Someone recently described our journey through the book of Leviticus in the words of the famous Star Trek introduction: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The implication was that it is a rare thing for a church in our day to study this book, verse by verse, week after week, in a prolonged exposition—particularly on a Sunday morning. That said, we are of the conviction that all Scripture is profitable, and so this expositional decision is justified. It is profitable for us to study Leviticus for several reasons.
First, no other biblical book that comes more “directly” from God than Leviticus. The phrase “the LORD spoke” is repeated over and over in Leviticus. The words recorded here came directly from the mouth of God to Moses.
Second, the Jews of the Exile and later deemed it so important that it was the first book taught to children—from age 5.
Third, the book is supremely about how to worship God. In fact, it commences with a call to worship. And there is no other priority in life higher than that of worship (John 4:21-24). We would therefore do well to pay heed to a book given by God for the specific purpose of directing worship.
Fourth, and intimately connected to the matter of worship, is the question of how one can become a worshipper of God. Leviticus points us to how God redeems and reconciles man to Himself. It is a book that is gospel-saturated. That is, Leviticus points us, again and again, to our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I trust you now understand that the study of this often neglected book is not only justified, but in fact necessary for our pursuit of God in Christ.
As I have indicated previously, one reason that people find this book so perplexing and so uninviting (if not uninteresting) is because of the many categories with which we are unfamiliar—for example, the categories of clean and unclean animals, clean and unclean issues of hygiene, as well as the entire category of the various sacrifices. In fact after six studies in this book I dare say that many (perhaps most) of us are still confused about which offering is for what purpose. And most of us, I am sure, are still very confused as to how to butcher the sacrifice!
But these categories are important because they introduce us to the vitally important categories of death, blood, transference of guilt to a substitute, atonement, restitution, forgiveness, and reconciliation. These are categories that are foreign to the world at large, but they need to be well-digested and become a part of our theological fibre if we will properly worship, walk with and work for God.
The reason that I say this is because there is no other biblical book that so directly confronts the problem of the human condition as this one. And that problem is sin.
In fact, out of the 622 scriptural references to the word “sin” (and its cognates) 98 are found in Leviticus. And related to sin is the category that we have recently touched on: guilt.
In this study I want to revisit this category in an attempt to help us to more fully appreciate the truth that the believer is one who has been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone, according to the Scriptures alone. I want us to appreciate the biblical promises that “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1) and that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). At the same time, we must appreciate the truth that, when we trespass God’s law, we, though justified, are also guilty as sin.
A Wretch like Me
Someone has noted that the three problem emotions behind most of our personal difficulties are guilt, anxiety, and resentment. Guilt, no doubt, is the biggest culprit.
If I owned a pillow factory I would advertise the product with this slogan: “The next best thing to a clear conscience.”
When a God-given boundary is trespassed guilt is the outcome. And for anyone with a modicum of conscience, guilt is a terrible burden to bear. Guilt weighs down the conscience and blocks the path to peace with God. The results are far-reaching as a troubled conscience gets in the way of relationships with others. It clutters our thinking and our focus to the extent that we do not give our full attention to our responsibilities. This can result in aggression, isolation and even lead to thoughts of suicide. In one way or another, guilt results in a paralysis to face life productively.
The fact is that guilt is a reality of life. And in order for us to experience the abundant life that is promised in Christ we first must confess that we really are guilty. Whistling in the dark is no solution; denial is no solution to the problem. In fact, denial only makes things worse. But while confessing our guilt, we at the same time are to lay hold of God’s prescribed means to deal with our guilt: the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the lesson of the various sacrifices prescribed and described in the opening six chapters of Leviticus.
Yes, so very long ago God addressed the problem of guilt through the means of these sacrifices. These sacrifices were shadows that pointed to the substance of the gospel that God had planned from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). All the offerings, in one way or another, point to the problem of sin and the guilt that it produces—and to the solution. In fact one of the five prescribed offerings in the opening chapters is called specifically the “guilt” or “trespass” offering.
This offering was prescribed by God to address the issue of one who was guilty of a “breach of faith.” To break faith with God was a sin of treachery. For example, when Achan stole of accursed thing in Joshua 7, it is described in terms of a breach of faith (see Joshua 7:1ff). To break faith with God is tantamount to breaking covenant with Him. We are on solid biblical ground to describe such a breach as a moral debt. And where there is debt there must be compensation and restitution.
