GOSPEL FREEDOM

FREEDOM FROM GUILT

The freedom from guilt that is a part of the complete salvation Christians have in Jesus Christ is perhaps the most difficult for us to embrace.

To live with this freedom, to live with the reality of this freedom from guilt, five things are necessary.

Firstly, we have to understand that when Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross [1Peter 2:24] what he bore included our guilt – our real legal guilt in the presence of God, the Judge of all the earth.

Acquittal from this real legal guilt is the core meaning of the Greek verb dikaioo, which is translated by the English ‘justify’, and the Greek noun dikaiosune, which is translated by the English words ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification’. These words refer to the declaration of legal acquittal - a legal declaration of exoneration from guilt, a legal declaration of innocence. Paul explains this truth at length in Romans 3 to 8.

This removal of guilt is also taught in the letter to the Hebrews. In 9:11-14 the writer describes the sacrifice of Christ as superior to the sacrifices of bulls and goats, because his sacrifice is effective in taking away guilt, something the animal sacrifices could not do. This removal of our guilt by the sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ generates uninhibited confidence in the presence of God [10:10-22].

Here is a central fact of Gospel Freedom: that we are no longer treated by God as guilty: we are treated by God as innocent. Paul sums this up in various ways in his letters, including these two powerful statements:

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ [2Corinthians 5:21]

‘But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’ [Colossians 1:22].

Secondly, we need to understand that in ourselves, viewed apart from Christ, we are actually still guilty – we still sin, we still break God’s laws and fall short of God’s standards; but because we are ‘in Christ’ God, as our Judge, no longer regards our guilt. Indeed, it was he who nailed all our guilt to the cross of Christ [Colossians 2:14]. It was he who poured all of the judgement/condemnation incurred by our guilt onto his Son. Our on-going real guilt [the fact that we still sin] does not contradict or undermine the guilt-bearing work of Christ on the cross. Rather it continues to affirm the absolute necessity of that work. Although we are in Christ, and because of Christ, acquitted, declared ‘not guilty’, we are, if we look at ourselves, still guilty. Paul, because of this, makes the radical and, to some, offensive, statement: that God ‘justifies the wicked’ [Romans 4:5]. Luther, referring to this, coined the Latin phrase simul justus et peccator – at the same time acquitted and a sinner. There is not a nano second in which we are not guilty: and there is not a nano second in which we do not stand in need of the death of Christ by which we are declared ‘not guilty’. As long as we, in our pride, refuse to accept this dual reality, we will never enjoy the freedom from guilt that Christ paid so dearly to obtain for us.

Thirdly, we need to recognize that there is such a thing as ‘false’ guilt. False guilt is guilt generated when we fail to live up to various human expectations, including our own. These human expectations include the expectations and values imposed by our culture, our church, our social group, our peers and our personal values/image. With this false guilt we give ourselves a bad time, and allow others to give us a bad time, and even convince ourselves that God is displeased with us, on the basis of criteria that have nothing at all to do with God’s law and God’s standards.

Fourthly, we need to analyse our guilt feelings. Guilt feelings may or may not be associated with true guilt, and they are usually associated with false guilt. The absence of guilt feelings does not mean the absence of true guilt, or the failure to admit true guilt. The presence or absence of guilt feelings has no bearing on our salvation, yet they can have a devastating impact on our perception and our enjoyment of our salvation and of our relationship with God through Christ. If our guilt feelings are grounded in true guilt, then let us acknowledge that true guilt, thank God that it has been borne by Christ, and live in the joy of that truth. If our guilt feelings are grounded in false guilt then let us repent of the sin of making human expectations, including our own, more authoritative than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
Fifthly, and importantly, we need to remember that we have an enemy who does not want us to live in a joy-filled and peaceful guilt-free relationship with God. His name is Satan – ‘the accuser’. But neither he, nor any human who would do his accusing for him, has any authority to undo what God has already declared done. [Read Romans 8:31-39]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012