Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Blessing of Guilt

I tend to think of guilt as a bad thing. And sometimes, it is.

But guilt is also a blessing. You heard me right--guilt can be a blessing.

In the Old Testament, the concept of guilt is tied inextricably tied to the word sin. For instance, when God judges Cain for killing his brother, Cain says, "Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is too great to bear!" (Gen. 4:13). Here, the word "punishment" means "depravity, iniquity, guilt or punishment of iniquity"* Based on this definition, Cain's sin (iniquity), his guilt from that sin, and the punishment from that sin are all tied together.

That sin against a holy God leads to punishment is a logical connection for those of us who are believers. But what is the role of guilt and why is it a blessing?

For the non-Christian and Christian alike, guilt is our God-given conscience's way of leading a person to repent and turn from sin.

In conjunction with the Law of the Old Testament, guilt is the Holy Spirit working in the soul, showing a person his inability to meet God's holy standard of perfection and his guilt/punishment because of that sin. James tells us, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10).

Without the blessing of the Law, without the blessing of guilt, a person would not understand the need for repentance and salvation, the need for a Savior.

The problem comes when God blesses a person with guilt, yet that person ignores it and doesn't turn from sin.

In Ezra, he says of Israel, "our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. Since the days of our fathers to this day, we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame...we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this" (Ez. 9:6-7, 15).

Ezra understood that the children of Israel had long stood guilty before God. He understood that they had hardened their hearts to their guilty conscience, that they had failed to bend the knee in repentance, and that this was why God had punished them by sending them into captivity.

This time when Ezra warns the people they have been "adding to the guilt of Israel," the people listened to the Law, to their souls' guilt, and they repented: "and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their offense" (Ez. 10:10, 19).

This guilt--it was a blessing, leading them to repentance.

But what then? With the sin forgiven, does the guilt still remain? Perhaps in the flesh, we still cannot let go of the guilt, the shame for our sin, but for those who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, in God's eyes, the guilt is no more.

David writes, "I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin" (Ps. 32:5).

The blood of Christ cleanses our guilty conscience....cleanses our guilty soul.

The author of Hebrews writes of Christ: "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, 'THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,' He then says, 'AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE'" (Heb. 10:14-18).

In Christ, we have "hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb. 10:22).

If we have truly repented of and turned from our sin, we do not need to feel guilt. Christ has wiped it all away--the guilt, the sin, the punishment.

God has blessed even non-Christian societies with pre-programmed souls to feel the need for a moral code of right and wrong, to feel the pangs of guilt over wrongs. Yet, we must ever guard our hearts against hardening.

A guilty heart over sin should always lead to brokenness, confession, repentance, and a heart that thanks God for creating us with souls able to feel our guilt.


Image: from Bubbly Emotions

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