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Is guilt good? It depends. Guilt is good, but only if it is reacting to the right prompt, running in the right channel, and reaching for the right relief. A Spirit-wrought sense of conviction is brought about by an application of God’s law to our hearts (1 John 3:4), stirring evangelical repentance and sending us to Jesus Christ for cleansing. True guilt carries us to God by way of the cross of Christ.

But not all guilt is good because not all guilt is true. In some respects, our society resists guilt, disputing the idea of sin and shame. But “cancel culture” actually trades on guilt. It establishes its own law, makes its own judgments, and then delights in publicizing shame, inflicting misery, and demanding penance. It has no real solution to the guilt it imposes, let alone a solution to true guilt prompted by an awareness of divine holiness. In that respect, it is not too far from false religion. It controls its subjects by keeping them on the leash of a guilt from which none can escape.

Christianity actually deals with guilt. God provides His own Son as a sacrifice for sin, the Lamb of God who takes away the pollution, the punishment, and the power of sin (John 1:29). Christ alone can deliver us, by virtue of His death and resurrection, and so there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1).

So where does guilt go wrong in the experience of a true Christian? When it reacts to the wrong prompt, runs in the wrong channel, or reaches for the wrong relief. In the first case, we feel guilty not because we have broken God’s law but because we fear or conclude that we have fallen short of or transgressed some other standard—our own or someone else’s. We have not necessarily sinned. We must judge ourselves by the right standard. In the second case, guilt runs in the wrong channel. Rather than exhibiting evangelical repentance that runs to the cross, it may sink into despair or seek self-righteousness. In the third case, rather than embracing a crucified Savior, the sinner may doubt the effectiveness of the remedy and so attempt some kind of penance or other replacement or supplement.

I sometimes say: “I have no problem with your feeling guilty for sin. If you are guilty, you should feel guilty. Nevertheless, I have a complete and effective remedy for the guilt of your sin—the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It may seem simple, but we do not need to feel guilty for what is not sin, and we should not doubt the sufficiency and excellency of the remedy that God has provided for real sin. Faith grasps the finished sacrifice of a whole Christ and finds a complete and enduring relief for the real guilt of real sin.


False Humility

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From the May 2023 Issue
May 2023 Issue