Lord knows we have enough true guilt going around that we hardly need to concern ourselves with this extra layer of toxic false guilt, which is seemingly all too ready to accuse us. But how can we know whether the guilt we are experiencing is true or false? What are some of the signs to be aware of? While this list is far from exhaustive, here are three ways to recognize false guilt.
First, False Guilt Masquerades As True Guilt
This form of false guilt is not true guilt, in that we are not truly guilty of committing a moral trespass, but merely a disguised version of it that claims we are guilty when we are not. In today’s culture, there is a new kind of guilt being pawned off on those who fail to comply with the moral revolution being advanced. Ours is a culture whose motto could be Get with our moral program or get cancelled. More and more we are watching how those who ascribe to a Christian worldview are caught in the middle of a false dilemma by today’s moral police. It’s as if these two options: Get with our moral program or get cancelled are the only options on offer. By exposing this false dilemma, one can only hope to circumvent these options. Today’s culture calls evil good and now those that don’t comply with the morality of the day are rendered the truly guilty one’s.
Second, False Guilt Creates Paranoia and Irrational Worry
John Steinbeck captured the idea of false guilt precisely when he said, “I have never smuggled anything in my life. Why, then, do I feel an uneasy sense of guilt on approaching a customs barrier?” This sort of irrational guilt can be very paralyzing and does not serve us well. False guilt is the toxic combination of feeling guilty when our minds know otherwise. Sadly, some people feel plagued by guilt that isn’t theirs to begin with—or it’s not real. It’s pseudo guilt. It’s false guilt posing as the real thing and crippling its victims with paranoia and irrational worry.
Third, False Guilt Is Obsessive
It is well known that before his conversion Martin Luther scrupulously sought to obtain forgiveness. He states, “I went to confession frequently, and I performed the assigned penances faithfully. Nevertheless, my conscience could never achieve certainty but was always in doubt and said, ‘You have not done this correctly. You were not contrite enough. You omitted this in your confession.’” Not surprisingly, he was a man racked by a lot of false guilt. Prime candidates for this type of false guilt are those who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Such individuals, perhaps Luther included, struggle and overly obsess on the minutest details. In turn, this can cause one’s relationship with God to be marked by misery, rather than enjoyment.
In the end, the ultimate source of false guilt is the devil, the father of lies, who loves to condemn and accuse (Revelation 12:10). If you’re someone all too familiar with this form of guilt here’s a gentle warning to be aware of. Sadly, some who have felt emotionally traumatized by false guilt have little to no stomach left for the topic of guilt and have consequently swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme, denying guilt altogether.
That is neither wise, nor good. It’s best to discern the difference.
 John Steinbeck, Travels with Charlie in Search of America, p. 51 (Penguin), 1980.
 Walter von Loewenich, Martin Luther: The Man and His Work, p. 76 (Minneapolis: Augsburg), 1986.
Recommend Resources Related to this Topic
Legislating Morality: Is it Wise? Is it Legal? Is it Possible? by Frank Turek (Book, DVD, Mp3, Mp4, PowerPoint download, PowerPoint CD)
When Reason Isn’t the Reason for Unbelief by Dr. Frank Turek (DVD and Mp4)
Can Moral Guilt Feelings Ever Be Objective by Bobby Conway (Blogpost)
Bobby serves as lead pastor of Image Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is well known for his YouTube ministry called, One Minute Apologist, which now goes by the name Christianity Still Makes Sense. He also serves as the Co-Host of Pastors’ Perspective, a nationally syndicated call-in radio show on KWVE in Southern California. Bobby earned his Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, his Doctor of Ministry in Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from the University of Birmingham (England) where he was supervised under David Cheetham and Yujin Nagasawa. Bobby’s also written several books including: The Fifth Gospel, Doubting Toward Faith, Does God Exist, and Fifty-One other Questions About God and the Bible and the forthcoming Christianity Still Makes Sense to be published by Tyndale in April 2024. He’s married to his lovely wife Heather and together they have two grown kids: Haley and Dawson.
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