True and False Guilt

pen and paper

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines guilt as the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; the state of one who has committed an offense especially; feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy; and a feeling of deserving blame for offenses (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guilt). If mankind has sinned (which we have), and if we are responsible for these sins (which we are), then we are guilty before God. Since we are guilty, we should have a sense of guilt; it’s logical.

This is the argument of the early chapters of Romans where Paul divides the human race into three major sections and shows how each knows something of its moral duty but has deliberately suppressed its knowledge in order to pursue its own sinful course. There is nothing more serious than deliberately rejecting the light of truth and goodness. Paul begins with the Roman society; its people have known God’s power and glory from the creation, and His holiness from their conscience, but they have refused to live up to their knowledge. God gave them over to immorality and other forms of anti-social behavior because they worshipped idols according to Romans 1:18-32. Paul moves on to the section of humanity that were self-righteous; whose knowledge of God’s law may be either in the scripture or in their hearts. In either case they do not live up to their knowledge of God, according to Romans 2:1-16. The third section is the Jewish world, whose members pride themselves on the knowledge they have and on the moral instructions they give to others. Yet the very law they teach they also disobey according to Romans 2:17-38.

Paul’s conclusion is in Romans 3:9, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” The Old Testament scripture confirms this verdict. We are all without excuse. Every protest is silenced, and the whole world is guilty and accountable to God. Paul writes further in Romans 3:19-20;

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the           Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Christians have often been criticized for continually harping on sin; for trying to induce in others a sense of their guilt. The philosopher Nietzsche bitterly complained that “Christianity needs sickness . . . Making sick is the true hidden objective of Christianity-one must be sufficiently sick for it.” Nietzsche was partly right; Christianity is medicine for the sin-sick.

Jesus defended his concentration on tax collectors and sinners by saying, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).” We do not make people sick in order to convert them; we just simply make people aware of their sickness so they will turn to the Great Physician for healing. The Bible takes sin seriously because it takes humanity seriously. Every person is responsible for the sins they commit. To say that somebody is not responsible for their actions is to demean them as a human being. It is part of the glory of being human that we are held responsible for our actions. After we accept the responsibility for our actions, acknowledging our sin and guilt, we receive God’s forgiveness, enter into the joy of His salvation, and become more completely human and healthy.

NOTES: Parts of this post have been taken from John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ.”

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