Do guilt trips work?

Okay, this will be a rant.


I’ve heard some variation of this sermon hundreds, maybe thousands of times. XYZ is a sin. You are probably committing this sin because I gotta admit I’m committing it. But you need to stop. Try real hard to stop, though you can expect to fail much of the time because you’re a sinner just like I am.

Inspiring huh?

I also see this played out: Someone makes a mistake. Mr. or Ms. Good Christian condemns his behavior. (You don’t wanna be soft on sin.) Instead of “repenting,” the offender gets even more entrenched in his mess.

So, do these guilt trips really work?


First of all, they don’t work with people who don’t believe in God. And here’s why: Most unbelievers don’t believe in God because they look around, they see the mess of a fallen world all around them, and they conclude: If there is a God, it must be His fault.

In their minds, God is the sinner.

Trying to convince them that they are sinners is largely a waste of time. Here’s what they need to discover instead: God is good. And that discovery is a long, uphill road for most people.

But guilt trips don’t work with people of faith either. Here’s why: Trying to motivate people with a guilt trip ignores how people grow and change. The Bible says the kindness of God leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4) The Bible teaches that repentance is not something we do, but rather something we receive from God. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

We grow when God opens our eyes to see who we really are and who He really is. We grow when our perspectives change. And the only way that happens is this: We need to bring our faulty beliefs to God and allow Him to tell us the truth.

What can we do to help each other change? We can show the love of God. We can listen, understand, respect, affirm, encourage, help.

Is there ever a place for calling out sin? Yes, there is. But don’t be too eager to be the prophet that meddles in someone else’s business. John the Baptist did that and got thrown in prison. I’m not saying he wasn’t doing God’s will. I’m just saying: Don’t be too eager. That kind of behavior has a way of rebounding and hitting you square in the face.

I’ll leave you with this short story: Several years ago a Christian friend came to me and admitted that he was in an adulterous affair. Everyone who knew was condemning him, and telling him what a terrible sin he was committing. So he asked me, “What do you think of me now?” I paused for a moment and then said, “I think you’re a guy looking for a solution, just like all the rest of us.” That eventually led to him taking a look at the problems he was trying to solve with his affair. As he started to get God’s solutions, the affair made less and less sense. He eventually reconciled with his wife, and they are by all reports happily married today.


PS. I’ll be covering this in a little more detail in Inner Wealth on November 30, 2019.

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