Thoughts and Wrestlings on Sin and Guilt, Law and Grace

I am wrestling with the proper balance of sin and grace as a believer.  I have been made aware of myself very recently that I seem pained over the weight of my sin – somewhat puritanically – quite often, which this respected person mentioned was a good thing – that is, it is good to know the weight of sin, to know the displeasure that it brings our Father, and yet if the balm of Christ’s person and work in the Gospel be not quickly applied to it, the residue of such weight produces unnecessary guilt, indeed, phantom guilt, for in Christ the guilt of sin has been removed – and we know that such a statement as this must also be balanced, for it may be interpreted that we may then sin all the more freely seeing that there is no guilt to be felt, but this would be to misunderstand the work of Christ in the Gospel and the issue at hand.  It is good to know my sin and to know that God will not tolerate it and does not desire that I persist in it; but it is better to know that when I sin, the sin itself does not increase or decrease my acceptance with God, and for that matter, neither does my righteousness.  My acceptance with God is Christ, and Christ’s acceptance is a perfect acceptance; this acceptance with God has been granted to me by faith in Christ, such that none of my doings or non-doings effect that acceptance either positively or negatively – I am always accepted in the Beloved, Jesus Christ.  However, the Gospel does something with the heart in relation to the law; for the soul being not under the law anymore, and thus not living under the condemnation of it because of a real and true guilt before God, now embraces the law under grace as the very things that it loves and delights to do, for I now know that in all things God is working to make me like Jesus, who was and is and will always be the perfectly obedient Son, and God is looking for obedient sons, and one of the glories of believing in Christ is that we have been imputed His perfect obedience in principle, the reality of which is an increasing obedience to God and His Word in practice.  In Christ, then, we are free from the guilt of our sin, free from the just condemnation of the sin of the unbeliever, and for this reason, free to live in love with God, free to live in love with His law, free to delight in obedience, for in such living and loving we are being conformed and reflecting Christ.  As a disobedient son or daughter is no less a son or daughter with respect to their father when they disobey or obey, so the Christians status and relationship to the Father in heaven is fixed in eternity because it is fixed in Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father.  Thus, guilt and condemnation removed, our Father nonetheless desires His children to be like Him, to reflect His image, which is the predestined purpose of all who believe in Christ, that we should be conformed to His image.  The reality, then, that there is no guilt in sin (though there must be godly sorrow and repentance and faith Christward), does not detract from holy living, but rather is the freedom necessary to love God and others and obedience (holiness) unto Him.  It is a delightful meditation to think upon the reality that the Bible teaches here – the guilt of sin has been removed and we are fully accepted by God the Father in God the Son. Practically, then, my doing or non-doing does not affect my standing with God when that standing is in the Son.  I am under grace – I have received freely what I did not in any way in any possible world deserve.  I do think we must daily apply the Gospel of Christ to our condition.  Sin is not acceptable for those who have been saved to be like Christ, holy.  But such sin should not in any way lock us down, knock us out of the game of life, cause us to think that God is more angry with us when we do or don’t do this or that.  Gracelessness combined with the reality of law reveals sin, brings guilt, pierces with condemnation, creates fear, enslaves us to this life.  I often act under this contrary position to that which I have in Christ.  Christ invites the weary to come unto Him and find rest – what rest? – rest from the works of the law, rest from incessant attempts at approval and acceptance with God and other people, rest from the un-enjoyment of God, rest from guilt, and soon, rest from the presence of sin.  In the rest one finds through faith in Christ, there we are strengthened, even when we sin, for we know that our familial relationship with the Father is not one of an unstable standing but of delightful holiness.  In Christ, guilt should not dominate us for the guilt that dominates is non-existent in Christ; we are free from the chains of the law, free from the guilt of the sin that we recognize by the law, to – by grace – love and delight in Christ-like obedience to it, to God our Father.  When we play the part of the prodigal, the Father is always ready to receive us with celebration – not because He takes sin lightly, but because we are His children; and His reception of us as children is based upon the obedience of the One, Jesus Christ.  In a world that seeks to do everything guilt-free – like eating chocolate, or more perversely, watching pornography – the irony is that they always indulge in acts that are flooded with the reality of guilt, while rejecting the one means given by which guilt could be removed – faith and sonship in Christ.  And as a son, though I am not free from repentance and holiness (rather freed for true repentance and holiness), I am free from guilt in Christ unto rest in His full acceptance.  God help me to daily apply the Gospel of Christ to my sin that I might live in the joy and peace of adopted sonship and its benefits – a love for holiness, a full acceptance with my Father, an eternal life flowing from the Gospel that lifts my head from the pit of guilt and sets my affections on rest, free and full, a reality fixed for me in Christ my Lord.  Father help me, your son in Christ, to consider this more, and to flesh it out for my own good and your glory.  Thank you for such a consideration, a reality that I pray consumes me to the praise of Christ.

