Guilt & Forgiveness

No one alive is without guilt. Every single one of us has done something wrong—we've lied, we've coveted, we've committed adultery, we've murdered, we've disobeyed our parents, we've blasphemed. And we haven't done just one bad thing each, we've committed many, many, many sins, on a daily basis, breaking God's Law with the consistency of a well-made clock. Both the Bible and our own consciences bear witness against us, condemning us of our wrongdoing.

But the truth of the matter is this: we'd be guilty if we'd only committed one little sin. Anything we do that breaks the law of God is a death sentence, sufficient to condemn us to Hell for eternity. Even stealing a cookie from the cookie jar, even telling a white lie to make someone feel better, even going seven miles over the speed limit to get to work on time. God is very clear: if we are not perfect, we will not inherit eternal life.

Does that mean if you can't keep the Ten Commandments you won't make it into Heaven? Yes and no. God's law (love God, love man) is the litmus for living forever in His holy presence; anyone able to follow His law perfectly, anyone able to keep each of the Ten Commandments fully and at all times, will be rewarded with eternal life. Unfortunately, none of us are able to keep God's law at all, much less perfectly.

Fortunately, we don't have to. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, was the only man able to keep God's law perfectly. Hebrews 4:14-16 makes it clear that Jesus never sinned, and that because of this He was the only high priest capable of removing all our sin by sacrificing Himself and conquering death through His resurrection. Our faith in Christ's sacrifice, death, and resurrection (itself a gift from God for our good and His glory) means that we are able to claim Christ's perfection as our own, and thus to enter Heaven when we die.

Some may stop me here and explain that they're good people, that their heart is in the right place, that they've never killed anybody or cheated on their spouse. To which we can only respond with Scripture: Romans 3:9-20 make it clear everyone is a sinner; Jeremiah 17:9 assures us no one's heart is in the right place; and in John 14:1-14, Jesus Himself makes it plain that only those who trust in Him will be saved.

How does all this relate to guilt and forgiveness? To paraphrase the apostle Paul, very much in every way. We are guilty of breaking God's law, and therefore deserving of Hell. But, if we are Christians and have therefore put our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, we are forgiven our sin and destined for eternal life in Heaven with Him. This is the totality of the Gospel, Law and Grace for everyone who believes.

It's important to point out that, just because God saves us from our sin and forgives us, doesn't mean we don't still sin. 1 John 1:7-10 makes the Gospel clear while also assuring us that we will continue to sin until death cleanses us and prepares us for God's perfect presence: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It is this continuing struggle against sin that often leads even the most ardent believers into guilt-induced depression.

Guilt is intended to drive us toward repentance, confession, and sanctification. But often it simply festers inside us, making us miserable but offering us no relief. We dwell on the wrong we've done, we're brutalized by it, often we persist in the same sin because of it and this makes us only more wretched. Unchecked guilt will eventually make us ineffective in the Kingdom of God, and can even lead to outright apostasy.

There's no need for this. Jesus Christ takes away all the sin of those who believe. Neither small nor huge sins are exempted from His forgiveness, nothing is so bad or so insignificant that it hasn't been wiped away in His blood. Romans 8:1 says "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." If we believe that we have been saved by our Lord and Savior, we must believe that we have been completely saved, and that we are no longer in bondage to sin, but have been set free to the good works prepared for us beforehand in Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all honor, praise, and worship.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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