The Holy God has provided a way that people can approach him and have their guilt and guilt feelings cured. First, we must understand the cure for guilt. God offers the cleansing of the conscience. Let’s briefly review the problem that had to be dealt with.
There is a three-part true guilt because of sin: just condemnation because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:18), righteous judgment due to personal disobedience (Ephesians 5:6), and a holy verdict of wrath because of not believing in Christ (John 3:18). Linked to this true guilt is a conscience that produced acts that lead to death: because the sinner is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), because death cannot produce life that God accepts (Romans 6:21), and because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
During the time of the law or old covenant, there was an incomplete solution to the problem of guilt. The true believers before Christ came were truly saved. Their sins were forgiven and they were right with God, because they believed that God would provide a perfect offering for sin. They were right with God (Romans 4:1-8). But their consciences were not cleared (they still felt guilty for their sins), because Christ’s better sacrifice had not yet been offered (Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4).
Now we have the better blessing of the new covenant (10:22). The blood of Christ has been sprinkled on our hearts to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. Our sins are forgiven and God and his law are satisfied. “What Christ has done in liberating us… is… to set our conscience free from the guilt of sin… [The Christian has] freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view to winning the favour of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ” (Stott, Galatians, p. 132). We have this actual cleansing as a reality in our lives. We are not guilty, but right with God. We are free people.
However, many encounter difficulties in applying this to their lives: “But I still have a sense of guilt!” This is a common affliction that afflicts many. This should caution us against giving quick, simplistic answers that pertain to all. In different people the problem may spring from one or multiple sources. Having given that caution let us think about some of these in the form of questions.
- Are you really right with God? Perhaps you feel guilt because you are guilty. Your problem might be that you have never trusted in Christ to have your sins forgiven and to have his righteousness credited to your account.
- Do you understand the gospel of Christ? You might be truly saved, but either you have been poorly taught or have been taught much error with the truth. When such afflicted people learn the truth and grab hold of it, it can be like “getting saved all over again!” Of course you are not, but the resulting liberation as you lay hold of Christ with a clearer understanding can make it feel that way.
- Is there unconfessed sin in your life? I mean sin that you know about, sin that you indulge in, though you know it is inconsistent with whom you are in Jesus Christ. Have you sinned against God the Father in heaven (1 John 1:9)? Sin is not trivial and should not be played with. As you confess your sins, you will discover his faithfulness in Christ.
- Is law in your conscience? By law I mean the ten commandments of the law covenant, human religious standards or rituals that function like law, or a wrong view of law during this new covenant age. Do you have the idea that “God will accept me or sanctify me if I keep the law?” Some imagine that God doesn’t really like them unless they are perfect. I realize that many would vehemently deny that this is true about them, yet they still feel this way inside “when other Christians aren’t looking.” The doctrinal paths into this swamp of depression are numerous, and we cannot deal with them now. But listen to the words of John Bunyan: “I may not, will not, cannot, dare not, make it [the law] my saviour and judge, nor suffer [allow] it to set up its government in my conscience; for by so doing I fall from grace, and Christ Jesus doth profit me nothing” (Treasury of Bunyan, p. 924).
- Are you living by faith in Christ? We plan to talk about this in our next article. But for now, I want to say this: You cannot strip faith out of the Christian way of life and still call it Christian. True Christianity asserts that the supernatural is a necessary part of how we live. Faith in God through Christ by the power of the Spirit of God is essential. True confidence before God comes by his action in us. Our faith is part of this relationship.
Grace and peace, David