The Gift of Guilt


     A while ago, we received a lengthy email from a Mormon man who had been raised in the LDS church.  He talked about the various positions he has held in the church but mainly wrote to talk about the various struggles he has had with some of the teachings of Mormonism.  One sentence he wrote, however, stood out from the rest.  You could almost feel his anguish as he wrote: “the guilt is a gift that just keeps on giving.”

     Some have characterized guilt as a corrosive acid eating away at us.  That surely seems to have been what was happening with this man.  Guilt is something that almost everybody, to varying degrees, has experienced.  Guilt, especially when we see ourselves guilty before God, can be nothing less than paralyzing.

     But what thrills me, what gives me joy and energy, is how the Bible, from so many different angles, tells me in no uncertain terms that there is no need for me to feel guilty before God, because God has declared me “not guilty” because of Jesus.  One way it does that is with the idea of justification.  Paul wrote: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).  The concept of biblical justification comes from the courtroom.  It describes the judge’s verdict of “not guilty”.  (This is in contrast to today’s common usage of people trying to justify themselves and their actions.)  God, the Judge, acquits us (declares us not guilty) because of Jesus’ redemption.  In other words, because Jesus has already paid our tremendous debt to God’s justice, we are legally free, not guilty.  “There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  This biblical concept of justification is one that has been treasured by many Christians for centuries. 

     It is a concept, however, that is unknown to many Mormons.  Most Mormons, when I bring it up, tell me that they are unfamiliar with it.  That’s not surprising either.  It is not addressed in the LDS Bible Dictionary.  It is not listed in the indexes of either, Gospel Principles, or True to the Faith, two of the most basic manuals of Mormonism. It is not something Mormonism talks about very much.

    To get a handle on what Mormonism stands for, it is instructive to see not only what it stresses, but also what it doesn’t stress.  Its lack of stress on justification speaks volumes.  It is clear from the Bible that God does not want guilt to be a gift that keeps on giving.  Jesus came to remove the cause of guilt from us.  And that is what he did.  Because of Jesus, no longer do we need to feel guilty.  That’s not a message I hear from Mormonism.


10 Responses to “The Gift of Guilt”

  1. 1 Susan
    October 20, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I think that it is important to point out the convicting and sactifying power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Believer. I know that Christ has clothed me in His righteousness, and I no longer need to fear the condemnation of God. However, the longer I walk with Christ, the more conscious I am of my own sinfulness. It’s kind of like the cleanliness of my house….it looks clean until the sun shines brightly in the window. Then I see all of the dust, cobwebs, etc. that I couldn’t see before. As he draws me in, His light shines brighter and brighter, and His Spirit goes to work to clean out those sinful places that I didn’t see before. Thankfully, it’s a process…we couldn’t handle seeing it all at once from God’s perspective…we would be undone. He is so gentle in that, and those who truly belong to Him are so grateful for the process. We hold tightly to the promise…”being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 He receives us into His eternal family because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and then He begins to mold us into the person that He created us to be. It’s humbling and beautiful. What a gift we have received.

    “Because by one sacrifice he has MADE PERFECT FOREVER those who are BEING MADE HOLY.” Hebrews 10:14

    Praise Him!

  2. October 20, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Are you saying that guilt is something that Evangelicals don’t have to deal with?

    You’ll pardon me if that sounds a little hard to swallow.

  3. 3 markcares
    October 20, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    As i said in my post, almost everybody has guilt feelings. But, from the Bible perspective, Christ has removed the cause of guilt – sin. Therefore the God-pleasing action is to joyfully acknowledge that God has declared me “not guilty”. As defendants in a courtroom rejoice when they hear “Not guilty” so also we. It is not God-pleasing to still act and feel as if we haven’t been justified, declared not guilty. When Christians feel guilty, they should not dwell on that but quickly remind themselves that those feelings aren’t a true reflection of God’s reality. The more I do that, the more I will stand in awe of God’s graciousness to me. Again it comes back to the fact that there is no comdemnation for those in Christ. The guilt that many believers carry and wallow in does a disservice to that truth.

  4. October 20, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    That’s fine Mark. But what I’m wondering is whether the guilt in BOTH Evangelical and Mormon traditions is not a result of worshipers misunderstanding their own doctrines.

  5. 5 latterdaysaintwoman
    October 21, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Seth,

    You are wondering whether the guilt in BOTH Evangelical and Mormon traditions is not a result of worshipers misunderstanding their own doctrines. As Mark has pointed out, Biblical doctrine states clearly that believers should have no guilt because they have been declared “not guilty”! Mormonism produces guilt in their followers BECAUSE their doctrine claims they ARE guilty until they do the necessary works required to gain forgiveness! I know this from personally living for many years as a Mormon as well as from THOROUGHLY studying current official LDS publications.

    According to Mormon doctrine the only way a person can be declared by God as “not guilty” (be forgiven of a sin) is by successfully completing the process of repentance for that sin. The process of repentance has several steps. The most difficult of those steps is completely abandoning that sin. As an example, if a person struggles with the sin of pornography, repents of that sin, but repeats it again sometime in the future—his former sins return. That is taken straight from Joseph Smith’s revelations from D&C 82:7 “And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto the soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.”

    Another huge condition to gaining forgiveness is keeping the commandments. This also from D&C 1:32 “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” 76:52 “That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins…” (If you would like to read a post from my blog about the fallacy of gaining forgiveness through works, go to my blog at http://latterdaysaintwoman.wordpress.com/ and read the latest post).

