Guilty feelings can come in like a flood, and sometimes they’re especially menacing because you don’t know why you’re having them. Have you ever felt responsible, but you can’t pinpoint why, and you have no idea how to rid yourself of those destructive emotions? In Understanding Those Guilty Feelings, Dr. Stanley discusses the source and nature of guilt, how to handle it, and what God says in His Word. If you need relief from your guilt, then this is one sermon you won’t want to miss. For more messages from Charles Stanley, including this week’s broadcast, go to


female announcer: “Timeless
Truths,” a collection of

classic sermons from
Dr. Charles Stanley.

Today’s selection, recorded in
1999, “Understanding Those

Guilty Feelings.”

Dr. Charles Stanley: When you
violate your conscience,

how do you feel?

You say, “Well, I feel guilty.”

Well, do you ever have those
guilty feelings when you haven’t

violated your conscience?

Well, oftentimes people do.

They just feel guilty and you
ask them, “Well, why do you

feel guilty?”

They can’t really and truly tell
you why.

Guilt is something all of us
have to deal with in our life

unless we understand the real,
true nature of guilt, how to

handle it, what the source of it
is, and what God says about it,

it can absolutely devastate
a person’s life.

Because the consequences of
feeling guilty not only affect

us, but affect the people who
are around us.

And so, what I want to talk
about this morning in this

message is understanding those
guilty feelings.

And I want you to turn to
James chapter 2.

And I just want us to read one
verse in James because it’s

not my purpose to expound this
particular passage of Scripture,

but just to mention this
particular verse in this

second chapter of James.

And he says in this tenth verse
of James chapter two,

“For whoever keeps the whole law
and yet stumbles in one point,

he has become guilty of all.”

Somebody says, “Well that in
itself should be enough to make

me feel guilty the rest of my
life because certainly I have

violated God’s law and
I certainly am guilty.”

Well, really what he’s saying
here is simply this.

It doesn’t take but one.

In other words, the law of God
is the law of God.

One sin makes us a sinner.

And so often times a person may
read this verse and say, “Well

you know I’ve sinned against
God, I’ve broken the whole law,

I’m guilty of it all, so why
could I ever think about not

feeling guilty?”

Because when you begin
to understand what guilt is all

about, you’ll understand that’s
not really what we’re talking

about here in this verse.

So, if you talk to someone often
times and you say to them,

“Well, how do you feel?”

They say, “Well, I just feel

Well, what do you feel guilty

“Well, you know what, I’m not
really sure.

I just, I just feel guilty.”

Well, when did it start?

“Well, it’s been there
a long time.”

Well, well like what?

“Well, I don’t know, I just,
I just always seem to

feel guilty.”

That is false guilt.

That is psychological guilt.

That is not godly guilt.

You mean to tell me that if
I feel guilty, that I may not

be guilty?


Now think about this
for a moment.

Because there are some people
who feel guilty for different

reasons and I want us to talk
about the reasons here.

Because the truth is, once
you’re saved by the grace

of God, declared absolutely not
guilty, then you’re not guilty.

And so, what we have to deal
with is that daily stuff we have

to put up with.

And so, we have feelings
of guilt.

We confess, we repent of it,
we move on.

Well, what’s the purpose of the
confession, repentance?

Listen, to restore as quickly as
possible my fellowship

with the Lord.

I want to walk with Him.

I want to love Him, I want to
have intimacy with Him.

And so therefore the way to do
that is to repent of it, to deal

with it, to turn away from it
right then.

Now, when you think about all
that and you think about your

life and you think about, first
of all, well, why do I

have these feelings?

In other words, do I have these
feelings because of sin?

What are my reasons?

So let’s think about it for just
a moment.

Let’s think about why people
feel guilty.

Sometime it’s because we have
violated the laws of God and

we feel guilty about it.

And so, that is a legitimate
feeling in our daily walk.

In our position we are not
guilty before, that is, when we

have been pardoned for our sin,
our eternal security is settled

once and for all.

But those feelings that I get on
a daily basis, that’s God’s way,

listen, that’s the conviction
of the Holy Spirit.

