What do you do with your guilt? That is a poignant question for most of us. Fortunately, for the follower of Jesus Christ, there is a satisfying and liberating answer. As followers of Christ, we’re delivered from sin’s power. The moment we receive salvation through Christ, what does God do for us regarding the guilt and reigning power of sin? According to Romans 6:1-2 and Colossians 1:13-14, we are dead to sin, meaning that our sins are forgiven thus our guilt for them is removed, and because we are dead to sin, the power of sin no longer reigns in those who have salvation in Christ. Those who have not been saved through Christ are still living in the domain of darkness and live under the power and reign of sin, which includes the full guilt and punishment due to our sins. But salvation means that those who receive Christ are transferred from darkness to light into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. This is redemption: forgiveness of sins and living in the light.
So what are the means that God uses to convict us of our sins—including our selfishness and judgmental attitudes?
Second Timothy 3:16 speaks to these means. God can use many things to convict us of our sins: people, conversations, circumstances, and our consciences. But all of these are ultimately dependent on the Word of God (Scripture), which is useful to for reproof and correction. Our selfishness and judgmental attitudes may also be convicted by Scripture. These “respectable sins” are not outside the realm of the Scriptures use and authority.
God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He gives assurance (see Rom 4:7-8; Eph 1:7; 1 Jn 1:9) that he, when we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for God’s forgiveness, will forgive us and no longer hold our sin against us. Our assurance comes from the Word of God, which is the best assurance we could hope for. Romans 4:7-8 quotes Psalm 32 to describe the certain blessing that comes to those we confess their sins: they are forgiven, their sin is covered over by the goodness and righteousness of Christ, and they will never be counted against the sinner again! In fact God’s grace is so lavish and so costly that we experience this forgiveness of our sins (both of the “horrible” and “respectable” kinds) only at the expense of Christ’s blood. For through the shedding of blood alone is there redemption and remission of sins. God will certainly honor Christ’s loving sacrifice in behalf of his chosen people, so much so that God would be unfaithful and unjust if he did not forgive the sins of those who repent and confess their sins to God, trusting Christ for their redemption. We have assurance that our sins are not only forgiven, but that we are not stained by our sins. He has washed us and cleansed us so that we are set apart for holy purposes. In a word, we have full assurance that we are sanctified.
In Matthew 5:6, Jesus gives a promise to all who pursue righteousness, who earnestly desire to see their sin put to death and be replaced with the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Matt 5:4, 6; Gal 5:22-23). Matthew 5, verses 4 and 6 assure us that if we mourn, then we will be comforted. By extension, if we mourn our sin and sinful nature, then God promises us that we will experience the comfort of Christ’s Spirit as we seek to mortify (put to death) our sins and our sinful nature by pursuing righteousness through holiness. Indeed, if we hunger and thirst for righteousness (like we do when we are starving for food and pining for water), then we will be satisfied. It occurs to me that satisfaction is what we are all seeking in life. Once our desires are satiated, we are no longer seekers, for we have found that which we sought. If our desire is for righteousness and we seek after it with all our heart, then we will find it and be satisfied. What a beautiful promise in this image of fullness! How do we know that we have found righteous and are truly and rightly satisfied? When we see in increasing measure the fruit of the Spirit manifest in our lives (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), then we know we have found righteousness and are in God’s will because there is no law against these things. If we want to be pleasing to God by obeying his law, we should not focus on the law (which will only drive us to despair due to our remaining sin), but rather walk with the Spirit which will guarantee that we will be obeying the law.
Thanks be to God that he helps every believer deal with sin. According to Galatians 5:16, if we walk by the Spirit then we will not feed our sinful desires (the flesh of the old man that still resides in our mortal bodies). Those sinful desires that seem to always return could drive us to despair of any progress toward sanctified holiness. But we are promised that if we walk by the Spirit, then the result will be that we will not gratify those nagging sins. To walk by the Spirit is to recognize that our flesh, with its passions and evil desires, has already been crucified so that we are actually and really alive by the Spirit. So if we are indeed alive spiritually, we should “be who we are”, we should walk as is fitting of a saint, preaching the gospel to ourselves and continually rejecting the sins that belong to the old man and walk in the ways of God by cultivating the desires and actions of the new (spiritual) man – precisely because that is now our true identity.
As we ask God to enable us to deal with our sin, he graciously provides us the resources to combat the particular sins in our lives (cf. Ps 119:11). In order to fill our spiritual arsenal with weapons that are suited to combat sin (especially our particular sins that we most struggle with), we must store up in our heart the Word of God. In others words, we must be reading, meditating, memorizing, and believing the law and gospel of God’s Word. The Psalmist proclaims that doing so will enable us to deal rightly with our sin.
