David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her. (2 Samuel 11:4)
Recently a former Presidential candidate admitted to an adulterous affair against his wife who has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer. The National Inquirer broke the story last October but the candidate vehemently dismissed the story, calling it ‘tabloid trash.’ Recently, while leaving the hotel room of his adulteress and her child (purportedly his child by her), when exiting the elevator he was met by photographers and reporters of the National Inquirer. When he saw them his face turned white as a sheet and he ran into the men’s bathroom. When a security guard came to get him, he asked, ‘What are they saying about me?’ He finally admitted to making a mistake against his wife.
Guilt makes people do weird things. It causes some to deny wrongdoing altogether, dismissing their sin as a poor decision, a mistake, poor judgment, an accident. So the most they can say is, ‘I am sorry.’ The reason people very often feel guilty is because, well, they are guilty. To drop a glass on the floor is an accident. I may say, ‘I am sorry’ for that. Making a poor investment in the stock market is something to which you will say, ‘That was a mistake. I am sorry I spent my money on that stock.’ But to sin, to break God’s law is not a mistake. It is a deliberate, wilful decision to not do what God has commanded, ‘to love God with all your being and to love your neighbour as yourself’; or to do what he has commanded you not to do, ‘Do not commit adultery, do not commit murder.’
I must give you the bad news before I can give you the good news. The bad news is that your sin makes you guilty and accountable to God. Sin is breaking God’s law. It is failing to do what you ought to do. You really are guilty before God. Why? Because he is holy, totally without sin, and you are the crown of his creation and are commanded to be holy as he is holy (see Isaiah 6:1ff, 1 Peter 1:14-16). You really are accountable to him. Why? Because he is your creator and redeemer (see Genesis 1:27ff and Exodus 19). Not only that, but you also are guilty and living under condemnation, if you are not yet a true Christian. Nahum 1:2ff makes clear that our God is a jealous and avenging God who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. God is perfectly justified in his anger against you. It’s like a loving father who cares for his son, instructs him, sets him up in business, gives him every opportunity to succeed, and then the son rejects his father, maligning him, and eventually killing him for more of his money. We would have no trouble agreeing that such a son is a malevolent, wicked person who deserves judgment. Our sedition against God, in comparison, is infinitely wicked.
So, how is it that you try to assuage your guilt? Probably in some degree you do what so many of the Hollywood celebrities do. They feel guilty because of their lifestyles so they give themselves to humanitarian causes – adopting poor children from other countries, giving money to Hurricane Katrina victims, raising money to supply children in Africa with mosquito nets. Are these good things? Of course they are. There is nothing wrong with this. Surely we ought to show compassion on the suffering and needy of our world. However, because these celebrities instinctively know they are guilty, in a desire to suppress or wash away their guilt, they engage in humanitarian efforts. These acts make them feel good about themselves. Christians or religious people can do the same thing. A Muslim convinces himself that his guilt is assuaged by praying five times per day and fasting during Ramadan. A Hindu believes he finds peace by taking a vow of poverty and visiting the local temple each day, and bathing in the filthy Ganges River. And those in and around Christianity think they gain deliverance from guilt by believing in Christ but also going to church, giving their money, feeling really bad about their sin, serving on church committees, becoming experts in some branch of theology, serving the poor in the inner city, taking in unwed mothers. Is there anything wrong with these activities? Of course not! They are wonderful things to do, but the problem is that we tend to think our actions in some way contribute to the removal of our guilt. Such people often say that they believe the gospel so much, that they are so in love with Jesus, that by doing good deeds they are assured of God’s love. I say just the opposite. It is not that such people believe the gospel too much. Rather they believe it too little. They really do not understand the terrible guilt and condemnation under which they are living. They tend to think they have merely had a bad day, make a few wrong decisions, done some unwise things.
Instead, with King David who saw the guilt of his sin with Bathsheba, they need to get to the place where they honestly can say, ‘Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned.’ Until you come to this place, until you come to realise your terrible guilt and condemnation before a holy God, I fear you will not truly trust Christ as the only means of eternal salvation and deliverance from sin’s condemnation. The truth is that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. Four New Testament passages refer to Christ as our propitiation (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2; 4:10). This word propitiation (the Greek word is hilasterion) has been very much in the theological news for the last 100 years or so. To some the idea of God being angry with the sinner, and thus demanding his own Son’s death to remove his anger, seems barbaric, or as some have called it ‘divine child abuse’. Some have suggested that propitiation ought to be translated expiation (the removal of guilt), and certainly there is a dimension of expiation in hilasterion, but the meaning goes much further. God is infinitely holy and righteous and man is utterly sinful, utterly and completely guilty before the Holy One. God is completely just in pouring out his wrath on unrepentant sinners (see Jeremiah 50:2ff, Romans 2:5, 6, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9, Revelation 20:11ff, Mark 9:42ff).
But, my friend, here is the good news as it is in Jesus – you really are guilty and under God’s divine wrath, but Jesus died in your place. He took the guilt and condemnation you deserve. God’s just wrath was poured out on his Son. By faith alone in Christ’s finished work on the cross, you are forgiven, and God’s wrath has been forever removed. You must believe the bad news (your sin is not a mistake or poor judgment but sedition against the lover of your soul) before you can embrace the good news (Jesus died for your sins and took God’s wrath upon himself). Until you believe this you will continue to project your sin to others, trying to assuage guilt by humanitarianism, and you will continue to live without joy and peace.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
On Doctrine and Practice July 16, 2019
A charge that is made repeatedly against historic Christianity is that its stress on doctrine makes it authoritarian, theoretical, and cold. The Christian religion is a practical affair; putting the faith in terms of truth to be believed alienates or repels many who would otherwise be sympathetic. As John Robinson puts it, ‘the effect of […]
Christianity and Culture July 12, 2019
One of the greatest of the problems that have agitated the Church is the problem of the relation between knowledge and piety, between culture and Christianity. This problem has appeared first of all in the presence of two tendencies in the Church — the scientific or academic tendency, and what may be called the practical […]