And the purpose is repentance
and change.

Now, so, why do we feel it?

Sometime it’s because of sin.

Sometime it’s because, watch
this, sometime it’s because

of things in our past we can’t
let go of.

Now think about this.

I think about kids who grow up
and their parents have sometimes

damaged them emotionally, things
that they have not gotten over.

And so here’s what they do.

Now they don’t realize they’re
doing this.

They’re holding onto the past
and their father or their mother

said things or treated them in
certain ways that they still

feel unworthy, still feel
unloved, still feel like that

they’re nobody, still feel like
that God doesn’t really care.

And so what happens is they hold
on to those, to things that

happened to them in the past.

And so they feel guilty because
of what was said to them or how

they were treated.

And often times a person who has
been sexually molested will talk

about their guilt,
their feelings of guilt because

of what they did.

Well, what did they do?

“Well I–”

Exactly what did you do?

“Well I, well–”

They can’t name anything.

It’s something that someone did
to them but they feel guilty

because they think,
“Well, I should have.

I should have run, I should have
told my parents, I should have

done this, I should have
done that.”

When often times they were
so young they would not have

normally known what to do.

That is a false sense of guilt.

You’re not guilty because
something someone did to you,


Just mark that down.

You are not guilty because of
something someone did to you.

And sometimes a person can’t
let go of the past.

Or it may be some sin before
they trusted Jesus Christ as

their Savior, maybe they were
into all kinds of sin and they

say, “Yes, I’ve trusted Jesus
Christ as my Savior.

I believe what you said about
the cross.

He’s atoned for my sin,
I do believe that.

But you know, somehow I just
can’t, I can’t seem to get over

the past.”

That is Satan’s harassment.

That is Satanic harassment.

Try, listen, trying to keep you
connected to the past when God

has forgiven you and
cleansed you.

When you and I confess our sin
and it is genuine, it has a

sense of repentance in it, that
is we’re turning away from it

and it’s genuine, you know
what happens?

There’s a disconnect in
God’s eyes.

We disconnect from the past.

God doesn’t want us connected
with something that He’s

delivered us from and,
and separated us from.

He has disconnected us from
the past.

But if I’m not willing to give
it up, if I’m not willing to lay

it down, listen, watch this.

If I feel better, if I feel
better feeling guilty, if I feel

better hanging onto something,
if I feel like I’m justified,

that it’s this self-punishment,
this self-infliction

that I have.

If somehow deep down inside of
me I just feel a little bit

better about the fact that I
don’t want to get too joyous and

too happy, and, and too peaceful
and too content and because

after all, that was in my life
and I know God forgave me but,

but after, some–
you see what’s happening.

What’s happening is emotionally
and mentally they’re trying to

conjure up something to deserve
forgiveness so that they’ll, in

other words, whip me, do, punish
me, do something so I’ll, so

I’ll feel forgiven, so I’ll be
able to acknowledge and say,

“Well yes, God, thank You for
forgiving me and then I’ve done

much better now and I’m living
a righteous life.”


It is all by grace and not
by works.

And so therefore, when a person
looks at their past have ask

themselves the question, is my
guilt, are these feelings of

guilt–that’s what they
are, not guilt,

feelings of guilt.

Are these feelings of guilt, are
they here because of something

I’m holding onto back yonder?

Or is it something I did today
or yesterday?

In other words, if God has
forgiven you, if you’ve brought

it to Him and confessed with Him
genuinely, then you know what?

That’s the end of it,
you move on.

He has disconnected you.

But if you, if you choose to
hold onto it, Satan will harass

you with something in the past
all of your life.

And this is why people live
under this cloud.

So sometimes it’s things that
have happened in the past and,

and often times a person will
have those feelings because they

just–they feel unworthy.

Maybe they don’t feel–
they don’t feel like they’re

a talented person.

They don’t feel like they have
any spiritual gifts.

They don’t feel like they can
serve the Lord.

They don’t feel like they have
accomplished anything in life.

And so what happens?