But how can you be sure that God the Father and the Son, working through the Holy Spirit who lives within every believer (1 Cor 6:19), will help you deal with sin and direct your spiritual transformation? (cf. Rom 8:31; Phil 1:6; 2:12-13). This is such as pertinent question, for it dogs believers throughout our whole lives as we seek imperfectly to walk by the Spirit with our Savior. How can we be sure that God will in fact make good on his promise to sanctify us and grow us in holiness? Because in a very real sense, we are not our own. We don’t belong to ourselves. We are servants who have been bought off the slave market of sin and brought into the house of our new master, who is our God and our new Father. We are servants of the living God, but we are also sons and full heirs in his house (temple) with his natural son Jesus Christ. God will certainly not abandon us because we are his own. If God is for us, then who can be against us (Rom 8:31)? If God our Father has paid so costly a price to buy us back from sin and death, he will certainly not abandon his investment in us. He who began a good work in us will surely be faithful to complete it, and will see the work through all the way to the end (Phil 1:6). God is working in his servant-children for our spiritual transformation according to his good pleasure. It is for these reasons that we can be sure that God will help us deal with our sin, and because we have God’s sure promise on our side, we can work hard and confidently against our sin, knowing that the outcome of holiness is certain. He is indeed working in us and blessing our efforts to walk by the Spirit and crucify our sinful nature (including those persistent respectable sins we seem to be defeated by).
It is a glorious reality that the Holy Spirit is working in the life of each believer to transform him into the image of God’s splendid, radiant, unveiled glory (2 Cor 3:18). Wow! The glorious image we are being transformed into will not be veiled by mortality, it will not be marred by sin, and will not be tarnished by the flesh of the old man. We will behold him with unveiled faces and look upon his full glory so that we may reflect his glory in such a way that will never fade.
The insight I gleaned from this study of Scripture that I most appreciate is the difference between guilt for the believer and unbeliever. Because of the cross and resurrection of Christ, the guilt that I (and every other believer) experience for my sin is a guilt that leads to confession and repentance so that the joy of my salvation may be restored. All Christians have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light by the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Therefore a Christian’s sin is already and forever atoned for by the shed blood of Christ. As the hymn goes, “No guilt in life, no fear of death, this is the power of Christ in me.” The unbeliever has no such assurance. His guilt must be shouldered and atoned for by himself. What a heavy burden! How great is salvation and forgiveness in Christ!
I find it easier than before to comprehend God’s forgiveness and infinite love for me. I think studying God’s Word in seminary for several years has grown my faith, along with my commitment to trying to read the Bible a little every day (and at least once through in a year), has served to increase my understanding of how much God loves me (and the rest in his Church for that matter). But still, whenever my sin and sinful nature become more clear to me, it is difficult, at least experientially, to trust that God loves me with an infinite covenantal love—the same love that he has for his Son Jesus Christ. Comprehending God’s love for me in the face of my ever-present sin is what remains difficult. I guess that is why I still need to preach the gospel (the good news of God’s forgiveness of sin and adoption of sinners in Christ) to myself. The gospel is for sinners, and I am still battling sin. Although I think that the gospel is will always be glorious and applicable, even for saints in the glorified, sinless, resurrected state because we will probably all still have memory of our great former sinfulness and will thereby glory in the gospel of Christ which announced our salvation.
As a believer, the fact that God has completely forgiven my sin and will work with me to put to death expressions of sin in my life (including “respectable” ones) means that I can live my life coram deo (before the face of God) with confidence and assurance that he loves me and will perfect me someday. I greatly look forward to the day when I will sin no more and be rid of the “old man” that dogs me every day. Salvation from my enemies will be grand, but so will salvation from my own corrupt, depraved nature. Thanks be to God that he has already begun that great work.
I’ve already memorized 1 John 1:9 and used it in a recent sermon that I preached on unconfessed sin, but I resolve to recall this verse and meditate on it this week.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Dear Heavenly Father, You are no longer only my Judge, but now that you have transferred me from Satan’s worldly kingdom of darkness into your glorious heavenly kingdom of light through Christ, I can humbly and reverently call you Father. Thank you for promising to forgive me my sin (both my sinful nature and my sinful deeds), and for your promise to not only wipe my record clean, but to go further by cleansing me from all unrighteousness. By this precious promise you show yourself to be good. You are faithful and just in keeping your covenant promises. You are true to your word. Grant me the heart to see my “respectable” sins, to be cut to the heart as soon as they are brought before me, and that I may confess and repent of my sins so I may find forgiveness—true forgiveness—in you. You promise that as far as the east is from the west, so great is the distance of my sin from your sight. May it ever be so, but may your Spirit so work in my heart that sin will be as far from me as it is from you.
I pray this prayer confidently yet humbly in your Son’s name, Jesus Christ, Amen.