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Welcome back to week 29. We hope the past week has been a blessed one for you. Last week we briefly considered homework and its importance in a counseling / discipleship context.  This week we will briefly consider guilt. How does one deal with guilt in the context of counseling? What is “false guilt,” and does it play a part in the counseling picture?

The idea of false guilt is not biblical in its presuppositional worldview. Therefore, it is not a legitimate concept. False guilt is a Freudian concept. Freud basically said that false guilt is a result of the conflict between the Id and Superego.[1] Freud left no room for the notion of sin in his worldly philosophies because he was a God hater. One can pick up just about any biography about Freud and determine this fact. Freud’s concept of false guilt seeks to separate guilt from guilty feelings. No true biblical counselor can legitimately mix Freud’s notions and Scripture’s truths while remaining faithful to God’s Word (Matt. 12:30; Col. 2:8).

The reason no true biblical counselor can mix the two is because, in contrast to Freud’s false philosophies, Scripture defines guilt as a legal liability and culpability to punishment before God. Furthermore, Scripture teaches that all men are deserving of God’s wrath and punishment (Rom. 3:9-18, 23; James 2:10). There are no feelings of guilt without the presence of guilt because of the universality of sin. 

However, because our hearts are so wicked and good at self-deception, it is possible for guilt to be present without any feelings (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Again, the term “guilt” speaks of the fact of liability and not the feeling that accompanies it. For example; a man can have a habit of speeding through a school zone at 55mph and feel guilty –indeed he is guilty. This man could choose to succumb to his guilty feelings and slow down to 35mph in order to sooth his conscience, but he would still be guilty because the school zone speed limit was 15mph. In this example, the man did not feel guilty even though he was, in fact, still guilty.[2]

In the case of this man the counselor would need to explain to him that he is not the determiner of whether or not he is actually guilty. Rather, it is God who determines guilt. He would need to be informed that he is not the judge of his own guiltiness or innocence, but that God makes the determination, and that his sin is serious because God is a Holy Judge (Rom. 1:8; 2:5-6). The counselee would need to be admonished to repent of his prideful minimization of his sin (Matt. 7:3-5).

On the other hand, there could be a man who drives 12mph in a 15mph school zone whom feels guilty. The man could have been raised all his life to believe that it is not safe to drive any faster than 10mph in a school zone and that it is sinful to go any faster regardless of the speed limit. If that man feels guilty in his conscience for driving 12mph his guilt is not false guilt because he is sinning against his conscience. Romans 14:21-23 tells us that anything we do that does not proceed from faith is actually sin on our part. If that man believes that he is sinning against God, or even might be sinning against God, and proceeds with his course of action despite his conscience condemning him, then he is actually sinning against God. The counselor would need to guide the man in this scenario to repent of his rebellious attitude against God. Afterward, the counselor could discuss with the man whether his self-imposed standard is biblical or not. Either way our conscience, which is only as good as it is biblically informed, is not our guide. God’s Word is our guide and the counselor ought to steer the counselee in this direction.    

We hope our short time considering the reality of guilt was helpful. Scripture, not our feelings, determines the truth about our guilt. Lord willing, next week we will think about the problem of eclecticism in counseling. What is it and what’s the problem with it? Until then may our Lord bless you and keep you.

[1] Snowden, Ruth, Teach Yourself Freud (McGraw-Hill: New York City, 2006), 105–107.

[2] Adapted from Dr. Stuart Scott, Pastoral Counseling PM711 (Sun Valley: TMS), 29.

Foundations of Biblical Counseling: Homework Foundations of Biblical Counseling: Eclecticism