They feel like, somehow there’s
just this guilty feeling.

“Well you know, if-I’d-a.”

They live in the “if-I’d-a”

“Well, if-I’d-a done this and
if-I’d-a done that, and if-I’d-a

done the other.”

Listen, you know what?

If-I’d-a is one of Satan’s

All of us could say If-I’d-a,
if-I’d-a done this and if-I’d

not have done that.

And if-I’d-a done this and
if-I’d-a not have done that.

We could all live there.

That’s why there’s got to be
a disconnect with the past.


God says He holds it against us
no more.

Once you’re saved by the grace
of God, all your guilt and all

the penalty was atoned
for the death of Christ.

I need to deal with those guilty
feelings because I want my

fellowship restored.

The eyes of, listen, the eyes
of God–if He, listen.

If He died for one of my sins,
He died for all of them.

What happens is I feel guilty
because I feel unworthy and I

feel ashamed because I have
sinned against this marvelous

God who forgave me, past,
present and future.

So, I come to Him, convicted
of the Holy Spirit, dealing with

it, settling that issue once
and for all.

So sometimes it’s an unworthy
feeling that people have with

themselves and so therefore they
feel very guilty about

what’s going on.

Sometimes it’s because a person
is a perfectionist.

A perfectionist has a very
difficult life.

A perfectionist is the kind of
person who waits until they can

do it just right.

A perfectionist, you see,
it’s just their makeup.

It has to be done just right.


Because their sense of
self-esteem is hanging on that.

Their sense of self-worth is
balanced by that.

“If I don’t do it just right,
what are they gonna think?

If I don’t do it perfectly,
just right, then they’re gonna

think less of me.

They gonna think I don’t have
any abilities, any talents.

They’re gonna think,
in other words, I just won’t

be accepted, and then I’ll feel
real bad so I gotta do it

just right.”

And what they do, they cause
more problems, more heartache

and more ill-will because they
never get around to doing


That’s a terrible trap,
but that’s the reason a lot of

people feel guilty because they
have a perfectionistic attitude.

Well, as we said before, so much
of it is psychological,

it’s false guilt.

It’s just feelings that we have.

“Well I should have.”

You see, these are three bad
words: should, ought, and must.

I should-a done this, I ought-to
do that, and I must do

the other.

Well now, why should I,
ought I, and must I?

Why should I, ought I, must I?

Is it because of what somebody
thinks I should, ought,

and must do?

Or is it because of what God

And you see, God is not gonna
say to us, “You should have,

you must, and you ought.”

That’s not the way God talks.

He just says, “Here’s what
I want you to do.”

And so ask yourself the
question, what is this feeling

of guilt I have?

Now let’s talk about the
consequences of these guilty


There are lots of them.

First one is this.

Specially, either, either,

Either it’s because of something
you’ve done and you feel guilty

and you say, “Well, I’m
justified in feeling that I’ve

wronged somebody or wronged God
in this situation.”

First thing’s gonna happen
is this.

Divides your mind.

Guilty feelings divide our mind.

You cannot accomplish as much,
as well, as fast, as thoroughly,

be as good as, as when you do
not have a guilty feeling,

a guilty conscience as we
would say.

So, first of all, divides
your mind.

Second thing it does, it drains
your energy.

Because what’s going on when
you’re feeling guilty, there’s

an energy drain.

There it’s like having a–it’s
like something inside of you,

the fuel’s leaking out.

In other words, the oil’s
leaking out.

The energy is going.

So there’s gonna be an energy
drain and there’s gonna be

a dividing of the mind, dividing
the mind will drain your energy.

And so that’s just, that’s just
a couple of things that happen

to us.

Another thing is this.

We doubt God.

When you have guilty feelings,
you’re gonna doubt God.

Here’s what you’re gonna doubt.

First of all, somebody says,
“Well, I don’t know how could

God love me when I did what
I did?”

So we doubt His love.

Secondly, you’ll doubt that
He’ll answer your prayer.

“Well, how could God answer my
prayer when I made such

a terrible mistake?

