One Friday night at halftime of a high school varsity basketball game, my coach kicked the proverbial five-gallon, orange Gatorade water cooler while yelling at us about our unacceptable performance through the first two quarters. Not that anyone enjoys that sort of thing, but it made me sort of athlete-sick to be yelled at, and I remember feeling guilty like it was mostly my fault. It is also true that I had been on the bench the whole time.
So it is definitely possible to have false guilt.
It is also possible, and probably more normal, to miss the point.
Every so often after the service someone says to me that something I said seems to have been aimed directly at them. It’s like I’d been hanging out at their house, or reading their diary, or something. Turns out, most of my ideas for exhortations come from sins I see not just in my house, but in my heart. Other exhortations may be rooted in the sermon text for that Sunday. I’ve never used this part of the liturgy as a substitute for a personal conversation that I just didn’t want to have.
With all that said, it’s best if you start by assuming that I am talking to you, directly, specifically. It is best if you start by figuring that the Holy Spirit is not convicting you about your neighbor’s sin, or your spouse’s, or your children’s.
King David stole another man’s wife and then stole his life. David lied, David conspired, David covered it up while his sin gestated for almost nine months. And yet he hadn’t lost his sense of righteousness. When Nathan told him the story about the rich man who stole a poor man’s sheep, David was furious. He called for action. And of course Nathan said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:1-7)
The point is not to find extra guilt, the point is to be completely honest.