When we sin against God we create a debt that must be paid. Unfortunately, we are unable to pay such a debt. And it is precisely at this point of realisation where guilt grabs us like the claws of a lion.
But thank God that He has provided a substitute to be offered in our place. The moral debt of the believing sinner is transferred to God’s perfect substitute, and the blood shedding death of Christ is accepted on behalf of the believing sinner who lays hold of the sacrifice. In such a case guilt is gone.
But what happens when the believing sinner sins? After all, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Of course, we know from 1 John 1:9 that when the believer confesses his sin our faithful and righteous Father forgives him in Christ. When the believer is guilty then he looks to Christ as the one through whom his breach of faith is repaired. But for many, the use of the word “guilty” raises the issue of whether it is true to say that a believer in Christ is guilty. The main purpose of this message is to address this and related questions.
No Guilt in Life?
I was recently singing the song In Christ Alone and was struck for the first time by the phrase, “no guilt in life.” I wondered about the truth of that phrase. In what sense can I sing, no guilt in life? After all, is it not apparent that I am often guilty? Or is my sense of guilt merely false guilt? Is it true, as a believer in Christ, that I have no guilt in life? Let’s address this.
We begin with the simple question, is the believer in Christ really guilty? Since the believer is justified by faith alone in Christ alone—and since there is no condemnation to such a believer—can we legitimately say that a Christian is ever really guilty?
Believers sometimes stumble over this question because of an erroneous understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Let’s look at how the term is used in Scripture.
- Job 25:4—How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?
- Luke 7:29—And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God [pronounced God to be righteous], having been baptised with the baptism of John.
- Luke 18:14—I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
- Acts 13:39—And by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
- Romans 3:20—Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight [we can’t make ourselves clean], for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
- Romans 3:24—Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
- Romans 3:28—Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
- Romans 5:1—Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Romans 5:9—Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him [wrath which apparently we deserve].
- Romans 8:30—Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.1
We might summarise this with the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” And since we have become the righteousness of God in Christ, “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
We must remember that the doctrine of justification is rooted in the legal realm, which points us to both guilt and its punishment. To be justified is not to make the believer righteous but rather to declare him to be righteous in standing before God. The believer’s position before God is seen as righteous as Jesus. Those, therefore, who have been justified are free from the rightful and just punishment for their guilt—all because Jesus took the penalty for the guilty. We can perhaps speak of this in terms of “pardon.”
When a convicted and condemned person is pardoned by the government, the former prisoner is not said to be free of guilt but rather is free from the penalty that was attached to that guilt. His guilt will not be used against him, for his debt has been paid. And if the individual’s record is expunged then be said to be “clean.”
So it is with the believer in Christ. He is truly guilty but is freed from the penalty because Christ paid the penalty. A consequence of this is that his record is now clean (Colossians 2:13-15). According to the Scriptures, rather than our sins being kept before God, the righteousness of Christ has taken their place. We call this the “imputed” righteousness of Christ. Again, in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He [God] has made Him [Christ] to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [Christ].”
This is a wonderful truth, for even long after we have initially been justified by grace2 through faith we will often be guilty of committing sin (1 John 1:8). But because we have been justified we continue to be freed from the penalty of eternal death—even though we still sin.
Someone once suggested the pithy aphorism that to be “justified” means that God treats me “just as if I never sinned.” I understand the implication of what is being said there. When sinners are justified God the righteous judge no longer stands with a posture of anger and judgement at them. They have peace with God. So, in the sense that our guilt for sin has been removed, it is true. But that is not quite the whole truth.
As indicated earlier, though our position before God is one of guiltlessness (and more because we have the righteousness of Christ and can never fall) we nevertheless, in practice, sin. And therefore we are guilty. And make no mistake: We do sin, and are therefore guilty.