When I failed Him.”

So we think that He–”

Well, God doesn’t answer
our prayer.

“How could I expect God to
provide for me and to protect me

when I have sinned against Him?

After all, I’m guilty of this,
and so, feeling what I feel,

how could I expect God
to do these things for me?”

Well, what happens is, something
happens to our faith in Him.

And that’s what guilty
feelings do.

Certainly, there is the feeling
of fear and insecurity.

What about the future?

You know and people say, “Well
you know, I keep looking

over my shoulder.

God’s just too good, He’s just
too good to me.

I know this can’t last.”

And what are they doing?

They’re setting themselves up to
make some silly and ridiculous,

stupid, idiotic decision, and
they’re gonna fall flat on their

face and say, “See God,
I knew it.”

And then God gets the blame.

One thing for certain, you can’t
drive down the expressway sixty

miles an hour looking back.

You’re gonna have a crash.

In the Christian life, you,
listen, you can’t always be

walking, looking, “Oh God,
I wonder what’s gonna happen

next week.”

Here’s God trying to bless you.

Listen, it’s not the will of God
for His children to have lack

of peace and contentment.

It isn’t God’s will for us to be
in need, not have our needs met.

It’s the will and purpose and
plan of God that we be godly

children with our needs met,
under His divine protection,

doing the things He wants us
to do.

I don’t always understand all
the things that He allows in our

life and the pain,
the suffering, the hurt,

and the loss.

But you know what?

He’s still God and He’s still
loving us and nothing that He

allows or happens is going to
take away His unconditional

love for us.

And so if you are always looking
back thinking, “Things are

getting too good.”

So here’s what I say, the phrase
isn’t “God is too good,”

but “God is so good.”

Let’s say that together.

God is so good.

Let’s say it one more time.

God is so good.

Now watch this one.

God is too good.

That doesn’t even sound right,
does it?

How can God, who is absolute
goodness, be too good?

What you’re saying is,
“God, there’s something wrong

with Your character.

There’s something wrong
with Your attributes.

You’re just too good.”

You know what?

That’s a reflection on God.

The truth is He’s so good.

How good is He?

He’s so good I can’t even
describe Him.

He talks about the abundance of
His grace and, and overflowing

with the grace of God.

That He’s a God who has stored
up goodness in heaven for us.

That is the goodness of God.

And sometimes a person has
a very difficult time.

They feel like–they feel
so insecure.

What’s causing them to feel

“Well, I’ve sinned against God
or I’ve done this I’ve messed it

up here and so now I don’t know
what’s gonna happen.”

So they feel extremely insecure
about what’s going on in

their life.

Well, I think another reason,
another consequence is this.

And that is, sometimes
it’s compulsive behavior.

Person feels guilty, you know
what they do sometimes?

They eat.

They eat.

Or, if they have some particular
activity that they like, they

just go at it.

Or, they could just work
themselves to death, whatever.

In other words, anything–
what are they trying to do?

Alleviate the guilty feelings.

So just get busy so you won’t
think about it.

Let me just say this.

Getting busy or overeating or
overworking or whatever it might

be, does not deal with the issue
on the inside.

It is an attitude of the heart.

It is, it is a, it is an
imagination of the mind.

It’s a thinking of the mind.

The only way to deal with that
is to get on the inside by the

grace of God and deal with it
which we’ll talk about

in a moment.

But sometimes that’s exactly the
way people respond.

And so, now what happens is
that’s one, that’s one of the


One of the consequences of guilt
is certainly depression.

And that is, you know, things
are just so bad.

And anger, depression, guilty
feelings, all these things

go hand-in-hand.

If you are guilty or feel,
listen, even if the guilt’s not

biblical guilt, if you feel
guilty and you absolutely will

not deal with it, you refuse to
deal with it, more than likely

you are a good prospect
for great depression.

Because guilty feelings, listen,
unresolved guilt that is

a prolonged period of time is
going to result in some form

of depression or anger and
ultimately, it could mean even

taking your own life.

And so you cannot afford to let
guilty feelings plague your

life, because of what it’ll do.

