The Struggles of the Believer (Part Nine)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

Think with me about a couple of situations that followers of Christ fall into. Just to make it sound more personal, I’ll use first names, but I assure you that these names refer to no specific individuals.

Tim led a very wild life. He was notorious for swearing and drunkenness. He used to mock Christians. He first heard the gospel from someone at work when about thirty-five years old. After two years of friendship and faithful witness from this friend, by grace he believed in the Lord Jesus and was saved. For the first couple months after his salvation, he rejoiced. But recently he has begun to struggle with doubts about whether he is really saved. He is glad that his drunken behavior is behind him and feels good about being forgiven for that. However, he often asks himself, “How could God forgive someone who as swore I did? The way I used to misuse the Lord’s name makes tremble! I try to take part in the Lord’s Supper but I remember those horrible words I said. God could never love someone who said those things about him.”

Melinda was brought up in a “good Christian home”. She trusted in Christ when she was nine during Sunday School. During her teen years, she had a vibrant testimony. She attended a Christian college and became romantically involved with a young man she later married. But prior to marriage, their relationship became sexual. She asked God to forgive her, but now ten years later, she still feels guilty. Her guilt feelings hinder her present physical relationship with her husband. To make matters worse, she often finds herself fantasizing about another man at the office where she works. She wonders, “Can I be a Christian? Will God forgive my sin? How can a person like me serve the Lord. I want to live for the Lord, but there is the problem I have with ‘this one sin’.”

Both of these people have a problem with regret—the regret about “that one sin”. There are many sins that could be mentioned, perhaps some if mentioned would make some feel rather disgusted. You might wonder if such a person has ever believed in the Lord. But when you ask them to explain the gospel, they give all the right answers!  They will testify that they have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. But they are never really happy, though they try to appear that way. They always analyze, scrutinize and then condemn themselves because of “that one sin”. Regardless of how much some may want to think that Christians can’t have problems like this and should just “be happy because they made a decision” and “praise God anyhow”, it is a serious spiritual problem. Examining the struggles of the true believer with regret about sin will help all of us understand the gospel better, and hopefully, help anyone who “just might” be struggling in this area.

What is the real trouble of those who struggle about “that one sin”? Though every sin is serious, their problem is not simply caused by “that one sin”. Let us examine five causes, and in doing so, arrive at a remedy for those who struggle in this way.

Grace and peace, David

Sorting Out Guilt and Guilt Feelings


Hebrews 10:22

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