Published July 19, 2011

Paul's Epistle...

This is not a letters column. But early last year I received the letter copied below from "Jane" (not her actual name) about feelings of guilt and related matters. Because this seems to be a common problem, I wanted to share with you both her letter and the response I sent her.

Dear Paul,
I am a born again Christian, however I carry a load of guilt, knowing that I am a failure in so many ways. The only thing that I do is pray for the needs of others. Please help me in this area of my life. I love the Lord, but live with guilty feelings. One of our pastors once said, ‘It's not what you do, but what you don't do that will keep a lot of people out of Heaven.' This has stuck with me for ALL these years.
God Bless You & Sheila,
— Jane

Here was how I responded...

Hi Jane...

I have some very good news for you. The most fundamental thing about which a person feels guilt — and this only when acted upon by the Holy Spirit in a spirit of conviction — is sin. If you are a Christian, Christ's atoning blood has cleansed you from the effect (the penalty) of your sins. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). Also remember, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).

So... that can be crossed off the "guilt list."

You did mention that you feel like a "failure in so many ways." Why? You are praying for others, so obviously you believe in the power of prayer. Have you prayed earnestly for the Lord to take away this feeling of failure and anxiety? "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7). If you really believe this, ask the Lord to take this feeling of guilt away from you — and He will.

One problem is that our faith in such things is not complete. We ask the Lord to take away such guilt and fears — and He does. But then we think, "Did He really?" And we dredge up those things that have been cast into the sea of God's forgiveness. Don't do that. Why should you keep carrying a burden that the Lord wants to remove?

I don't understand the context of your pastor's statement about "It's not what you do, but what you don't do that will keep a lot of people out of Heaven." The only thing you must do to receive salvation (and thereby go to heaven) is to accept Christ's atoning work on the cross — the free gift of salvation — by confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness.1 It wouldn't be a "free gift" if we had to work for it. While it is true that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20), your faith is what gets you to heaven. The "works" you do for the Lord as a Christian contribute to your rewards in heaven, not your salvation. (I heard someone describe them as the "bonus points" Christians get for their service.) The Lord wants us to work for Him here, of course — but this should be our "labor of love" for Him, not a requirement for salvation which you have already received.

Remember, too, that the Lord — through the Holy Spirit — impresses different Christians to do different things. We can't all be Billy Grahams or Bill Brights, pastors, Sunday School teachers, missionaries, etc. I have heard from many people over the years who, for whatever reason, have been given as their primary Christian service a life of intercessory prayer. They spend a lot of time on their knees praying for others. I don't think any of them view this as a failure to do other things. It's what the Lord has impressed them to do. Each Christian has different gifts, given by the Holy Spirit for specific reasons. Perhaps this is your gift -- praying for the needs of others, as you put it. Done sincerely, earnestly and even passionately, this is a wonderful ministry. (Add me to your prayer list; I could use it, too.)

Perhaps you should simply but earnestly ask the Lord what He wants you to do. I'm sure you've done this, but keep it up. Every day. Every time you pray. Manufactured, unnecessary guilt is nothing but a "joy robber" from the adversary — and it's so unnecessary.

I hope that's helpful. May God continue to richly bless you as you serve and live for Him.

- Paul

I hope this may be helpful to you, too.

1. Also see Acts 2:38

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