeling guilty. Now, I’m not going to say that if you realize this distinction, your problem will go away. It’s not that simple. I know that.

Before the Judge

Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose you committed many horrible crimes — stealing, adultery, killing, murder, lying to cover it all up. Then you were caught and went to trial, and everybody knew you were guilty — everybody. There was no doubt about it. You deserved to die. And when you came to trial, the judge said, “Not guilty. And you can go free.”

Here’s my question: What would that do for your feelings of guilt? And my answer is nothing. Nothing at all. You would still be guilty. You would know it. Everybody would know it. And you would be miserable for the rest of your life and may well commit suicide.

But wait — wait a minute. Somebody’s going to say, “Isn’t that what Christianity offers, Piper? The judge says, ‘Not guilty. Go free.’ Isn’t that the very heart of Christianity?” And my answer is that it’s not the same. And the reason it’s not the same is that, in our little thought experiment, there’s no substitute. In fact, in ordinary human jurisprudence, there can be no substitute. A mother cannot step in and go to jail for her criminal son, the murderer. As much as she may want to, we won’t allow it.

“It’s absolutely essential to distinguish the presence of real guilt and the presence of feeling guilty.”

But in the way God devised to handle our guilt, our sin, a substitute does in fact work. The defaming of God’s honor through our sin really is repaired when Christ bears our guilt for God’s glory. And the Holy Spirit that is unleashed through the blood of Christ into the lives of sinners really does create new people who now live for the glory of God. So, dear friend, your condition is not like a human judge arbitrarily letting a guilty person off the hook. It’s not like that. God did more, and your guilt is really gone.

Guilt Gone

Listen to these six statements from the Bible that God pronounces over you, and say as I read each one, “I believe that; I believe that,” because these are just straight Bible. Here we go.

  • He canceled your record of debt, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
  • He sent his Son to be the propitiation (the wrath-removing agent) for your sins (1 John 4:10).
  • He bore your sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).
  • He was pierced for your transgressions (Isaiah 53:5).
  • The Lord has laid on him your iniquity (Isaiah 53:6).
  • He became a curse for you (Galatians 3:13).

Your real guilt — that is, the just liability that you had to be punished for your sins; that’s guilt — is gone. It is no more. Nowhere in the universe does it exist. It’s gone, never to return. “There is . . . now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” because there’s no guilt for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

And you know — and you may be just sitting there rolling your eyes — I haven’t said a word yet about the feelings of guilt, because that’s another issue. They’re not the same. And you need deeply to dwell on the reality of guilt removal.

Five Prayers for Guilt Feelings

So now, what do you do with guilt feelings? Well, I’m going to suggest what maybe nobody has suggested to you, and you can test by the Scriptures whether this is wise. I’m not going to suggest that you focus on getting rid of guilt feelings per se. Can you hear that? That may be surprising. I’m not going to suggest that you focus on getting rid of those guilt feelings per se. I’m going to suggest that you purge or purify or deliver your guilt feelings of every impulse that shouldn’t be there.

And yes, you’re right — that implies that something will be left over of guilt feelings. When I’ve purged them from everything that shouldn’t be there, something’s going to be left over that’s good. It’s good. It’s needed — forever. Now, you may have never heard that from anybody (I don’t know), but I’m saying that guilt feelings are not entirely bad.

You may be saying, “Good grief, you have no idea what they do to me.” Well, I do have some idea, but here’s my suggestion. You should ask God to purge your guilt feelings of five realities that can be taken out of your guilt feelings and see what’s left.

First, pray like this: “Father, take out of my guilt feelings every impulse that makes me feel hopeless, because I know hope is commanded, and you have given us precious and very great promises to feed our hope on, like ‘I will work everything together for your good’ (Romans 8:28). So, take out of my guilt feelings everything that makes me feel hopeless.”

Second, “Take out of my guilt feelings, Father, every impulse that makes me feel useless and without purpose, because I know you promise that none of our work is in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).”

Third, “Take out of my guilt feelings, Father, every impulse that makes me feel fearful and timid, because I know you said, ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God’ (Isaiah 41:10).”

Fourth, “Take out of my guilt feelings all anxiety about being found out,” because God already knows everything about my sin and how ugly it was, and he doesn’t flinch at loving me. And I know that only his kind of people will get into heaven. That’s where I’ll spend eternity with people who don’t flinch at loving me.

“There’s no such thing as being worthy of grace. Deserved grace is not grace.”

Fifth, “Take out of my guilt feelings, Father, the impulse that I need to feel worthy of grace, since you have taught me there’s no such thing as being worthy of grace. There’s no such thing. Deserved grace is not grace. Help me realize that feeling unworthy of grace is the only proper way to receive grace. So, purge my guilt feelings of this craziness of thinking I need to be worthy of grace.”

Slaughtered Lamb

Now, what’s left? What’s left of your guilt feelings — our guilt feelings? (Yes, our guilt feelings.)

Think of it this way. According to Revelation 5:9–10, there will be a song in heaven about the slaughter of the Lamb of God. I use the word “slaughter” because that’s what sphazo means. When it says “slain” (Revelation 5:9), it means slaughter. You slaughter sheep when you’re going to eat them or do something else with them. He was slaughtered. We’re going to sing about that. It says so:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were [slaughtered], and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

We’re going to sing that in heaven forever, which means we’re going to remember our sin. We’re going to remember our guilt and what it cost — namely, the death of the Lamb of God. We will not sing that song and scratch our head, saying, “I don’t have any idea what that’s about. I don’t have any idea what that blood was about. I don’t know why he had to die. We just keep singing that song.” We will know why he died. He died because of our guilt. And we will know that forever.

But everything debilitating, everything hopeless, everything that destroys a sense of purpose and courage, everything fearful, everything that diminishes our glorying in grace will be taken out of our feelings of guilt. And all that will be left will be a miraculous new heart of humble, happy, thankful praise to the glory of the grace of God. Which means this: don’t despair that you have guilt feelings. They are necessary. Instead, spend your life purifying them of everything that keeps you from happy, thankful worship and obedience.