It will affect the human body.

You remember we said the body,
the Bible says we are body,

soul, and spirit.

And God intends to work through
His Spirit to control, listen,

through our soul to control this
body of ours.

So, if in my relationship with
Him in my spirit I feel guilty

before God, condemned before
God, under the wrath of God,

then what’s happening?

My soul is going to be
remorseful and my body is going

to respond to the thinking of my
mind, the condition of my soul.

Mind, will, conscience,
consciousness all makes up their


And so the physical body.

Probably if we knew how much
real disease and how many

different diseases and how much
real pain and suffering and hurt

people go through as a result
of unresolved conflicts in

their life.

Absolutely will not resolve
their guilt.

And accept God’s forgiveness.

And deal with the things that
pop up on a daily basis and walk

holy before Him.

I believe if somehow we were
willing to deal with those

things, probably we’d all be
in better health.

And then I think one of the
ultimate consequences of guilt

that people live with and they
cannot face and cannot deal

with, and no matter what,
and they lose all hope,

they take their life.

They take their life for the
simple reason they don’t see any

other way out.

They can’t–the pain keeps on
increasing, the intensity of the

pain increases and so they say,
“What’s the use of trying

to live?

I can’t handle it.

I’m checking out.”

Now, with all that in mind.

How do we deal with it?

What do you, how do you deal
with guilt?

Well it’s very simple, but not
always very easy.

So listen carefully.

First thing you have to do
is this.

You have to acknowledge yes,
I do feel guilty.

Don’t say, “Well, now it’s not
exactly guilt I feel.”

Well, what is it?

“Well, I–”

Yeah, well let’s face it.

The truth is, yes I feel guilty.

Step number one, admitting I do
feel guilty.

Step number two is not as easy.

And that is, identifying what is
the source of my guilt?

Is this something that
I’m holding onto in the past?

Is this something, some feeling
somebody, now watch this.

Here’s what we think.

Is this feeling, some feeling
somebody made me feel?

Watch this carefully.

Nobody can make you feel guilty.

I have to either choose to feel
guilty on the basis of what they

say or do.

Or, I can choose not to
feel guilty.

If I’m not guilty, I don’t.

I can choose not to feel guilty.

If I have disobeyed the law of
God, the Holy Spirit’s not gonna

let me out of that until because
I’m gonna be convicted of that.

I’m gonna have to deal
with that.

And so I will say maybe I feel
guilty about this.

I must be willing to trace it
to its source.

What is the source?

Somebody says, “Well, here’s
what I did yesterday.”

Well then, let’s deal with

“Well, you know, I–”

So two weeks go by.

“Well, I dealt with that but
I still feel guilty.”

Well, what are you guilty about?

“Well, you see–” If you can’t
put your finger on the source,

you’re gonna keep on feeling

Listen, there is a source.

It may be false or it
may be true.

Listen carefully.

If it is a sin that you’ve
committed, whether it’s just

between you and yourself or
between you and someone else or

only you and God, if it’s
between something you did before

God, whatever it might be–
because all sin is before Him–

then you have to trace it back
to this is what I did.

Or, this is what I am doing.

And this is what I keep on

So you’ve got to identify, until
you identify it you’ll still

have those feelings.

Then when you’ve acknowledged
yes, I do have these guilty


Yes, this is exactly what is
causing me to feel guilty.

Then what do you do with it?

If it’s something in your life,
if you’ve violated the law

of God, you, here’s what
I would do.

I would say Lord, I just want to
thank You that on the cross

Jesus atoned for my sin, took my
guilt, past, present, future,

all my sin.

I want to thank You
for that forgiveness.

Now I’m coming to You confessing
and acknowledging this in my

life, thanking You for Your
forgiveness for me.

And I choose to walk away
from that.

So if that is the issue of
guilt, I’m gonna confess it,

I’m gonna repent of it, then I’m
gonna choose to walk away from

that and walk in obedience
to God.

You know what happens?

You disconnect from that guilt.

In other words, you disconnect.