2 Responses

  1. The first and most important thing in this issue is to realize that you’re not a sinner. The reason Paul says “what, shall we sin so that grace may abound” at the beginning and middle of ch. 6 of Romans is to reverse the theology that we’re still sinners, and if you read ch 6 that’s exactly his point. He says “our old nature has been destroyed”, and 2 Corinthians 5 says “If you’re in Christ, you’re a new creation! The old has passed away, and see, all things have become new!” So how do we stop from sinning? Stop being afraid and focusing on “your” sin, which is not yours at all! You won’t sin – 1 John says that those that are in Christ can’t sin. We don’t ‘balance’ a truth, Paul stated it very very clearly and we’re to not be like “well, yeah, but…”, we’re supposed to be like HECK YEAH that’s right to EVERY line!!! You gotta stop trying to climb the mountain and focus on your sins. That man is dead, you were there at his funeral. That’s what baptism is. We can never fulfill the Great Commission if we just sit around and analyze ourselves, and think it’s glorifying God. It’s not. You being who you are in Christ, and realizing that if God “considers you righteous”, guess what, you ARE righteous – this glorifies God.

  2. Friend, I appreciate your sentiments though I cannot agree with them. To say that we are not sinners is to go against the whole counsel of God and common sense. The text in Romans 6 is a rhetorical question offered by the apostle Paul; because he had so expounded the preeminence of grace over against sin, he anticipated that some in the Roman congregation would take his arguments too far, that they would be asking, “If I sin, and grace abounds all the more, should I not sin all the more?” To which Paul answers – May it never be! He does not say that we do not sin as believers in Christ, but only that, being in Christ, our lives are to be marked by progressive conformity to the image of Christ such that there should be tangible evidence of holiness of life. I understand and treasure the verses that you have quoted, and I agree with what they state – shall we continue to sin? Absolutely not! Are we a new creation? Absolutely! Has the power of sin been broken in Christ (1 John)? Once more, certainly! But look at your contexts, dear friend! When Paul says, “your life under grace is to be marked by deadness to sin” it is an exhortation to people who are sinning. When he writes, “you are a new creation in Christ Jesus”, he is writing to the Corinthian church, a people full of legitimate sin issues. When John writes, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God,” (1 John 3:9), dear friend, you must balance that with what the same apostle writes two chapters earlier, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:8-2:1).

    The Bible does not teach perfectionism. It teaches that man is totally depraved, in love with his sins and his rebellion against God. Contrary to your words, it is in the realization of one’s sins that he has become a new creation in Christ Jesus, and of course, that new creation embraces Christ alone and His perfect sinlessness as our positional covering. But that is positional. Yet the new creation does have practical outworkings as well. That fact that we are positionally sinless in the sight of God does not mean that we are practically so; but it does mean that there is a new principle within us, namely, spiritual life in and by the Holy Spirit by whom we do battle with sin on a day to day basis in absolute reliance upon the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. So, I say again, there must be an account for the what the whole Bible is saying about those who have been born again. If, as you contend, we sin no more, sin is not ours to own, then why Paul’s constant admonitions to put off practically the old man (as if it were still kicking about us) and put on practically the new man. Orthodox Christianity does not believe that you are glorified (sinless state of existence) until heaven; the Bible teaches that you are regenerated by the Spirit (that is, given spiritual life to know the depravity of one’s sin and simultaneously the beauties of Christ such that we repent and embrace Him alone as if our salvation depended upon it – and it does), justification (wherein, as you contend, one is declared completely innocent on Christ’s account, our sin to Him, His sinlessness imputed to us), then sanctification (which is the rest of our lives from that point of conversion, wherein we are progressively, not perfectly, becoming like Jesus), and then glorification (whereby we are perfected). To set it in stages as such – especially regeneration and justification (conversion and its benefits) – is faulty, for it happens pretty simultaneously, but there is to be no doubt that the Bible deems the rest of this life as a practical struggle for holiness, a race set before us, the end of which is not until we pass by death into everlasting life with Christ.

    Nevertheless, friend, may grace abound to you as I pray you reconsider the perfectionist ideal. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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