The blood of Jesus Christ continuously cleanses us from sin. We walk in the light of His unconditional love – free from condemnation.
A survey was taken recently of five hundred people who were asked: “When you experience guilt, what do you feel?” Their answers focused on the negative emotions that guilt develops. “When I experience guilt, I think about punishment” was the predominant response. Others said they felt depressed with a sense of worthlessness and a loss of self-esteem.
For many, guilt is a burden they must deal with every day. They suffer indescribably. But the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure for guilt. He offers the only hope and forgiveness that relieve the intense turmoil resulting from sin and sinful actions. However, too many Christians are unaware of the remedy provided through the cross. They have a wrong concept of the biblical definition of guilt and do not know how to handle its implications.
The three Greek words from which guilt is derived in the New Testament convey the meaning of “being liable for something.”
For the person who has never trusted Christ as Savior, guilt is a legitimate issue. Since guilt is a consequence of sin and all men are born separated from God, mankind – apart from God – experiences guilt. Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the only means by which our guilt is removed. Christ’s substitutionary death paid sin’s penalty, providing forgiveness from our sin and our guilt before a just and holy God.
Thus, unbelievers are guilty before God – liable for their sinful actions and accountable to the Judge of all men. They have violated God’s laws and commands and, without faith in Christ, cannot be pardoned. When brought before Christ for judgment, their guilt will condemn them and their alienation from God and His love will be eternal. For believers, guilt before God has been removed through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, satisfying the holy justice of God: “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross…” (1 Peter 2:24). “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him…” “And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:9, 11).
Since Christ has paid our sin debt, we are now justified – declared not guilty by God. Think of that. God says you are no longer estranged from Him once you receive His Son as your Savior from sin: “My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
When Christ died about two thousand years ago, all of your sins were in the future tense. We are forgiven from our future sins as well as our past ones through the grace of God. The blood of Jesus Christ continuously cleanses us from sin.
We walk in the light of His unconditional love – free from condemnation. The wrath of God has been spent on His own Son so that we might receive His grace and mercy.
Condemnation rests only upon those who reject Christ: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18). There is not a verse in Scripture that indicates a believer should feel he is being punished – that his self-esteem is threatened because of what he has done.
The major problem in handling our guilt is our misconception of God’s character and nature. We think we can bring God down to our level. We think He responds like we do; and since we are quick to punish those who wrong us, we ascribe the same characteristic to God. Our account with God is clean through Christ’s atoning death. Since God has pardoned us, who can accuse us? (John 8:10-11)
Some people have the notion that once they sin and ask God to forgive them, they must start all over again. Their relationship with God is inconsistent – always clouded with guilt. The problem with such an idea is that our forgiveness is not based on our confession of sin but on the cross of Christ. Confession and repentance renew our fellowship with Christ, but they do not deal with our guilt before God. That was dealt with once and for all at Calvary. We are no longer guilty sinners. We are redeemed, sanctified, reconciled, justified, forgiven children of God.
Do believers then experience guilt? We do for various reasons – all of which, however, are for our good, not our detriment. Guilty feelings come when we sin. We make mistakes. We disobey God’s Word. We allow sin to enslave us for a season. When we do, our consciences are ill at ease – and so they should be because that is the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin.
Does that mean we can sin and feel no remorse? Certainly not. God disciplines us for sin – not to punish us but to correct us and keep us from further harm. Am I minimizing the consequences of sin? Never. Sin’s wounds may heal, but scars sometimes remain. What I am doing is exalting the grace of God which is abundantly given to believers. Grace is giving us what we do not deserve.
When God corrects us because of sin, He does it to help us, not destroy us: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
This is appropriate conviction from God, but there are many causes of guilt that are illegitimate. Many children grow up in single-parent homes. Somehow they feel responsible for their parents’ divorce. Parents suffer from the same problem. “If only I had done more for my child, he would not have turned out the way he did,” they lament. This is all false guilt. It is not the work of the Holy Spirit – convicting us of specific sin – but Satan’s deceitful way of keeping us in bondage. It is not biblical.
Christians plagued by this kind of guilt are often rendered ineffective in the work of God’s kingdom. They feel so inadequate, so fearful, so timid that they cannot envision God using them for any positive contribution. False feelings of guilt usually focus on the past. If it is a specific sin, confession and repentance restore our fellowship and accomplish God’s goal of correction. If we still feel under condemnation, we are allowing false guilt to entrap us. When that happens, we are unable to experience the love of God fully: “How can He love us if He is angry with us?” We must come to recognize the devil’s trickery and accept God’s unconditional love that is ours by faith in Christ.
It is futile to conduct a nonstop pity party, thinking our grief can somehow gain God’s forgiveness. It may make us feel better for the moment, but only Christ provides our pardon through the cross. We are free to enjoy God as His children. We do not have to punish ourselves or be trapped by false guilt. We did nothing to earn our salvation, and we can do nothing to earn our forgiveness from today’s sins. We can only rest in Christ’s finished work of redemption and reconciliation.
Failure to understand that our guilt is atoned for through Christ’s death results in a stunted spiritual existence. False guilt drives some people to compulsive behavior. They try to stay busy to keep away guilt. They think being alone with God is horrifying. They cannot deal with stillness. Getting quiet with the Heavenly Father frightens them.
Depression is still another product of false guilt. Since they think they live under God’s condemnation, they are easily discouraged and disheartened. They feel unworthy of God’s love. The spirals of depression drive them deeper into disillusionment until they feel hopeless.
But it is the will of God that we resolve all true guilt which again is brought to our attention through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The moment we confess our sin, there is no basis for guilt. The wonderful benefit of the cross has been appropriated and personally experienced. We cannot pay for anything that God has already paid for. When He died on the cross, our sin debt – along with our guilt before God – was paid in full. We cannot add anything to His full provision.
Yes, there will be natural consequences for our sins. But do we become mired in self-pity, or do we assume our rightful position in Christ as forgiven sons and daughters and move on in His righteousness? If we do not, we cannot make a significant contribution to Christ’s work. We will be reluctant to fit into His plans.
If you are unsaved, God is using your guilt to draw you to Himself. If you have not received His pardon – paid in full at Calvary – put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior today.
If you are a Christian suffering from guilt, determine whether it is true or false guilt. Is there a specific unconfessed sin which the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention? Confess it, turn from it, and thank God for His forgiveness already provided through the cross. If you cannot identify the guilt – if it is vague and nonspecific, reject its bondage and embrace God’s unconditional love.
You are loved. Your guilt before God was removed at the cross. You can walk under the umbrella of His grace and mercy. You can enjoy God and experience blessed fellowship with your Creator and Savior. Praise Him for solving your guilt problem at Calvary; thank Him for His forgiveness; trust His promises; and begin the journey of the abundant life.
by Dr. Charles F. Stanley, edited by Campus Christians
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