Moving now from shame to guilt, let’s review. Guilt is, “I have done something wrong.” Shame is, “I am something wrong.” Shame is never who we are after our conversion to Christ. Guilty, on the other hand, is who we are when we sin.
Understanding guilt is an important piece of understanding our salvation. In a legal (from a moral standpoint) sense, prior to Christ, we are all guilty. We are sinners in Adam and we are sinners in our actions. We are guilty on both counts. But Christ took our guilt upon Himself when He died on a cross in our place. The concept of substitution – Christ dying in our place – is at the heart of the gospel’s message of redemption. Christ died for our sins.
The beauty of the love, grace, and mercy of God is that all the guilt related to our sins goes away when we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). “Having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).
Your sins, in a legal sense, are forgiven; past, present, and future. So what if I sin today? Is the penalty covered? Are there no consequences? When we sin today, the legal penalty of that sin is already taken care of. But in the area of our daily practice of holiness and of living into our new freedom in Christ, there is guilt and consequence when we sin.
Since sin is not compatible with our new identity in Christ, not fitting with the Holy Spirit who now lives inside, sin breaks our fellowship with God. It also breaks our fellowship with God’s family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. So when we sin, we are truly guilty.
But God has given us a way to restore that fellowship through confession and repentance. “If we confess our sins (acts committed, not our sin nature), God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (those ways we are not living into our identity in Christ). God’s cleansing is removing the hindrances to living the fruits of the Spirit that we already possess but are stunted by sin.
Think of it this way. By virtue of our spiritual DNA – the Holy Spirit living inside – we are destined to produce the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is who we are. But just as a fruit tree can be stunted and produce bad fruit or no fruit due to disease, so we can produce bad fruit or no fruit due to sin. Our “fruit” production can be damaged by sin. When we confess our sins, God is faithful to heal the disease of sin.
So if we are truly guilty when we sin, how does guilt become a chain? Guilt becomes a chain when we forget God’s two great promises regarding our guilt. The first promise, in a justification sense, your sins are forgiven forever. The second promise, in a sanctification sense, you can be forgiven your present sins, be restored to fellowship, and infused with power to overcome sin.
When we fail to believe those promises, we are under the chain of guilt. When we aren’t really sure if God’s forgiveness is complete; for example, am I still paying the price for attending a séance as a teenager or for wishing my classmate dead when they cheated me out of my first place award or … you fill in the blank from your past. These sound crazy, but trust me, when we fail to believe and embrace and live into all of God’s promises regarding our forgiven guilt, we can be hamstrung by some crazy ideas. Let the chain of guilt go. Confess any sins of the present and move on in the grace, freedom, and joy of who you are in Christ. There is no more “paying for your sins” to be done. By God’s grace, by His free gift, you are forgiven.