By Harold Fite
Guilt is a heavy burden to bear. It caused Peter to weep and drove Judas to hang himself. It prompted David to say, “Make me to hear joy and gladness” (Ps. 51:8). Guilt removes joy, peace, and tranquility. It can destroy our physical and mental health. To continue in guilt over a prolonged period is to lose respect for self, and not having a self to live with is tragic.
Guilt feelings may be justified or may not be justified. You may feel guilt because of a failure to measure up to what people expect of you. You may also feel a sense of guilt because you didn’t measure up to self-imposed goals. The greater problem is a failure to measure up to God’s law. This is what this article is all about.
Guilt is, “trouble arising in our mind from a consciousness of having done contrary to what we are verily persuaded was our duty” (Oxford Dictionary). It is a failure to live up to the “ought.” Where there is no sense of “ought,” there is no sense of guilt.
Guilt comes as the result of breaking law. To violate God’s law is sin (1 John 3:4; Isa. 53:6; 2 John 9; Rom. 3:23). Sin produces guilt. Conscience also comes into play. There is no guilt without conscience! Conscience is “the sense within us by which we approve or disapprove for having followed, or failed to follow a standard known by us.” In speaking of the Gentiles, Paul said, “they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thought one with another accusing, or else excusing them” (Rom. 2:15). Our standard is the word of God and our conscience excuses or accuses us when we follow or fail to follow that standard. We must not ignore conscience.
There are two kinds of guilt: (1) Subjective, (2) Objective. In most states a person who commits a crime must be examined by a psychologist to determine whether the defendant is mentally capable of standing trial. The psychologist is not concerned with “what” he has done but “why” he did it. What were the circumstances? What pressure was he under at the time? What in his background would cause him to commit the crime? The prosecutor, on the other hand, is not concerned with why the person committed the act, but that he violated the law and must pay the penalty.
Many look to God as the psychologist. They think explaining to God why they sinned against him — outlining the circumstances; the tremendous pressure they were under at the time — that God will understand and rule in their favor. Saul pursued this course without success. Saul didn’t destroy the Amalekites and tried to blame the people for his failure: “the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen . . . I feared the voice of the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam. 15:15, 24). God was not concerned why Saul disobeyed him, but that he did, and he removed him from being king. While transporting the Ark, Uzzah touched it, violating God’s command. God killed him on the spot! Uzzah could have argued that the oxen shook the Ark and it looked as if it were going to fall and he instinctively reached out for it. God’s concern was that his commandment had been broken and Uzzah had to suffer the consequences of his action, circumstances notwithstanding. God is not concerned with the circumstances surrounding our sin, but that we have sinned and must bear the guilt of sin.
The Jews under the law could not remove the guilt of sin. It was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin (Heb.10:4). Their sacrifices reminded them daily of their sinful state (Heb. 9:9). It took the blood of Jesus Christ to “cleanse your (their) conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). Guilt is expiated by punishment or atonement. Thanks be to God who chose for us the latter. “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Modern man is trying to flee from guilt. The word “sin” has almost become archaic. A new vocabulary is being created to negate guilt: abortion, alternate life-style, love baby, unacceptable, etc. Renowned psychologists flippantly announce to the world, “You can have it all without guilt.”
Only the blood of Christ can remove the guilt of sin. For the blood to be viable it must be applied. The blood is the remedy for sin; the word is the applicator. Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Peter, how- ever, told those gathered on Pentecost, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins . . .” (Acts 2:38). Without the blood of Christ one cannot be saved. Jesus shed his blood for all men, but we will never receive the blessings that God intended for us to receive unless we apply the word.
The sinner might reply, “That’s too easy! I must suffer for my sins.” Here is the good news: Jesus has already done the suffering for you and atoned for your sins.
Dear reader, why go through life burdened with the guilt of sin? Purify your soul in obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1: 22).