Guilt-Free Preaching

Justin Johnson

It is no surprise that the Bible is unwelcome in many modern pulpits: it makes people feel much too guilty.

Nearly a dozen times in Matthew 23 the Lord spouts “woe unto you” to his audience.

Often, the Lord’s condemning woes are followed by calling them hypocrites or venomous snakes.

“He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” – Mark 7:6

“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” – Matt 12:34

He calls the Pharisees and his own disciples “fools” (Matt 23:17, Luke 24:25).

In one instance he says to the face of his opposition (and once to Peter) that they are of the devil (John 8:44, Matt 16:23).

Jesus came to guilty people, and he let them know it.

Not Guilty

It has become taboo in the modern pulpit to make anyone feel guilty of anything.

Instead, what is acceptable is preaching messages of how much God loves you, wants to be your friend, and has a perfect plan of pleasure and success for your life.

To psychologists guilt is something we inflict on ourselves and is only part of our imagination. We can make it go away by thinking differently.

When the church incorporates this psychology into ministry then suddenly guilt is removed from all preaching, and replaced with thoughts of people feeling loved by God and not condemned for their sins choices.

Don’t make people feel guilty, and uncomfortable about their sin; they must be accepted just as they are.

The Bible’s Guilt Trip

The Bible tells a different story about guilt. God will not hold him guiltless that breaks his law (Exo 20:7).

The law of God was given so that the whole world would be guilty.

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” – Rom 3:19

If we do not feel guilty by reading the Bible then we are missing a few verses.

We should feel guilty of taking what does not belong to us.
We should feel guilty for telling white lies.
We should feel guilty for sinful thoughts as well as actions.
We should feel guilty for failing to do right, even when no one is looking.
We should feel guilty for not rebuking sin, correcting errors, or speaking the truth.
We should feel guilty for not serving God.

The justice of the law produces guilt and the knowledge of sin. Without guilt we would have no knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20). Guilt is needed for justice to be employed.

“Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away…” – Lev 6:4

Showing people their guilt is not a sin.

Guilt and the Gospel

Guilt before God is needed to prepare the way for the gospel.

Guiltless people cannot know the truth of the gospel (Rom 3:10, Rom 3:23). The gospel is only received by people guilty of sin in need of a Saviour (Rom 3:25-26).

Paul said, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

The Bible should make you feel guilty. Christ made people feel guilty. Paul teaches the purpose of the guilt from the law to bring us to Christ.

Guilt is real. It is not just self condemnation, but the consequence of sin and an honest judge. It is the product of sin in all of us.

Guilt has a solution, and it is not to deny or ignore it. The solution is payment for the sin that produces the guilt.

Christ did that for us. He became sin for us, that is, he took upon himself our guilt and died on a cross on our behalf.

Sin remains sinful. We are still guilty, but the sting of guilt is removed by the grace of God through Christ paying for sin in our place.

Through the gospel, every sinner trusting in Christ’s blood loses all their guilty stains. Guilt and the gospel must be preached together.

When guilt is removed from the pulpit, the gospel goes with it.

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Published: July 20, 2013
Last Modified: March 7, 2018
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