Because you have affirmed,
listen, you have affirmed your

forgiveness before God.

What God has forgiven you for,
what you and God have dealt

with, you don’t have to have any
guilty feelings about.

You don’t have to have any
feelings about your salvation.

He dealt with that a long time

You trusted Him as your personal
Savior, forever that was


He took your guilt and your sin
upon Himself.

Now when sin crops into our
life, what do we do?

We’re confessing these feelings
that we have because they don’t

fit who we are in Christ Jesus
any more, and we confess it and

we repent of it and we move on
in our life.

That’s the only way to deal
with it.

You can’t cover it up.

You see, now watch this.

A person can live with guilt and
no one else know what they feel

guilty about.

But the consequences are going
on all the time.

Divided mind, drain of energy,
and all the rest of the things

we talked about.

So how do you deal with it?

You face it.

You identify it.

Is this false?

If this is false, “Lord, I just
want to, I just want to, Father,

just forgive me for even
thinking that kind of stuff

in my life.

I just want to thank You for
Your love and Your forgiveness

and Your cleansing.”

But if there’s something that
you keep holding onto, ask God.

Say, “Lord, I’ve trusted You for
the forgiveness of my sins.

I know that I’m forgiven.

I want You to enable me to
disconnect from the past, no

matter what they said about me,
no matter what they did to me,

no matter how much I was abused,
no matter how much I was

falsely accused.

Or no matter what happened in my
life, no matter how sinful

I was, disconnect.”


Because the blood of Jesus
Christ has washed you clean and

now you have the righteousness
of Christ in your life.

You and I have the gift of His
righteousness, so that now we

daily walk in confession,


To keep our life clean, to keep
our conduct clean, to keep

our behavior clean.

We are not guilty sinners,
we are righteous saints, made

righteous by the blood of
Jesus Christ.

You say, “Well, isn’t that being
pious and prideful?”

No, that’s being grateful and
understanding the marvelous work

of the grace of Almighty God.

So I simply want to say to you,
my friend, if you’ve never

trusted Jesus as your Savior,
know in your heart that you’ve

never done it,
you do feel guilty.

And your guilt is right because
the wages of sin is death.

If you’re willing to ask Him to
forgive you of your sins, based

on what He did at Calvary, and
tell Him that you’re turning

your life over to Him, He will
save you in that moment, forgive

you, declare you no longer

Now listen, you say, “But now
what about, oh, but,

but what about?”

Yes, every single solitary sin
forgiven, pardoned forever,

disconnected totally.

You know what?

Remember this.

God does not bring up what He
has forgiven us for and what He

has delivered us from, what He
has pardoned us for.

He does not bring that back up.

When you and I remember it,
it’s because often times Satan

is harassing.

Or, let me say with one

If the Holy Spirit brings up
something in the past, He will,

listen, He will bring up what
God did for you in that, how He

worked in your life through that
in order to strengthen your


Because one of the very
important factors in dealing

with guilt is this.

And that is understanding how
God has worked it in your life

to free you up from those guilty
feelings and to weave that into

your personal testimony of how
God delivered you, set you free,

and how now you’re able to
understand His unconditional

love for you and to walk in it.

That’s the only time He’s gonna
bring it up.

When He weaves it into your life
for something very good.

Father, we love You and praise
You and thank You this morning

for Your wonderful love for us.

Thank You for the death
of Jesus.

Thank You that He’s alive and
lives in our heart.

Thank You that He sits at your
right hand still interceding

for all of us.

Thank You for the marvelous
deliverance from all guilt.

Thank You for the wondrous way
which the blood of Jesus has

atoned for that.

Thank You for Your

Thank You for declaring us
righteous when often times we

act so unrighteously.

We love You and praise you and
pray that this very day, upon

hearing this very message You
will set many, many people free

of the legitimate guilt by
receiving Christ as Savior.

From false guilt by identifying
it, confessing it, and

acknowledging it as an act of
Your grace, that You set them

free from this phantom that has
dogged their steps for years.

For we ask it in
Christ’s name, amen.