download (11)I will be merciful when they fail, and I will erase their sins and wicked acts out of My memory as though they had never existed.” (Heb. 8:12 The Voice).

As I have said, I prayed a lot. I read the scripture a lot. God was answering my prayers. But I still struggled with terrible guilt and remorse for breaking God’s laws. I knew of God’s forgiveness but in my own mind and conscience I saw myself as doing so many things wrong and making so many mistakes and if I did not confess them God would not answer my prayers and not fellowship with me.  At that time I also believed I could lose my salvation. I knew this would happen if I continued in unconfessed sin but I lived as if it was just one sin. So I based God’s forgiveness on my incessant confession of sins.

I was told keep “short accounts” with God, to repent right away and I was good at that. This made me believe God was cataloging my sins against me and that he would refuse to listen to me unless I confessed each one. I heard much about, “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.”  (Psa. 66:18) and especially, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” (James 4:3). While I was taught there was a difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit (showing you some sin) and the condemnation of the devil (accusing you of past sin) I confused this two unknowingly.

As ridiculous as it sounds I remember going to church to pray one time and I crossed the street when it said, “Do not Cross” I felt I broke the law and wondered if I should go to the police station to confess my crime. I was haunted by guilt despite the fact God was blessing me and using me to win others to him through the gospel. I was melting under the white hot flames of I what I perceived as God’s holiness and righteousness. My mind was charged with guilt.

I wanted God to hear my prayers so badly. I needed him to answer me because I believed the souls of people to whom I was preaching were depending on my prayers. This was good and bad. It was good because I think people diminish the quintessential aspect of prayer as the agency through which God works in this world. But it was bad because somehow I thought I had to earn God’s favor through praying a certain amount of time or expending much energy in prayer.

I was sincere. A friend of mine heard me stop worshiping during a service and I thought I might be attracting too much attention to myself (I was not).  So I would say to God, “Lord I don’t want to be a Pharisee and worship you to be seen of men.” My friend Kevin standing next to me must have overheard me and after worship patted me on the back and said, “Steve you are a good man.” But guilt had caged my heart and it was frustrating. It was draining my prayers of life and joy until it was hard to pray. I would have to worship 45 minutes before I could pray.

I felt condemned by the criticism of the elders and pastor. Someone from the Port Authority called the church and told them we needed a permit to pass out literature. We were handing out tracts near the train station with a Christian man we just met from the navy.  It was exciting. It was the first time I ever passed out tracts publicly (brief literature about the Bible and Jesus). The tracts had our churches name on it and so they called the church. The pastor bawled us out!  I cried. It was confusing. I was knowledgeable, I prayed, but after all I was just fifteen. I was a fiery young convert and I had a blazing fire in me that they could have turned into a focused laser, making me more effective but they did not.

In fact, when the Pastor asked my brother where I was one time, Mike said, “He is praying in the sanctuary.”

The pastor replied, “What a nerd!”

Another time my knees would hurt from praying so I brought a sleeping bag for a cushion. While praying, I heard the back door unlock and it was dark in the sanctuary and  an elder  came in. He never came before this time for prayer, so I was happy to see him but then he accused me of sleeping in the church and told me about the sleeping Levites, a story from the Talmud not even the scripture! If they slept on duty their clothes were burned (they used their overcoats for a cushion) and they were left naked. Here I was praying and I never saw this elder come once to prayer. I was amazed at his insensitivity. I wish just once, just once, a brother, a Pastor, or an elder just would have put their arm around me and explained to me the things of God, or encouraged me and trained me in love. I know God used the negative experience in my life to harden me against the opinion of man, but no one wanted to take the time just to say, “Brother Steve, I think I can help you with this.”

The Lord’s Supper made me afraid because of the possibility of partaking unworthily. What did scripture mean, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”  (1 Cor 11:29)? We were given a moment of silence to examine ourselves and see unconfessed sin or not being right in relationships and then partake. I loved taking the Lord’s supper-why did it seem people portrayed God as keeping me at arms length when I was his disciple.  No one ever explained it or they did not do it well.  Once again, it seemed that people were misinforming me that Christ died to make me feel guilt for how rotten as sinner I was rather than removing my guilt.

All my experiences up to this point, salvation, baptism in water and the Spirit contradicted these feelings of guilt, but my mind was being held captive in a constant maze of attempting to unburden myself of guilt.  I would attempt to show the Lord my sincerity by weeping or yelling to let him know I meant my repentance but it was more like penance. I was back in the state of mind that I was when I was a Roman Catholic! I was still afraid I might go to hell if I did things wrong. The message of God’s love was not a topic for me, it was a lifeline that I desperately needed and was being strangled by a sense of being rejected by him. My life was charged with guilt and I was living in misery even though I was saved.

