Sermon: Removing the Pain of Guilt - Psalm 32

Scriptures: Psalm 32

We are guilty people. We are guilty of bad thoughts, false statements, and hurtful deeds. Mostly, we are guilty before a pure and holy God. We have sinned. We have fallen short of God's perfect ideal. We stand in the need of forgiveness and grace. David, the man after God's own heart, knew the magnitude of guilt and the need for amazing grace. This sermon will remind the hearer of David's sin with Bathsheba and the steps he took to remove the guilt of that sin. Our story is intertwined within David's story. God's love and forgiveness seeps out through the seams to refresh our hearts and eradicate our sin.


Noel Coward, the famous playwright, pulled an interesting prank. He sent an identical note to twenty of the most famous men in London. The anonymous note read simply: "Everybody has found out what you are doing. If I were you I would get out of town."

Supposedly, all twenty men actually left town.

What if you opened your mail one day and found such a note? What would race through your mind? The income you failed to report on your 1040 form? The time you spent on the internet watching pornography? The expense account you over inflated? The lies you told about an honest, hardworking individual? The misrepresentation of facts you informed a potential client?

I. What is guilt?

Guilt is the dread of the past; a pain that wells up within our heart because we committed an offense or failed to do something right. It is a phantom pain. You know, like amputees experience after a limb has been removed. A part of the body that does not exists screams for attention. Often people experience this same kind of dread obsessed by the memory of some sin committed years ago. It never leaves them, crippling their enjoyment of life, their devotional life, their relationship with others. They live in fear that someone will discover their past. They work overtime trying to prove to God they're truly repentant. They erect barriers against the enveloping, loving grace of God.

Guilt is one of the most crippling diseases among people today. Psychiatrists and doctors say that unresolved guilt is the number one cause of mental illness and suicide. It prompts millions of Americans to gulp down pills to tranquilize their anxiety. Psychologist Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied guilt in 1991 and discovered that the average person spends approximately two hours a day feeling guilty. And for 39 minutes of that time, people feel moderate to severe guilt.

Before we beat guilt up too much, let me remind you that guilt for the most part is very constructive. Guilt is like an electric fence that gives us a jolt when we begin to stray beyond our boundaries. It sends an alarm to wake us up that something needs our attention. Like pain, guilt tells us when something is wrong. When you feel it, you don't just sit there, you do something about it.

II. How do we relieve the pain of guilt?

So, what do we do about it? How can we relieve the pain caused by guilt? For answers let's examine Psalm 32.

Of all people, David had good reason for feeling guilty. Scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 32 after he cried to God for forgiveness for his double sin of murder and adultery. David's guilt was immense. He writes, "My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear" (Psalm 38:4 NIV). David's release from guilt was sweet. This Psalm offers practical steps to release one from guilt.

A. Admit your guilt (v. 5)

Our society has witnessed the downfall of politicians, ministers, businessmen, and other leaders. Isn't it interesting, that when caught many side stepped the issue of admitting guilt? Instead they blame others or are blinded by their own self-righteousness. Several years ago one TV preacher, however, stood before his congregation, both in person and on television, with tears streaming down his face, and cried out, "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned."

David made a similar acknowledgement to a similar sin. He said, "Then I acknowledged my sin to you" (Psalm 32:5).

Gordon MacDonald wrote: "We cannot expect to live healthily in the future when the baggage of the past keeps banging away at the trap door of our minds demanding attention."

The first step on the road to recovery and relief is admitting that something is wrong in our life. Many of the support groups meeting today, follow in the tradition of Alcoholic Anonymous, by having its members stand before the group and share their progress. They begin by saying, "Hello, my name is _____, I am an alcoholic."

It makes sense that we ought to introduce ourselves in a similar way in the Christian community. "Hello, my name is Rick. I am a sinner." I admit that, at times, my life is out of sync. Sometimes my life is like a picture frame hanging crooked. Guilt is the result of the inner spirit, created in God's image, crying "foul."  God's laws have been violated; His honor diminished. Something deep within me shouts in protest. I feel the shout as guilt.

B. Confront the guilt (v. 5)

Next, David "did not conceal my iniquity" (Psalm 32:5). He stopped trying to hide his sin. Guilt must be confronted and dealt with. To overcome it we can't continue to hide its reality. We must deal with it.