For proof of this assertion, consider, for example, the words of God’s faithful remnant in Ezra 9:15: “O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!” In the Lord’s Prayer, we are instructed to pray, “Forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12). Matthew 18:15 speaks of a “brother” who “sins against you” and instructs, “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” First Corinthians 11:27 speaks of believers who partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner being “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” Writing to believers, the apostle James said, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” And Paul exhorted the Galatians, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Martin Luther described this apparent anomaly (of being both justified and yet sinners) as simul justus et peccator. Peccator is the Latin word for “sinner.” This statement could be translated as “righteous and at the same time a sinner.” Or we could say, “righteous and guilty at the same time.” This is the biblical way to view guilt in the life of the believer. When we sin we are guilty, while at the same time declared righteous and thus free from eternal punishment.
In light of the texts above, we need to be careful to accept in an unqualified way that to be justified is to be just as if I never sinned. The biblical evidence does not substantiate the lyric “no guilt in life.” Rather, the Scriptures teach that to be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone means that God accepts the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf while at the same time acknowledging that we are still sinners.
Let me sum this up by these words of Erik Raymond,
The essence of justification is the application of divine righteousness; God declares the sinner to be righteous. If God merely treats us “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned well then we’d be morally neutral, akin to Adam, who, while made good and blameless, was nevertheless not declared to be eternally righteous in the eyes of the One with inflexible righteousness. In a sense we’d be back to the garden. While this is an improvement for all of Adam’s descendants who are in bondage to sin and looking down the barrel of divine wrath, it is not representative of those who have been imputed with divine righteousness and are united with the second Adam, the Lord Jesus (Rom. 5, the whole chapter)
So the illustration falls far too short. It does not commend the eternal righteousness of Jesus to us in judgment, commend the earned righteousness that believers need to cling to everyday for life (obedience), and it fails to emphasize and communicate the security of being united to Christ.3
Saved to Sin No More
Another way to approach the question of whether the believer is ever guilty (though at the same time justified) is to listen to the Scriptures, which exhort the believer to stop sinning, to fight the good fight of faith, to mortify the deeds of the flesh, to control his tongue, to put on the new man, to be kind to fellow believers, to stop judging others, to keep himself unspotted from the world, to stop friendship with the world, to stop stealing, lying, fornicating, slandering, etc. I trust that you get the point. If not then once again I would point you to 1 John 1:8-9 and 2:1. All such scriptures reveal that we are sinners and saints at the same time.
Those who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone are still sinners. They are saved sinners, indeed—justified sinners—but sinners nonetheless. They are simultaneously justified and sinners.
Perhaps the greatest proof of this reality is found in Matthew 1:21, where Joseph and Mary were instructed to name their firstborn Jesus “for He shall save His people from their sins.” Note carefully whom Jesus will save from their sins: “His people.” That is, Jesus will save the saved from their sins! Those who have been justified in Christ—those for whom He took the guilt—still need to be saved from that for which they often find themselves guilty: their sins. In other words, He works to glorify those whom He has justified.
Search Me, O God!
How the believer views guilt has very practical ramifications. If the believer can whistle Amazing Grace while at the same time sinning then he is guilty of what Paul says was unthinkable (Romans 6:1-2). But when the believer owns up to the depth of his guilt of trespassing the law of God, who is holy, then he will not only whistle but will rather shout forth, “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saves a wretch like me!”
I know that this will not score us any points with those who want a “kinder, gentler” message, but it is nonetheless the biblical message. If we flippantly say, “I am in Christ and therefore am not guilty,” then not only is there no biblical evidence to support such a claim, but such a worldview will also result in minimising the seriousness of sin. It will minimise the glory of the cross and will eventually produce a superficial approach to Christian living. If the believer does not allow for the large category of guilt then he will have very little concern to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).
Understood from a biblical perspective, guilt is good for the believer. In the words of Solomon, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). We need the Holy Spirit to serve as a faithful friend who lovingly wounds us by pointing out our guilt rather than living a lie betrayed by a false teaching that simply kisses us with flattery (see Proverbs 27:5-6; 28:23).
So then, if we recognise that those justified by faith in Christ can still be guilty, what about the category of false guilt? Is there such a thing? Is this as big a problem in the church as some say?
To deny that there is the experience of false guilt is neither accurate nor helpful. To be sure, there are times when the believer senses shame when there need be none. These experiences are what we can accurately label false guilt.