    Also, here is a link that gives quotes from many different LDS curriculum lessons showing how a Mormon becomes “not guilty” before God. These quotes show exactly what the process of repentance is and that it is necessary before a sin can be forgiven. http://www.thecityofzion.com/gemshop/PlanOfSalvation/Forgiveness/78p13.htm

    In curiosity, I went to lds.org and did a search in the Gospel Library on the word “guilt”. The lesson from the LDS Curriculum that came up number 6 was from The Teachings of Presidents of the Church, President Spencer Kimball chapter 4. This shows specifically that LDS doctrine claims Mormons ARE guilty (still in their sin) until they go through the process of repentance:

    “Of course, even the conviction of guilt is not enough. It could be devastating and destructive were it not accompanied by efforts to rid oneself of guilt. Accompanying the conviction, then, must be an earnest desire to clean up the guilt and compensate for the loss sustained through the error. There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. Providing that a person discontinues his sin with the right motives—because of a growing consciousness of the gravity of the sin and a willingness to comply with the laws of the Lord—he is genuinely repenting. This criterion has been set by the Lord: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:43. Italics added.)
    In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his way and started on a new path. … The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life. True repentance prods one to action.

    True repentance includes a commitment to live the Lord’s commandments. In his preface to modern revelation, the Lord outlined what is one of the most difficult requirements in true repentance. For some it is the hardest part of repentance, because it puts one on guard for the remainder of his life. The Lord says:
    “… I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” (D&C 1:31–32. Italics added.)
    This scripture is most precise. First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness. …

    Since all of us sin in greater or lesser degree, we are all in need of constant repentance, of continually raising our sights and our performance. One can hardly do the commandments of the Lord in a day, a week, a month or a year. This is an effort which must be extended through the remainder of one’s years. …

    … Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. … God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life. …

    “Doing the commandments” includes the many activities required of the faithful. … General good works and devotion accompanied by constructive attitudes are what is needed. In addition, a sound way to neutralize the effects of sin in one’s life is to bring the light of the gospel to others who do not now enjoy it. This can mean working with both inactive members of the Church and nonmembers—perhaps more usually the latter. Note how the Lord has related the forgiveness of sins to the bearing of testimony respecting the latter-day work”

  6. October 22, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Surely you are not suggesting that repentance is not a requirement?

  7. 7 latterdaysaintwoman
    October 22, 2008 at 3:12 pm


    I am not sure what you are asking so let me ask a few questions before I answer you. First, you say “Surely you are not suggesting that repentance is not a requirement? My questions: 1) A requirement for what? 2) Are you asking if repentance is a requirement (for whatever) according to Mormon Doctrine or Biblical Doctrine?

  8. October 22, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I’m pretty sure that repentance is a requirement of salvation for Mormon doctrine. I was just making sure it was for Evangelicals as well.

  9. 9 latterdaysaintwoman
    October 22, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Seth,

    Mormonism and Christianity have completely different definitions for repentance. (Mark discussed these differing definitions in his blog on September 15th and the 26th.) Asking the question of whether “repentance is a requirement of salvation” for Christians needs to be answered with those different definitions in mind.

    I will use myself as an example. I spent the majority of my life trying to gain forgiveness “LDS style” meaning through the process of repentance. I was tormented for years over my sins and very sincere in my efforts to gain forgiveness through repentance. In fact, there was nothing more important to me than being forgiven by my Heavenly Father. I read The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer Kimball many times, searching my Prophets words for the answers of what I must do to gain this forgiveness. From his words I knew that my forgiveness depended upon my works—my ability to abandon my sins as well as keeping all the commandments. THAT is the doctrine of repentance in the LDS Church. A person is required to first repent; then he can receive forgiveness—as long as he has sufficiently met the requirements. From my studies of all the current official LDS publications, I believe you will not find one Mormon Prophet or Apostle who gives a different definition. If it sounds different, you can always find the big IF associated with the statement. IF a person repents, they will be forgiven. Then you have to go back to every foundational LDS teaching manual to find the definition of repentance.

    And, as you mentioned, this repentance is required not only to gain forgiveness for each sin but also to receive salvation. Getting back to myself as an example, when I was repentant as a Mormon, I was sincerely sorrowful and trying to gain forgiveness through my works, as I had been taught, but I was unsuccessful.

    In contrast, the day the Holy Spirit brought me to faith was when I learned the truth about repentance and forgiveness. I learned that the repentant (those who are sorrowful for their sins, which is what I was) simply believe (trust) that Jesus has already gained forgiveness for them. From that moment in 1994 I have lived in a continual state of repentance. I love my Savior more than any person or thing because of what He did for me. Every breath I take is in thankfulness for this awesome gift of forgiveness. But, no matter how hard I try I still commit sins. EVERY time I do, I am in sorrow for breaking one of my Lord’s commandments. I AM continually repentant but I don’t have to do anything to receive forgiveness for my sins because I already have that forgiveness. When I do sin I go to my Savior in repentance. You might ask why, since I believe I am already forgiven. The reason—because He is my best friend and when I sin against Him I want to tell him I’m sorry! I can’t help doing this because I love Him so much!

    So, the short answer to your question is NO (if we use the LDS definition for repentance). However, using the Biblical definition and trying to say a person is “required” doesn’t really work. The better way to state it would be: “It is a “fact” that all true believers live in a continual state of repentance. They trust that the works Jesus already did for them gained them forgiveness as well as salvation.

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October 2008

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