To be continued…

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.


b7d8f979aa62bdc6d88f0611422eda3e“It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31NASB). 

At a very young age God seemed distant and I was deathly afraid of him. I saw God through the eyes of a Roman Catholic who attended Immaculate Conception on Staten Island, NY.  It’s all I knew. I am not placing the blame on anyone or any group. I had kind, loving priests who I saw as angelic. They were masculine, old school priests who were gentle and godly. The only time I talked to them was when I used to go confession and wait my turn to go into the booth. I watched the light turn from red to green and it was my turn. I talked to them through the screen. Why did they do that? I did not know. Maybe they did not want to know who was talking to them. I could smell Father McGinn’s Aqua Velva™ and I knew it was him. I would confess my sins.

After I exited, they would have me pray prayers that would make up for my dirty deeds and sad I did not know them all. I knew the “Hail Mary” and the “Our Father”  but the “Glory to the Father” always got me. I did not want to look like I was dumb or maybe I was afraid to ask how to pray it. So I just repeated the phrase over and over. So I could only hope I did the right thing. But I did not feel forgiven. I did not know what it was to be forgiven. I just did it because I thought you could not take communion on Sunday. For me that was church, sit, stand, kneel and go up front and the priest would say, “Body of Christ.” and I  would say, “Amen.” I did not know what that meant. But I would take communion and go home.

I did not know the nuns at all except for when I had “released time” from P.S. 14. I liked learning about God. I remember climbing up the altar at church slowly because I thought God was up there and I wanted to see. But the nuns told me to get back down. They thought I was fooling around but I was not. My heart was empty. I could cry at the fact that no one knew. I thought I loved God but I was afraid of him. It was a strange contradiction. No one helped me with that dread. I lived with terrible guilt. My parents loved me, provided for me and even sent me to church. But church was a scary place and I was always doing something wrong. I was always getting in trouble. I was setting fires or fighting with my brother. I grasped the total truth that I was a sinner-I knew it for sure then and I felt at any moment God would kill me for my crimes against him. I wrote about it even in poetry. I would write and ask God, “Please don’t kill me.”

I would lay awake in my room at night and see things. My imagination would run wild. I was afraid of the angels on the wallpaper I thought they were alive. So I used to sing myself to sleep. I would make up some song (my twin brother Mike would do the same thing) and go “La, La, La” and my mother would hear us but she knew we were singing. But I never called out when to my parents when I was afraid, I don’t know why.

I was alone. I had no gospel. I had no Bible. I was lost.

I used to steal books. I loved books and I love reading them. My parents would have bought them for me but I was a quiet kid and a thief. One time I stole a children’s Bible out of a library. I did not have a library card and I did not ask how I could get one. I loved the pictures in it and I wanted to read it. I guess when I hear people who get their Bible’s stolen, it may be someone like me, it’s OK, let them have it.

I began to see artists rendition of prophets whose name I could not pronounce but I could say names like Abraham, Moses and Micah. But it was when I read Jeremiah that something happened to me.

That is for the next time. This is the first article in this series.

©2015 Rev. Stephen S. Gibney, give credit where credit is due.

The Conveyor Belt of Guilt

The picture that you see is an X-ray of a unnamed 36 year old Norwegian man who passed out and curled up into a fetal position on a baggage claim belt at a very busy Rome airport in August 2012, and inadvertently received this full body scan in the process.

He had arrived at the international terminal with a backpack and a can of beer in his hand and when he went to check in for his flight he found nobody on duty at the airline desk. So, he jumped over the counter and went to sleep.

Eventually, the belt began to move and took the man for a ride. It is believed he traveled for 15 minutes before his body was spotted by shocked officials in an X-ray image on their screens.

Officials say it was difficult to wake up the snoozing traveler, who was still clutching his beer as he went through the scanner and traveled 164 feet on it before anyone noticed.

If you have any kind of sense of humor this is quite the story to tell around the office.

But as I heard about this story I immediately began to think of how we are laying in a fetal position on a conveyor belt of  another kind. Did you know that when a certain people suffer extreme trauma or distress, they resort to a fetal position. It seems this is a natural reaction of the brain and the body to protect itself  and when they are no longer able to cope-the mind just shuts down for a time. Drug addicts during withdrawal or even people suffering from extreme anxiety resort to a fetal position.

This is the dangerous conveyor belt of guilt and misguided self examination on which some believers in Jesus have been crippled and traumatized by the wrong view of God and sin.

Paul says this, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Cor. 7:10NIV 1984).

