Getting a Grip on Guilt
James C. Denison
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, an armistice ending hostilities with Germany went into effect. Its result was the eventual end of World War I. As a consequence, “Armistice Day” was observed each November 11. In 1954, following the end of World War II and the Korean conflict, legislation was signed changing this annual observance to Veterans Day.
Whereas Memorial Day honors those who died in the service of our country. Veterans Day honors the veterans of all American wars.
Nearly 2.7 million men and women are currently serving in the military or in the reserves. There are 23.7 million veterans living in America today. Each and every one deserves our gratitude on this day and every day. You were willing to serve and even to die so that we could live free.
On this Veterans Day, it seems especially appropriate that we consider our topic. Our Savior died at Calvary so that each of us could live free from spiritual slavery and guilt. We can celebrate total victory over temptation and sin this morning. We can be completely free from guilt and shame.
Why, then, is guilt such a pervasive problem for Christians? Why is it is hard for us to make peace with our past? Why do we all have secret sins and failures which plague our souls? How can we get a grip on guilt today?
Why guilt? (5)
Let’s begin by understanding our spiritual disease. “What’s wrong with me?” our series has asked. The answer is your sin nature, your desire to be your own God. It has affected every part of you. Guilt is the inevitable result.
Here’s the background of Psalm 51. King David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. She became pregnant. To cover his sin, eventually he had Uriah killed and took the widow as his wife. But God knew what he had done, and sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin.
In this one event David broke nine of God’s Ten Commandments. He broke in order the tenth, coveting his neighbor’s wife; the seventh, by committing adultery; the eighth by stealing her for himself; the sixth by murdering her husband; the ninth, by lying about his sin; the fifth, by dishonoring his parents; the second, by making an idol of Bathsheba; and the first and third, by shaming God and his name. At least he didn’t break the Sabbath, that we know of.
Why did he do this, knowing how wrong these sins would be? Why do we sin, even when we know that guilt and shame will be the result? “The church is full of hypocrites,” our critics allege. If we are the children of God, why do we still struggle with temptation and sin? Let’s apply some of the facts we’ve learned so far in our series.
First, sin is still real. Verse 5 is clear: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This verse does not mean that babies or fetuses sin; it means that we have all inherited a sin nature, a propensity to sin.
Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” We have each inherited a tendency toward sin and the guilt it produces.
Even when we become the children of God, sin is still real. Paul admitted that what he wanted to do he did not do, and what he did not want to do, that he did (Romans 7:14-20). An illustration from Roman law may help: when a victim was crucified, he was considered dead in the eyes of the law from the moment he was nailed to the cross. His execution was recorded on the day he was crucified, not on the day his body actually died. It might take hours or even days for him to die physically, but he was already dead legally.
So it is with your salvation–you became the legal “saint” of God at the moment you invited the Spirit into your life, but the sin nature is still real. It won’t leave you forever until you step from this fallen world into God’s perfect paradise.
Second, Satan is still real. He is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), looking for you. You are his enemy. Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning,” and “a liar and the father of lies.” He only left Jesus after his wilderness defeat “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:18). He tempts and deceives every one of us. He is better at tempting than you are at resisting.
He is sly and subtle, never tempting us to do what he knows we will not do. As when lights are dimmed slowly and our eyes adjust to the darkness, so he seeks to lead us by steps from sin to its devastating results. David had no idea that adultery would lead to murder, but Satan did.
As a result, we each think that we are the one person in all of human history who can sin without consequences. No one will know about us; we can do this and be OK.; no one will be hurt. Every person in sin thinks it’s so. But that’s a lie.
Third, free will is still real. God does not remove our freedom when we become Christians. My sons will always be my sons, but they don’t have to act like it. “The devil made me do it” is a cop-out. Our family backgrounds and circumstances are often contributing factors, but the choice is ours. We choose to sin, even know the shame it will produce.
Listen to James 1:14-15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”