Don’t Preach Guilt

The story goes that a homeless man entered the back of a rather large, affluent church. He went up to person after person asking for change so he could get some food. The people at the church were in their best, Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and wanted nothing to do with him. Finally, after no one welcomed him, helped him, or even spoke to him, the man sat down in one of the pews and just waited.

When the services started, the elders of the church went to the front of the congregation and welcomed everyone. They said they were there to introduce their new pastor and they were glad that everyone had made it to worship. They called out the new pastor’s name, and the homeless man stood up, walked up to the pulpit and was introduced as the new pastor (the elders were in on the deception). Needless to say, most of the congregants hung their heads in shame as they realized they had not only snubbed a man who deceived them into thinking he was homeless, but the deceiving, conniving preacher was their new pastor.

OK, the story doesn’t go quite like that. But that story is told so as to illicit guilt upon the hearers so that we feel bad because we haven’t given all our clothes, money and worldly possessions to the first, no-good, lazy, non-working bum we come across. Never mind that the Bible says, “if a man will not work, he will not eat.” But I digress, once again.

The story is told so at to bring about guilt in the hearers and elicit a response. The problem is that the response given, isn’t the response of faith. Usually when we are approached by the homeless and destitute, the first reaction is to walk away, as those in the above story did. The second reaction is to empty our wallets of our all our cash. This is usually my response. I do so because I want to help those who are in need, and by doing so, I make myself feel really superior to all those who said “no, get lost bum!” Yup! Moral superiority! That is how we are to respond!

OK, again, I digress. I can’t seem to stay on course here. My main point is this: don’t preach guilt. Guilt is a lousy motivator and only produces moralistic, yet unredeemed congregations. We can do this if we want to, but in the end, this is a road to destruction and not a path to true, Spirit led righteousness.

To emotionally manipulate people is easy. Any conniving, charlatan of a preacher can do that. Even us honest preachers who strive to preach faithfully have failed and fallen into preaching guilt. That is because it is easy and quick. If any of my preaching friends who read this know, it’s much easier easier to preach guilt and emotional manipulation than it is to preach God’s word faithfully. In fact, if any of my preaching friends have done so: shame on you! Now, you can assuage your guilt by sending me a check for $1,000 and I will send you a special prayer rug in return…

See how easy it is? In fact, it is so easy, that we had seminary professors who practiced it on a regular basis. One professor, who will go unnamed because I’m not sure I can spell his name correctly, used the same tactic every few semesters, thereby impressing the new and incoming students into making them think he was o so spiritual, but he really just borrowed the tactic from some nationally known preacher, who borrowed it from someone else.

The overused guilt trip went like this: the preacher/professor would talk about the number of people going to hell every day, and … wait for it… then say “and most of you don’t give a damn! (actual wording). What is sad is that most of you are more concerned with the fact that I used the word “damn” than you are about the number of people going to hell every day.

All the first year students would respond: Ooohhh! So spiritual! By the time I got out of there, after six years, I had heard him say that three times. It kind of lost its value by that point for several reasons. The first is that a guilt trip shows a lack of trust in the word and Spirit of God, and second is that it shows a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty.

There will not be one person in hell who doesn’t deserve hell, nor one there that slipped out of Christ’s grasp. In other words, Christ will save every person the Father intended Him to save. While the damnable guilt trip may produce a wonderful response, it is theologically empty. If we really believe what the Bible says about God’s word, that it will not return unto Him void, and in His sovereign hand in saving all of the elect, then there is no point in using guilt to bring about a response. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of using proper guilt via the preaching of the truth, that leads to true repentance.

After all, there is proper guilt for those who come to know the LORD. Peter did not hesitate to point out to the crowds that they were responsible for the death of Christ in Acts 2. What he said was used by the Holy Spirit to produce repentance and faith in the crowd who heard. Yes, they felt true guilt. But it wasn’t Peter’s tactic that brought about that true guilt and repentance. It was his preaching the truth and the Holy Spirit used the truth to bring the crowd to faith in Christ. That is what we need. We do no need cheap tricks that illicit false guilt. The way we get true guilt that brings about repentance is simply to preach God’s word faithfully with conviction.

Hopefully, the next time a pastor or someone tries to pull the guilt trip on you, you will see through it. Guilt trips are just that. They are trips to get us motivated into responding the way the speaker wants us to respond, and that never leads to salvation, because it is based upon deception and manipulation. What we want is the Spirit to move us, not some speaker who wants to look good in the eyes of his hearers.

That is the main reasons why we should not use guilt in our preaching. There is no need to. If we are faithful to preach God’s word, the Holy Spirit bring about the guilt that leads to repentance. False guilt never leads to true repentance. It only leads us to take actions that assuage our guilty feelings, and does not produce repentance unto salvation.


9 thoughts on “Don’t Preach Guilt

  1. Excellent article.

    There was a third digression you could have followed about self-righteous moralizing. Instead of turning your head, or emptying your pockets, you could have taken the moral superior path of making sure you voted for the politicians who promise to take money from one neighbor and give it to another less fortunate neighbor. That way you have the moral superiority of not (in a vague way) turning your head while at the same time not having to empty your pockets. That way you are still able to moralize about how selfish everyone else is, and how moral and great you are. Of course, that those same politicians are God-haters and baby-killers is a bit pesky. But let’s face it, you can’t be morally superior without having to so much as lift a finger without some sort of downside, right? Besides, the main thing in life is not loving and protecting babies enough to outlaw their slaughter, or whether a person hates God or not, it’s whether or not they give material stuff to the poor; even if it IS someone else’s stuff.


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