There is a huge market for “Guilt Free” stuff. Ice cream, coke, vacations, gadgets. Marketing these days is doing everything it can to do away with guilt and convince you that “you deserve it!”. Why? Why is guilt so a big part of lives?
When it come to sin, there are 3 major ways we can feel in response to it. One of them is healthy and helpful, the other 2 are destructive and rob us of joy.We generally respond to things we fee bad about with either guilt, condemnation, or conviction.
Though our culture is seeking to eradicate it completely, guilt is hard wired into us. When we do something wrong, we feel guilt. Some would say that this is conditioned into us by culture. I believe that it is because God has hardwired us with a conscience. We certainly can sear and destroy our conscience over time, but we start out with a general moral compass.
Guilt comes from ourselves most of the time – other people can shame us by pointing out the ideal we hold and showing how we’ve fallen short, but no one can make you feel guilty about something if you don’t view it as wrong. If someone told me it was wrong to eat Chipotle, I would feel no guilt. But if I at 3 burritos in a sitting I would feel guilty because I had eaten too much and was being unhealthy. Health would be the standard that I would have violated.
For Christians, when we are feeling guilty for things that have already been dealt with in the Cross. Guilt is a horrible motivator. Much of preaching these days is meant to guilt us into doing stuff, trying harder, or changing. People hear this and might try to change for some time, but ultimately, it deals with external actions and thus will not bring about any long term change because the heart issues are still there. You can’t tell someone that he should love his wife, cause him to feel guilt because he is breaking a standard he would acknowledge, and expect him to change. It won’t work to for him to think, “Man, I just really gotta get it together and love her more.” That guilt will make him feel bad, but won’t change how he feels on the heart level.
Guilt leads to condemnation. If this man, our case study, feels guilty for not loving his wife and continues to fail at loving her the way he should, he might then feel condemnation. Condemnation often comes from the Satan and is an attack on our self worth and identity. This man might feel condemned, and just give up because he is too bad or evil to get it right. He normally leaves at this point. Running away is what condemnation generally causes.
A disclaimer about condemnation: A non-Christian must experience this feeling of hopeless condemnation before the gospel will have any appeal. Unless we feel the need to be saved, the Savior will not look beautiful. This is a great example of where Satan attempts to condemn people and crush them and God redeems the condemnation by saying that in Christ, there isn’t any. [Rom. 8:1].
If a Christian is feeling condemnation, then he is not living in truth. He is totally missing the gospel, missing the work of Christ on the cross. It is actually arrogance to believe that his sin is so intense and bad that the God of the Universe can’t handle it. A guy I worked with would often laugh and say he was driving the bus to hell. Why? Because he drank too much and told dirty jokes? That’s little league compared to Paul, who killed Christians before becoming one. The redeeming, forgiving power of the blood of Christ is immensely powerful and more powerful than any sin we can commit. Satan would love to bring charges against us and have us condemn. The charges would be true and our condemnation just, but the power of the cross is that we are cleansed of any charge against us by the precious blood of Christ.
Conviction is the last alternative and it’s the one we want. Christians still sin. We have pride, dishonesty, lust, anxiety, amongst all kinds of things running around our hearts and minds. But we have the Holy Spirit inside of us convicting us of sin and spurring on our sanctification. You will know it is conviction when it pushes you to Jesus instead of away from him. Guilt would have us hide from God. Condemnation would have us run away from God. But conviction by the Holy Spirit pushes us towards God and into repentance and dependence on Him. Conviction helps us see our helplessness and God’s sufficiency. Conviction draws us to the Cross of Jesus as our only means of salvation and the source of righteousness.
When we are convicted of sin and repent, we can do so boldly and immediately. We don’t need to clean ourselves up a bit before we talk to God. Because Christ’s righteousness is ours we can, come to God boldly, not on our own merit but on Christ’s merit.
This is utterly, holistically, mind-blowingly scandalous. It is absolutely baffling to think of our sin being purely washed away by the blood of Christ. How can it be? May the awe of this beautiful scandal never cease to amaze me!
May we as a church be freed from Cross-belittling guilt and condemnation and embrace sanctifying conviction into deeper joy and intimacy with God.