Some ministers in nationally well known churches have also recognized people’s sense of guilt. They addressed this issue by deciding that the way to attract new members was to steer clear of issues that fostered guilt, and to work on building self esteem instead. One of these ministers was quoted as saying, “They need self-esteem. They want to feel good about themselves”.
The apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). One of those fables is that the remedy for feelings of guilt is to build one’s self-esteem.
The faithful preaching of God’s word, however, forces people to see and examine themselves in the perfect mirror of God’s law. God doesn’t do this just for the sole purpose of making people feel bad about themselves. It’s designed to demonstrate that something is wrong, radically wrong with us. God created us to be perfect reflections of His perfect character which would be manifested in service, obedience and worship offered up to God for His glory. Instead, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we chiefly serve ourselves. Outwardly, we may look good, even pious, but inwardly our motives are often pride, looking for the favor of men, and sometimes using people for our personal gain.
The Apostle Paul discovered that about himself. He was deeply religious and observant of every point of God’s law. But he came to see that his motives were based around his coveting of people’s approval and his standing in the church. He realized that he had not obeyed the law out of love for God, but out of what was essentially love for himself. That produced guilt.
But the solution was not for Him to find ways to build up his self esteem. God used guilt to bring him to his knees in humble confession, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. He saw Jesus and believed in Him as the One who lived the life of true obedience on his behalf that He never lived, and who paid the debt due to his sin. His sense of worth then became not what he was in himself, but what he became in Jesus Christ, a new creature; justified, adopted, sanctified, a joint heir with Christ with the sure hope of eternal life.
That made him joyful, thankful, hopeful, at peace before God and in his conscience, and with real lasting purpose and meaning to his life, to be light and salt to a fallen world as Christ’s disciple. No substitute for the true preaching of God’s word like self-help, self esteem building, feel better about yourself pep-talks can produce that.
If you feel guilt, the answer is not to suppress it, or avoid it, or to work on your self esteem. It’s like when a doctor tells you that you have a fatal illness. That’s not something you want to hear, but it motivates you to find the cure. And the cure for guilt before God is Jesus, who came very specifically to save sinners like you and I. And He said, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
I’ll take that over self esteem any day!