Posted on December 22nd, 2010
I love church. Not as much as I love Jesus, but I’m constantly thankful for how our Lord uses the body to sharpen me and grow me. This week, a brief discussion about guilt and its relationship to the Christian life has made me think and pray much.
Guilt is, per one online dictionary, “an awareness of having done wrong, usually accompanied by feelings of shame and regret.” For the Christian, at the point of salvation, it’s commonly agreed that our guilt – and the sin that caused it – is removed. God’s forgiveness in Christ (as well as aspects of salvation like justification) pretty clearly remove guilt (i.e., see Romans 4:5-8 or 1 John 1:9). D.A. Carson, in For the Fame of God, writes that “for the gospel to be effective it must clear us of our guilt.”
Yet we run into guilt all the time, in our Christian life, after conversion. I am constantly tempted to carry it around with me. Guilt over past offenses… guilt over what I have done (or haven’t)… guilt can guide behavior, prevent peace, and worm its way into many, many areas of our lives.
Don’t get me wrong. An active conscience is a good thing. By it the Holy Spirit helps me avoid sin, and to quickly confess sin. If guilt is because of ongoing sin… then maybe it shouldn’t be called guilt, but conviction. We need to confess the sin. That’s an easy theological answer.
The difficulty is that even after confession… the feeling remains. That shame over what has already been confessed. Is that ok? Should we soak in this feeling of “I’ve let God down… I’m unworthy and ashamed… I’ll never measure up”?
I’m coming more and more to think that our overwhelming need is an increasing awareness of our relationship with Christ. It is His forgiveness, His love, His work that clears my guilt forever. Even guilt after conversion. One of my greatest continuing problems is that I let guilt drive me from Christ. I think this probably means that I have too high a view of myself – instead of trusting totally in the work of the Savior, I trust in my own work. I don’t want to “impose” on Jesus again… as if there is any way that I could ever not need His righteousness instead of my own. So, in this sense, guilt becomes a marker for pride.
Elyse Fitzpatrick, in Counsel from the Cross, writes:
“We can’t overemphasize the importance of knowing that all our sins are forgiven, once for all time, when we strive to become more like him. Love is the only motive that can impel true heart transformation, and love will be present only when we see, demonstrated before our eyes, how we’ve been loved. Guilt over former sins never propels obedience; it only breeds doubt, fear, and bitterness.”
I like this because I do strive to be like my Savior, I have a motivation to follow and obey what he says. But this is because of love – his love for me, which births in my heart new desires and motivations. Continuing to carry guilt after my sin is forgiven seems to be a rejection of the love of Christ. If I am motivated primarily by guilt I am not actually understanding the work of Jesus Christ, nor am I understanding the grounds of my acceptance and righteousness.
It seems a bit paradoxical (as many biblical concepts) but true – that crucifying of ungodly behaviors requires a realization that we have absolutely died to it in Jesus. We don’t get ‘superpower’ to overcome sin (though we progressively become more like our Savior)… what we primarily get is a relationship which lets us lean upon the risen Savior, to see ourselves with entirely different lenses… by which our guilt… and with it sin’s power… has truly been broken.
William Romaine, an evangelical pastor in England in the 1700′s, puts it this way (in his Treaties Upon the Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith):
“No sin can be crucified either in heart or life unless it first be pardoned in conscience, because there will be want of faith to receive the strength of Jesus, by whom alone it can be crucified. If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power. If the believer does not see his perfect deadness to sin in Jesus, he will open a wide door to unbelief, and if he be no persuaded of his completeness in Christ, he gives room for the attacks of self-righteousness and legal tempers… The more clearly and steadfastly he believes this, as the apostle did – ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ in proportion will he cleave to Christ, and receive from him greater power to crucify sin. This believing view of his absolute mortification in Christ is the true gospel method of mortifying sin in our own persons.”
How incredible it is that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are… yet without sin. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).
Hasta la vista, prideful guilt. Hello, wonderful Savior.
Posted on April 16th, 2010
I ran across this helpful quote today. It is on the topic of repentance.
“The difference between an unconverted and a converted man is not that the one has sins and the other has none; but that the one takes part with his cherished sins against a dreaded God and the other takes part with a reconciled God against his hated sins.” (William Arnot, Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, 1884, p.311)
I like Arnot’s pointing to repentance as the key between one born again and one not. I can hear him asking, “Whose side are you on?”
It reminds me of the close association of repentance and belief. Jesus commands us to do both in Mark 1:15 – “repent and believe in the gospel” – and yet often, as the well-known John 3:16, belief in the Son of God encompasses repentance: “whoever believes in him shall not perish…”
It seems that to believe in the gospel is to believe in your own horrible state and the depth of your offense to God… and to trust Him both for forgiveness and righteousness… as Arnot says, to “take part with a reconciled God against his hated sins.”
I also appreciate that this removes repentance as a work and puts it as a unity with faith. I’ve often heard it said that repentance is more than a “change of mind” but an “actual turning,” and as such, must be actually seen externally. A “turn” from old behavior, if you will.
Yet you and I still sin.
As Greg Gilbert explains in his little book What is the Gospel?, “Because we will continue to struggle with sin until we are glorified, we have to remember that genuine repentance is more fundamentally a matter of the heart’s attitude toward sin than it is a mere change of behavior” (p.81).
This is repentance that is a critical component of faith. A change of my heart to agree with God’s view of me; how wretched I am! How wondrous that I am cleansed, forgiven, declared righteous, and grown in faith and godliness!
May we never think that we can change our own ways before coming to God; nor that we can simply assent to the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection and consider that ‘belief.’
Grace really is amazing — even more so as I see the depths of my offense against God. Thank you, Lord, for opening my eyes, even a little bit, to it. And as I see it more, thank you for the depth of love which bore the price of such offence on the cross.