For instance, consider that people can put unrealistic expectations upon us, and our failure to live up to them may produce a sense of guilt or shame for letting others down. This can often occur in the realm of sports, or in a family where the parents have high academic aspirations (or demands!) for their children. We would be accurate to assess such shame as false guilt.
As a more tragic example, consider the instance of a woman who has been sexually abused and is plagued with the continual condemning thought that somehow she was to blame. This would certainly appear to be an instance of false guilt. After all, she clearly was the victim rather than the perpetrator. For her to feel a sense of self-condemnation for what was done to her is clearly false guilt/condemnation.
Consider one final scenario. Assume for a moment that you are falsely accused by a fellow church member of being cold, indifferent and even rude to them because you do not consistently greet them or go out of your way to speak to them and show them hospitality. Upon reflection you realise that this really is not the case. After all, you rarely see the person, and as far as you are aware you have greeted them when you see them and in fact even had them over to your house for a meal recently. To add insult to injury, they have never reciprocated! You therefore know that you are innocent and yet you feel really bad about it. In fact, you feel guilty because the person has accused you of such a thing.
In these cases we would be correct to dismiss the attendant sense of false condemnation. But should you merely shrug this off as false guilt, or is there more here than meets than eye? Is there any real guilt—even in these examples—that could be in the mix?
I fear that too often we dismiss someone’s sense of guilt too quickly, and the result is that we end up hurting rather than helping them. Jay Adams says that we actually give hope to people “by taking people seriously when they talk about their sin. Instead of minimizing their self-deprecatory comments, we should try to find out from our friend what they have done that makes them feel guilt.”4 As I said recently in a sermon, there is a reason that we feel guilty—and that reason is that we are guilty!
The psychologised approach that seeks to minimise people’s sense of guilt by labelling it “false” may be motivated by compassion, but in the end it fails to give true relief. Only by dealing with our guilt honestly and thoroughly can we experience the healing that we are offered in the gospel.
A good illustration of this is found in Leviticus 5:14-19. As we recently saw in our study of that passage, the guilt offering made provision for dealing with guilt. If a man was guilty of a breach of faith, and it came to his attention, then he was obligated to repent, to confess his sin and to offer a ram in his place along with financial reparation. But the guilt offering also made allowance for a troubled conscience (vv. 17-19). In other words, a man might feel guilty without being able to point to a specific commandment of the Lord that he had violated. Verse 17 reads, “If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he does not know it, yet is he guilty and shall bear his iniquity [punishment].”
This needs to be interpreted in its proper context. Prior to this, the Word reveals that if a man had violated a commandment (with respect to the holy place) and it came to his attention (see, for example, see Leviticus 22:14) then he was to offer a guilt offering (vv. 14-16). But here the wording indicates that though real guilt had been imputed for an offence, the exact nature of the offence was undefined. God knew, but the guilty party did not. All he knew was that he felt guilty.
If there is such a category as false guilt, it seems that this would be the appropriate place to address it. But the opposite is the case. Instead of dismissing the feelings of guilt as “false,” the person, without knowing the precise offence, is said to be guilty and to therefore “bear his punishment.” He is guilty as sin. This is instructive. It teaches us that God is so holy and we so sinful that we violate God’s law continually. No wonder David wrote, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 133:3-4)!
This verse indicates the principle that where there is a sense of guilt, there is real guilt! That is, rather than dismissing it as “false” guilt, God’s approach is to treat the individual as guilty. This is vital, for such awareness is designed to point us the atonement provided by God by which we can receive forgiveness for the guilty offence (v. 19). This was also God’s means to clear an otherwise guilty conscience.
There is a New Testament principle that illuminates a similar truth. In Romans 14 Paul makes it very clear that the Bible permits the believer to eat meat. And yet he says that some believers have consciences that have been trained that to eat meat is to sin against God. He does not tell meat-eaters to invite vegetarians to a braai and force them to eat meat while instructing them that they need to overcome their false guilt. No. Rather Paul warns that the vegetarians should not violate their consciences, “for whatever is not from faith is sin” (v. 23).
