“Guilt Trips”

By Larry Ray Hafley

Have you heard this common retort, “Don’t try to lay a guilt trip on me”? In the slangy vernacular of our day, it is a Protestant’s way of avoiding indictment and conviction of wrong doing. If someone wants to evade and avoid the pricking of his conscience, he merely has to sav. “Don’t lay a guilt trip on me, man.”

Sadly, this “guilt trip” philosophy has made its way into the thinking of professing preachers. The idea is to present the gospel in an inoffensive manner, and who is against that? One means of not being offensive is to preach so as not to “lay a guilt trip” on the hearers. The goal is to reach the sinner for Christ without “driving him away.” Again, who is opposed to that? However, if we “lay a guilt trip” on our prospective convert, we will “turn him off.” Hence, our aim should be to leave him “feeling good” about himself, but we cannot do that if we burden him with a “guilt trip.”

Assuredly, only a preacher with ill motives and a rotten attitude would seek to hurt people, to make them mad. No one condones preaching that is mean and spiteful or that is impelled by “envy and strife” (Phil. 1:15). Let that be understood, but what are the tactics, the devices of the Bible? How does God approach the sinner? How did Jesus? Did the apostles preach the gospel without confronting people with their sins? We cannot improve on the methods and manners of the word of God. Should the sinner be faced with his sins? Should he feel their weight and force in his heart and conscience?

(1) Evincing Eviction From Eden. Adam and Eve sinned. Did the Lord seek to calm their fears, to assuage their shame? Did he avoid the subject of the eating of the tree, or did he face them with their actions? You be the judge. What if Adam and Eve had left the garden “in a huff,” saying over their shoulders, “We’ll never be back; one little mistake, and we get clobbered.” At any rate, the Lord confronted Adam and Eve with their sin and pronounced sentence upon them (Gen. 3). Should preachers do less? But what if the sinners reject their guilt and turn away in anger? Should the preacher be charged with “driving people away”?

It is ironic that preachers are “condemned” for “condemning people. ” Those who protest against laying a “guilt trip” on the audience, are eager to lay a “guilt trip” on the preacher for laying a “guilt trip” on the sinner. But if it is wrong to lay a “guilt trip” on a sinner, is it right to lay a “guilt trip” on the preacher?

(2) “Thou Art the Man.” When David sinned with Bathsheba, the piercing words of Nathan penetrated the heart of Israel’s great King. “Thou art the man” sounds like a fairly direct accusation to me. Read 2 Samuel 12:1-14. David, if the Psalms are to be believed, did not “feel good” about his guilt. He suffered greatly. The sinner must be brought to his spiritual knees. How else can he kneel at the cross? Is there a sadistic glee to be derived from humbling the sinner? God forbid! “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18). Paul hung the “guilt trip” around the necks of the enemies, but he was not glad about it. Compare 2 Corinthians 2:4 where he refers to the direct confrontation of sin – “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.”

(3) The Methods of Jesus. Jesus exposed both sin and the sinner. Consider the rich, young ruler (Mk. 10:17-22). Jesus laid bare his covetousness and the young man went away “sorrowful.” Now, if a preacher has to leave his audience feeling good about themselves in order to be viewed as a success, then Jesus failed miserably. This young man came seeking “eternal life.” He had the proper goal. He came to the correct source, to Jesus. He came eagerly, “running. ” He lacked one thing, just one, but Jesus laid hold of it, and the young ruler left. Should we blame Jesus? After all, the young man had many moral virtues; his money could have been useful to the Lord and to the disciples; so, if the Lord uses a little tact and caters to him, perhaps this wealthy man can be a great asset to the Lord’s work. Jesus evidently, though, laid a heavy “guilt trip” on this young man, and he went away sorrowful. Is Jesus to blame? Who will say so?

How about, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29)? Should such astonishing language be used today? Reckon it put a “guilt trip” on those Sadducees? Yes, it did, and it was not a pleasant journey, either.

The disciples said to Jesus, “Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” (Matt. 15:12) Imagine that! The teaching of the world’s only sinless man actually “offended” folks. “And they were offended at him” (Mk. 6:3). In Luke 6:11, Jesus succeeded only in filling his audience “with madness.” In fact, it was so bad that they wanted to kill him. Oh, oh, must have been another case of “guilt trip.” In Luke 11:45, a lawyer said, “Master, thus saying thou reproachest (insult) us also.” Can you believe it? Here is a man who calls himself a preacher, and all he does is “insult” and “offend” people and send them away feeling sorrowful – it is time to change preachers! But it gets worse. “And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed” (Lk. 13:17). Now, how is that for making people “feel good” about themselves?

Remember, the purpose is not to offend, to insult, to shame and embarrass, but it is often the effect. Jesus would not compromise; he would not vacillate or bargain with sin and error. He loved the people he convicted (Matt. 9:36-38; Lk. 13:34; 23:34). He loved the very ones he so antagonized. He died for the ones he angered with his withering words. True gospel preachers must speak the truth in love – in love for the Lord, for the truth, for the souls of lost men and women. They also must speak the truth in hate – in hatred of sin, Satan and evil and error of every kind (Rev. 2:6,15; Psa. 104; 128; 139:21,22).

(4) The Apostles. The very first gospel sermon ever preached is an excellent model. Observe how it pricked, pierced, the hearts of the audience (Acts 2:37). It did this by pungently pointing out the specific sin of the audience – the murder of the Messiah (Acts 2:22,23,36). It was successful in Acts 2, but it had an adverse reaction in Acts 5:28,40. Were the apostles at fault in Acts 5 for not making their audience “feel better” about themselves? Quite obviously, they “laid a guilt trip” on the Jews — “ye . . . intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28; cf. v. 30; 2:23). Stephen received a similar reaction in Acts 7 when he charged his audience with stubbornness, betrayal and murder (Acts 7:51-60).

When Paul preached to the Jews, he did not focus upon the idolatry and immorality of the Gentiles. Conversely, when he spoke to the Gentiles, he did not emphasize the sins of Israel (cf. Acts 13:16-39; 17:2,3,16-30). Rather, he faced each audience with its own particular circumstance. Paul often fled from hostile mobs. Was this the result of his lack of prudence or kindness? Was Paul a hateful man who took pleasure in inciting riots? Was he simply ignorant of how to properly approach and handle an audience? No, but as he himself said, to the lost we are the smell of death and to the saved we are the aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15-17). “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech” (2 Cor. 3:12). “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

The New Testament is a living “guilt trip” – “for all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23); “If we way we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us . . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I Jn. 1: 8, 10). The Holy Spirit was sent in Acts 2 to “convict the world of sin” (Jn. 16:8). W.E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, says that word “convict” signifies to “refute, usually with the suggestion of putting the convicted person to shame. “

Sinners need to be convicted with guilt, shame and sorrow for sin, for godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation. Do not be hesitant or squeamish about it. It must be done if the sinner is to be saved. Be aware, of course, that it will not always be successful. Sinners may resent efforts to convict them of sin (Acts 7:54; 13:44-46). They may resort to harsh language in their protests against such efforts, but do not be dismayed or distracted from the work. Be on guard against the weak and shallow gospel of “self-confidence” and self-image. It is precisely our own self-confidence that puts us into sin in the first place and we have an “image” problem that needs to be changed, and only the solemn tour of a New Testament guilt trip can help us to see the alteration that must be made.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 8, pp. 259-260
May 2, 1991