The truth is: If we don't deal with our guilt, then our guilt will deal with us.

It may affect you psychologically. "When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long" (Psalm 32:3). David's conscience "groaned all day long." David could not get the wrong out of his mind. It awoke with him. It followed him throughout his daily activities. It gnawed at him as he tried to sleep.

It may affect you spiritually. David said, "For day and night Your hand was heavy on me" (Psalm 32:4). Sin separates us from God. It drives a wedge in our relationship with our Maker. That barrier will remain until we deal with it.

It may affect you physically. It did David. "My strength was drained as in the summer's heat" (Psalm 32:4). Like water that evaporates on a sunny day so did David's physical condition. I've heard of people who have lost their appetite, unable to sleep, experience a shortness of breath, be sick all because of guilt feelings.

Can guilt really make us physically, mentally, and spiritually ill? Dr. Norman Covanish of UCLA has studied the effects of guilt on people for decades. In 1968, he did an interesting series of investigative studies of single car accidents on the Los Angeles freeway system. Reviewing hundreds of cases (about 1 1/2 percent of the total) he found that 25 percent or one out of every four was definitely caused by the driver acting out self-destructive behavior because of guilt.

So the truth is that if we don't deal with our guilt it will deal with us.

C. Confess your guilt (v. 5)

David said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" (Psalm 32:5). The next step to recovery is to tell God like it is. Confession is not telling God something he doesn't already know. In fact, the word confession means "to agree with." When we confess our sins to God we agree that we have rebelled against his authority. We agree that we have missed the mark or standard set for our lives. We agree that something twisted in us needs straightened out.

Guilt is dispelled only when the truth is told. Only when confession is made will guilt melt like a block of ice.

Perhaps you have seen an ice sculpture in an elegant restaurant. Once I had an occasion to remain in one of those restaurants for several hours while a meeting was in progress. It gave me time enough to watch the ice figure slowly melt into formlessness and then disappear.

Guilt is like that huge block of ice. Kept in a dark, cold place, it remains hard. But brought into the light, identified, and confessed, it begins to melt, and soon is gone. And free is the soul that no longer is frozen by unaddressed guilt.

When we confess our guilt to the Lord, he promises to forgive (v.1). This means that he takes it away, like a burden lifted. He covers it over (v. 1). In other words, he hides it from his sight. He does not count it against us or clears our record (v. 1). The debt is paid or cancelled.

Wouldn't you like a clear conscience? Wouldn't you like to know that your debts were paid in full? Wouldn't you like to know that your sins were forgiven? We can. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

D. Forget your guilt (vv. 1, 5)

David said, ". . . and You took away the guilt of my sin" (Psalm 32:5).  God forgets our confessed sin and so should we. God doesn't just put a record of our past mistakes in a closest, he obliterates them.  They are gone forever.

When I was writing my master's thesis, I had slaved over a particularly difficult chapter.  For days I had entered and stored information on the computer diskette. Then one afternoon, as I was working on it, the power went out.  All the work on that chapter was gone. Vanished. I had not owned my computer very long, so I called the computer salesman. I asked, "Where did it go?" He said, "Nowhere." I said, "It's got to be somewhere. All that work - it was on the diskette. Isn't there any way of getting it back?" And he said, "No, never."

That's exactly what God did for David. When David confessed his sin to God, suddenly his sin and guilt were gone - gone forever.

And that's exactly how it is for us. When we confess our sin God erases the sin and the guilt. We need to forget it and get on with our life. God doesn't remember any confessed sin so why should we.


I confess that there have been times in my live that if I received a note like the one Noel Coward wrote, "Everybody has found out what you are doing. If I were you I would get out of town," I would have to leave town. During those times I was spiritually paralyzed. I, too, felt like David, like my guilt was overwhelming me. I would cry out over and over again, "God, I'm sorry. I'll never do it again."

Then in one of those wonderful moments of God-granted insight, I realized I had no need to ask for repeated forgiveness. It had been forgiven the first time I asked. Every time I cried anew for release from my guilt, I was denying the effectiveness of Christ's death. How dare I demean forgiveness bought at so great a price.

Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. Rick has earned a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology in preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach.

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