Simply put, if you feel guilty doing something (even if it is permitted by God) then you really are guilty if you do it! Keeping the category of “unintentional” sins and “high-handed” sins before us, we can explain like this: The person who believes that it is wrong to eat meat, and yet who does so, commits a high handed sin (Numbers 15:30). Such a person wilfully does what he believes God forbids. It is for this reason that it is “not of faith” and therefore “sin.” Until such time that he is convinced otherwise, we have no business telling him that he experiencing “false guilt.” Rather we should patiently instruct him, and wait on the Spirit of God to reshape his thinking and to reorient his conscience. You see, just as we may sear our conscience by ignoring it, so the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, can retrain the conscience. And when a conscience is retrained, the very real sense of guilt for which we have been accountable will be replaced with the peace of a clear conscience.
The lesson to be learned here is that God holds us accountable for the guilt that we feel, for the sense of guilt implies that loving God is not at the top of our priority. If it was then why would we eat meat if we felt that it was not pleasing to God? It is because of this that such behaviour is categorized as sin (Romans 14:23).
I want to change the terminology here and say that our problem is not false guilt but rather false condemnation. False guilt indicates that we have a problem: guilt! False condemnation, however, indicates that we have an enemy: the devil. When we understand the difference then we will be in a healthy position to reject the devil’s false condemnation as we rest in Christ alone who made an end to all our sin. He paid the penalty for our guilt.
Now, how does this relate to our examples above?
First, with reference to unreasonable expectations, is it not possible that pride or the fear of man have entered the mix? Perhaps we really did think that we could leap mountains with a single bound, or we tried to find our identity and security in how well we did in class. Though the expectations were unjustified nevertheless our sinful reaction was equally unjustified and we are guilty as sin.
Second, with reference to the sexually abused woman, though she has been the victim she feels guilty. Why? Perhaps the guilt is not because she did something to tempt the perpetrator (though this is sometimes a possibility), but rather because, underneath her sense of shame, is anger at God for allowing this. Perhaps she feels guilty for such an attitude. Perhaps she really feels guilty for a sense of hatred towards the evil aggressor. Or perhaps this horrible experience has reminded her that in her past she mistreated others and the shame has now surfaced now that she is now on the receiving end of wrong. It could be a number of things, but the point is simply that such feelings of guilt must be explored before simply dismissing them as false guilt. If we do so then the danger exists that there may be issues of real guilt that need to be dealt with for her to experience fuller healing. If this is not dealt with properly then her relationship with God will suffer.
What is clearly a problem that must be addressed is the sense of false condemnation that will come to her at the behest of the devil. Such condemning lies as “God hates you,” “God is against you,” “you are hopeless,” “you have been rejected by God,” “the death of Christ is not for you,” “Christ has cast you off as not belonging to Him” and a thousand other lies may follow. This to me is the biblical issue when we speak of false guilt. The real issue is not false guilt but rather false condemnation. And if we confuse the two then we face the very serious problems of either minimising the seriousness of sin and/or of pointing people within rather than to Christ. Both approaches will lead to spiritual immaturity and can produce spiritual misery.
I am sure that most of us can relate to the third example given above. We are sometimes falsely accused and yet we feel guilty at the same time. Is this an example of false guilt? Yes and no!
Again, is it ever possible for us to fully love our neighbour as required by Scripture? Obviously not. Therefore even when we think that we are doing well we will still at times inadvertently and unintentionally sin against others. We will fail to greet some. We will come across cold to others (because for a moment we were behaving coldly). Though we try to be hospitable, we will not always fully succeed. As sinners, we may try our best but in the end we are still sinful people at best.
The facts are that we feel guilty when such “false” accusations are thrown at us because we know that we could have done better. Yes, we feel guilty because we are guilty.
The real culprit behind our sense of false guilt may be the guilt-producing sin of pride. In other words, how did we respond to the criticism? Did we get our back up? Did we feel threatened because others may now hear of this and not see us as the paragon of virtue that we had presented ourselves to be? And as already indicated, such feelings of pride are sinful. And this produces a sense of guilt. There is no false guilt here.
But how should we respond? Again, the danger is that of false condemnation where we listen to and believe the devil’s lies that we are complete failures, that God has given up on us, and that we are forever second class Christians. We may find ourselves listening to the devil’s lies that we will not be useful in the kingdom because of these allegations and that others will stop loving and respecting us. Or perhaps we will listen to the condemning lies that our pride is so deeply engrained that we will never have any victory and that the Lord is looking down on us disapprovingly.
