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Guilt, shame, and confession

Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my shameful deeds—they haunt me day and night. — Psalm 51:2-3

Not everyone who is guilty feels shame. It is possible to chloroform the conscience, so false innocence is not uncommon.

Still, not everyone who feels shame is guilty. False guilt can be imposed by the ignorant or the abuser. But when we do what God forbids and are guilty before God, feeling guilty and ashamed is an appropriate response. When a man has done wrong, he should never be ashamed of being ashamed. The real shame is shamelessness that denies wrongdoing and neither seeks nor receives forgiveness.

King David had done what God forbids. For many months after David’s adultery, his complicity in murder, and his constant efforts to hide the truth and dodge responsibility, David did nothing to set matters right with his Lord (see 2 Samuel 11). Then the intrepid Nathan came on the scene and confronted him (2 Sam. 12:1-14). David must have fondly imagined that the things he had done were lost in the mists of time, forgotten by God, and unknown to man. But they weren’t! The things he had done were written in bold, red ink on an open page in God’s book, which God read aloud to Nathan, His prophet.

But David, when confronted, bravely and humbly faced up to what he had done. Then he pleaded with the Lord, “Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my shameful deeds—they haunt me day and night” (Psalm 51:2-3). Once David faced his guilt, the appropriate vocabulary flowed from his lips—guilt, evil, sin, and shame. He also called on the Lord’s mercy, love, and compassion. There was not one word of excuse, no suggestion of an alibi.

David was guilty, ashamed, and miserable, but he wanted a fresh start. And he got it! The broken bones of his shattered life were healed, his willing spirit was reestablished, old vigor was restored, joy came surging back, and the forgiven man went on his way rejoicing and serving. (Not that he escaped the consequences; see 2 Samuel 12:10.)

Men should never be ashamed to admit their guilt, and they should never be guilty of denying their shameful actions. Men have difficulty saying, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry. Please help me!” Perhaps it has to do with the male ego. We apparently have a deep need to project an image of confidence, competence, and control. But we need to realize that real men don’t hide behind fragile egos—they come clean about their shortcomings, and they grow strong through admitting their failures.

For further study: Psalm 51

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.