There is a godly sorrow. There is a worldly sorrow. There is a sorrow that results in repentance and salvation. There is a sorrow that results in death.

There is a healthy repentance and there is a toxic regret and remorse. Repentance is a special grace, a gift of tears, a result of seeing our sin in light of the Cross. Where sin abounds grace abounds even more. The gospel offers God to the ungodly and forgiveness to the unforgiven. Repentance is a God-kind of change. Your thinking changes and the direction of your life changes as a result. You were moving away from God and His love brings you back home.  It is the gift that God gives when He releases the human will from the confinement and chains of sin and enables a person to turn to Christ for salvation.  That is repentance after a godly manner. It is a change only God can bring about.

Many Christians due to bad teaching have a caricatured view of God, a distorted view of sin and a toxic view of obedience. They actually should repent of their thinking when it comes to who God is! That is the deepest repentance one can have. They way you see God must be through the scriptures especially in light of the finished work of the Cross and New Covenant. God loves you and it is not his will you walk about in sorrow all the time.  He has forgiven you and offers a clear conscience to you and complete open access to him and his gifts.

You do not have to live in regret and call yourself a sinner all the time. Do you think that pleases God? Walking around all day thinking how unworthy and undeserving you are? It does not please God at all  that you are going around and around on this conveyor belt with the baggage of guilt. God is not hostile to you, nor does he treat you like a stranger. You are a warmly welcomed, dearly loved child of your Heavenly Father.

All this is real change is it not. It is a changed life, with a changed heart and a changed destiny.

Sadly, some Christians are dominated by a guilty conscience and consciousness. They attempt to earn forgiveness and acceptance with God by saying, “I am sorry” over and over again confessing their sin as if they were an legal accountant and there is always simmering in their heart a sense of guilt and hurt because they think God will reject them when they fail. It seeks to make such an account of sin that it must name each individual sin specifically to satisfy their conscience and God. But can one confess sin perfectly? We always leave some sin out. We cannot even do this  correctly. I get exhausted just thinking about the way I used to confess sin. This so called form of repentance is “worldly”  it is spiritually suicidal  not Christ-centered nor founded on the biblical fact that God offers forgiveness at the point of failure and mercy when we crash and burn. He gives beauty in exchange for ashes. He takes off your dense heavy overcoat of sorrow and replaces it with the light linen fabric of joy! All you need do is ask and he has answered “forgiven” before the words are on your lips.

Some of the oldest “Christian” churches in their tradition are nothing more than a mill for legalism. The conveyor belt of guilt is incorporated in their rituals. They are taught to ask for God’ mercy over and over again as if by mere words and repetitive chanting God will hear them. Ever wonder why legalistic people are so mean? Because people who feel unloved get angry. Oh that they knew they were loved by God!

We may criticize the Roman Catholics for their sacrament of penance or Eastern Orthodox for their view of Penthos but we have our Protestant penance we call it revivalism. We think by our efforts we will bring the church back to life do we not? There is only one problem- we end up looking like we are trying to kill the people who are alive. We are attempting to satisfy God and please God by our own efforts and there is no need to do that. God is at rest and reposes on the work of Christ his perfect Son on the cross. He calls us to lean with all our soul on the cross and what Jesus did for us.

The sad truth is there are so many Christians who are alive but they are wrapped in a shroud of guilt, they are camouflaged in the legalistic uniforms of remorse and joyless living that must be unwrapped by the teaching of God’s generous grace. God is rich in mercy and he has thrown open the door to his throne room of grace! He has already shown it powerfully in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. Yet there are people who say they are saved and born again who never find any relief or rest in their hearts and they live in a fog of uncertainty about where they stand with God. It is a mindset that is hard to break and only understanding God’s generous grace can unravel the slavery of guilt fear and anxiety.

Don’t allow your guilt and disobedience to overshadow God’s grace! Repent!  You have become nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins  (see 2 Peter 1:9). You do not need to morbidly and constantly confess in the name of spirituality or godliness.  Your sin consciousness is working in reverse cornering you in sin and your attempts to keep the law is reinforcing sins grip over-making you feel dead. Like the shocked officials who found this man on the conveyor belt, may this article find those who are in the fetal position of guilt and wake you up out of this stupor of  remorse and regret!  Christ has given you a new life, a new heart and a new spirit.  It is time to move ahead.  God wants us to build on what he has started in us by grace! We mature spiritually not by riding in a helpless fetal position of the conveyor belt of keeping religious rules but by actively maturing and growing in the fruit of the Spirit.

© 2012 Soul Health Care Ministries. If you use this article tell people about us and where you found it. Don’t plagiarize.