If this is what you experience then you need to label it properly: false condemnation. And the solution is not only to identify it but also to turn to the promises of Scripture that tell us that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). You need to lay hold of the truth of Romans 8:34 which give us reason to thank God that “it is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” When this becomes our mindset and our heart’s focus then we will stop excusing our behaviour by the unbiblical category of false guilt and we will begin to make the most of the gospel-driven life as we lay hold of biblical categories and resist the devil’s lies of false condemnation.
No Condemnation Now I Dread
Have you ever felt like these words of the songwriter: “When Satan tempts me to despair”? Paul did, and in response he wrote, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?” (Romans 8:33-34). That is precisely the point when it comes to the issue of guilt that has been forgiven.
Again, the reason that we at times are tempted to despair as Satan tells us of the guilt within is that we are in fact guilty. Satan then takes a hold of our guilt and beats us up with it. And with this guilt he tells us that we are condemned. But at this point he has overreached. For in Christ Jesus we are justified even though we are very much guilty. Because of the cross work of Christ, His resurrection and His subsequent ascension, we can respond to the accusation of condemnation with, “Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end of all my sin.”
The solution to the foreboding and paralysing sense of false condemnation is not to run to a well-meaning but wrongheaded doctrine of false guilt, but rather it is to admit that we are guilty, and then to preach the gospel to ourselves. As we do so, we are reminded that, even though we are guilty, and even though we would otherwise deserve condemnation, we are not condemned because Jesus was condemned in our place. And this will motivate us to pursue holiness; to pursue Christ.
The truth is that we are so polluted with sin that there is good reason for us to feel guilty. But we are also so saturated with the love of God in Christ Jesus that we have every reason to live joyfully as we reject the sense of condemnation.
We need to learn to use our guilt for God’s glory. Our failures can be fruitful. The same chapter that proclaims our freedom from condemnation also informs us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And, of course, that purpose is Christlikeness.
Yes, there are failures in life of which we are rightfully ashamed. But the proper, God-glorifying use of that shame is at least twofold: first; to glorify God for the gospel of grace (cf. 1 Timothy 1:13-16); and second, to help others to avoid the same shame (1 Corinthians 10:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:20; 1 & 2 Peter).
Have you failed as a parent? Be fruitful now to help the next generation! Have you failed morally in the area of sexuality? Be fruitful now in helping others to avoid the same sins! Have you failed in your marriage? Be fruitful now to help others to avoid the same failures and shame!
And Can It Be?
Yes, it can be! If you face your guilt, confess your guilt, and are willing to forsake what has made you guilty, then you can be forgiven and therefore freed from all condemnation. C. J. Mahaney quotes William Law, “We may justly condemn ourselves as the greatest sinners we know because we know more of the folly of our own heart than we do of other people’s.” Mahaney adds,
So admit you’re the worst sinner you know. Admit you’re unworthy and deserve to be condemned. But don’t stop there! Move on to rejoicing in the Savior who came to save the worst of sinners. Lay down the luggage of condemnation and kneel down in worship at the feet of Him who bore your sins. Cry tears of amazement.
Again Mahaney writes, “Here’s how to beat condemnation: Confess your sin to God. Then believe in Him. Exercise the gift of faith that God has given you to believe that Jesus died for the very sins you’re being condemned for. The punishment He received was for you. His resurrection is proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice. The sins of your past and the sin you just committed were all atoned for; you need carry their weight no more. You can’t do it. That’s why Jesus did it for you.”5
Yes, you will still sin and therefore you will feel guilty. But you will also be brought to repentance and forgiveness. And—blessed truth!—you will be able to sing in the face of such shame,
No condemnation now I dread,
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine!
- Note the implicit experiential gap between “justified” and “glorified”—that gap unfortunately is filled with sin. ↩
- Don’t miss the obvious implication that if there is no guilt there can be no grace. ↩
- Erik Raymond, http://goo.gl/ntZe2, retrieved 3 June 2012. ↩
- Counseling and Guilt, http://goo.gl/at2EM, retrieved 3 June 2012. ↩
- C. J. Mahaney, http://goo.gl/at2EM, retrieved 3 June 2012. ↩