Last week, Betsy discussed the Gospel Enemy #1: Self Righteousness. This week we will learn more about the second gospel enemy: persistent guilt. This enemy is also a result of our dependence on ourselves to merit favor with God; however, at the same time we are very much aware of our inadequacy. Our spiritual growth is often halted while we struggle with our guilt.
Where does this guilt come from? Romans 2 tells us that it comes from our conscience. Our consciences serve us two purposes: first, it gives us warnings when we are about to sin, offering us the opportunity to choose a different path, and second, it declares us to be guilty when we do sin. Our conscience is a good thing, a God-given thing. Since all believers regularly commit sin, we all regularly hear our consciences declaring us guilty of our sin. It is massively important to remember, however, that “the message of the cross is absent from the signals sent by our guilty conscience; it only knows the law” and nothing of the cross.
I suffer from this ‘enemy’ a lot. I actually picked this chapter because of the fact that it was dealing with guilt. On pages 56-57, the authors list several questions we can ask to see if we are under the influence of this gospel enemy. Some of the questions I found most relevant to my own life were:
Are you painfully preoccupied with a particular habitual sin?
Are you discouraged or depressed by your failure to measure up?
Do you frequently experience anxiety that something’s about to go wrong?
Is there something in your past that you just can’t seem to get over?
Do your difficult circumstances seem like God’s judgment for your sin?
Do you steer clear of intimate relationships or small group discussions?
Do you seldom think of the cross?
Its not good enough for us to try to convince ourselves that we are good people, regardless of what our conscience tell us, or to try to ‘forgive’ ourselves. The truth is, we are sinners – we are guilty of all the things we imagine ourselves to be. And we cannot save ourselves. We cannot fix up our lives no matter how hard we try to. There was an awesome quote on the bottom of page 57, “Only the life and death of Christ offers a legitimate path to freedom from a guilty conscience – legitimate because it was a real, lived-in-the-flesh, finished righteousness, applied to us forever.”
Sisters, we have been justified. God has declared us ‘not guilty.’ He has covered us with His Son’s righteousness. We did nothing to become justified, we did nothing to deserve justification, and we can do nothing to loose our justification.
Therefore, we need to change our mindset regarding our sin. We should still hate it. We should still fight against it. We should still listen when our conscience tells us that we have sinned – but we should listen for the purpose of recognizing sin as sin, confessing our sin, and battling our sin always keeping in mind that we are able to fight our sin knowing that the battle has already been won for us! This should give us great courage as we fight. But we will only have courage and strength if we are constantly reminding ourselves of the gospel. The minute we loose sight of the gospel we will fall victim to these ‘gospel enemies.’ The authors provided some ways of shifting our mindset to the gospel:
Shift your focus away from your sin and onto Christ
Shift your focus to Christ, our mediator
Shift your focus to Christ crucified, risen, and ascended
Shift your focus to the glory of Christ
Shift your focus off of self-condemnation
Shift your focus off of self-contempt
We cannot face our guilt alone, for we truly are guilty of more than we can comprehend. However sinful you are aware of at your worst moment does not even come close to how guilty we actually are in reality. This is why it is so important to be continually immersing ourselves in the gospel – because only the gospel is stronger than our sin. Our guilt is immense – but Jesus’ sacrifice was greater.
So the next time you are aware of your sin in huge ways, when you feel yourself about to crumble under its weight, when you want to just throw up your hands and give up, remember the gospel!