Trigger warning: suicide
1 Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. 2 Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”
5 Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
Guilt, particularly the kind that comes when we feel as though we’ve let God down, can feel so overwhelming that we find ourselves doing anything to get rid of it. Sometimes, we act like Judas and try to take it back, to undo our mistake. Other times we try to justify our wrongdoings: “well, I only did that because…”. Or, maybe we simply deny that we were at fault at all.
If given the chance, the enemy will try to use guilt to shut us down. He’ll feed us lies like “you’re passed forgiveness” or “you’ll always mess up”. His goal is to take our life; that is, to pull us away from the abundant life that God has for us. In Judas’s case, this is quite literally what happened. He could not bear to live with the gravity of his decision to betray Jesus, so he took his own life.
Yet, while guilt has the power to shut us down, that's not God's desire. He wants to shift our guilt into conviction that leads to forgiveness. In fact, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians that Godly sorrow (i.e. conviction) for your sins leads to repentance, and repentance leads to salvation. He also writes that worldly guilt leads to death. The difference between Godly sorrow and worldly guilt is forgiveness.
There is no better example of this than contrasting Peter’s reaction to his guilt with Judas’s reaction. After publicly denying three times that he knew Jesus, Peter truly felt sorrowful; the Bible says that he began to “weep bitterly” (Luke 22:62). And yet, Peter pushed through his guilt by accepting Christ’s forgiveness. Not only did Jesus forgive him, but He ordained Peter as one of the leaders of the early church.
It makes me wonder – how would Judas’s story have turned out if he allowed his guilt to lead him to repentance, rather than to death? How would your own story take a shift if you allowed your guilt to push you closer to Christ, rather than further into shame? What would happen if we forgave ourselves as freely as God forgives us?
I encourage you to respond to your guilt like Peter. There will be many times when we fall to temptation, or we fail to properly obey God’s commands, and that’s okay. That’s exactly why God sent us Jesus – so that through His sacrifice we might be forgiven for our sins and continue growing through and living for God. Take a moment today to ask God for forgiveness, and then make it a point to forgive yourself. God has so much more in store for you beyond your guilt, so keep pushing forward.
Think of a time in your life when you’ve felt guilty. Did you respond more like Judas (shutting down, running from God) or like Peter (repenting and accepting forgiveness)?
What guilt have you been holding onto? What do you need to let go?
Lamentations 3:22-23 says that God's mercies are new every morning. How does this relate to God's forgiveness? What would it take for you to more freely accept God's forgiveness (and to forgive yourself)?
Dear Lord, thank you so much for freely offering salvation and forgiveness to me. I am sorry for the sins I’ve committed. Please help me not only learn how to avoid those sins, but also learn how to accept your forgiveness. Teach me how to use this conviction as a tool for my growth in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.