Serving Christians Seeking to Live a Holy Life

Bury the Covered Guilt

March 15, 1998
Leon L. Combs, Ph.D.
The reader is assumed to be a Christian


This discussion proceeds to further develop the concepts of Positional Reality and Functional Reality with applications to the sins of the Christian and to the time the Christian wasted before becoming a Christian. Both of these application areas can be a source of spiritual depression and hence reasons for a Christian not becoming an effective disciple of Jesus Christ. Anything which hinders our effectiveness as a Christian must be understood and removed.

In the case of a sin or sins in our life, some people will become so consumed with guilt about their sin that they cannot make progress in the Christian life. Since we are assuming that the person is a Christian, the person's sins are forgiven; however, the person can't get over the guilt. In the case of time wasted prior to being born again, the person is consumed with thoughts about how much more he/she could have done for God if he/she had just become a Christian sooner in life. They may say something like "If I had just become a Christian sooner, then I could have studied to be a nurse/doctor and been a medical missionary to some suffering people in the world." In both cases, we are not referring to just some occasional guilt/regret feelings, but a consuming preoccupation with the thoughts so that the person does not push on to develop the Christian will and works. Satan uses these two areas considerably in his attack against God's children.

I. The State of Our Basic Nature

Regarding our sins, the two realities view our sins from two very different perspectives:

A. Positional Reality

In this view of reality, God sees Christ over me. Col 3:3 says "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God." This is a concise summary of the Gospel message. My sins were paid for on the Cross (1 Peter 2:24 also) and there my sin nature died with Christ (my sins were imputed to Christ) and the righteousness of Christ was imputed to me (my life is hidden with Christ in God). So when God looks at me He sees no sin and He sees the righteousness of Christ.

Now do two gedanke (thought) experiments to attempt a visualization of the enormity of what God did for us through Jesus Christ.

  1. Imagine that you have a lamp nearby with the light on. Now imagine putting a black cloth over the lamp so that the light cannot be seen. This is an analogy of our sins being placed upon Christ and Christ is now not seen by God.
  2. Now imagine that a mirror is placed over the top of your head so that someone looking down on you would only see their reflection. This is an analogy of the righteousness of Christ being placed upon us so now God sees Himself when He looks at us. Admittedly these are pitiful analogies, but they are effective.

Also regarding this perspective of reality, we have Eph 2:4-6,7 with an emphasis on verse 6 for this purpose: "and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,". Note the past tenses of the verbs raise and seat. So in this view of reality we have been raised up from the dead (spiritually) and seated in heaven with Jesus. It is done and completed.

Now we read in Rom 6:1-11 with an emphasis on verse 11 for this purpose: "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Since the death of our sin nature and the birth of our spiritual nature is complete, we are ordered to consider it so. We also read in Rom 6:6 "...our old self was crucified with Him ...." Note the past tense "was crucified". Our sin nature was crucified with Christ on the Cross.

Therefore our positional reality is the reality that, because of the work of Christ, when God looks at me He sees a sinless person who has the righteousness of Christ. My sin nature is dead, I possess the righteousness of Christ, my spiritual nature is born, and I am raised up with Christ and seated in heaven with Him.

B. Functional Reality

This view of reality is considerably different than positional reality. 1John 1:8-10 tells us that indeed we do have sin in our lives, but if we confess it God will forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That is a faithful promise from God and there are no qualifications on the types of unrighteousness.

Remember the experiment about the mirror being placed over us so that God only sees His reflection when He looks at us? But what do we see? We can't see the reflection of God when we look at us because the mirror is over us. We still see the evidence of sin in our life, and now we have struggles as we now have two natures in conflict.

We can read about the conflict between our old sin nature and our new spiritual nature in Rom 7:14-25 which is an amazing struggle that Paul has with a conflict between two natures B a sinful nature which does not want to do the righteous work, and a godly nature that does want to do righteous work.

Thus in the functional reality we have the reality that we are sinners, and that a struggle persists as our sinful nature and our righteous nature war against each other.

C. Contradiction?

There seems to be a contradiction between these two views. One view says that we are without sin and the other view says that we struggle daily with sin. However the truth is that both views are correct. One may call this paradoxical, but not contradictory. The positional view gives us an understanding of our relationship before Holy God. The functional view gives us an insight into the struggle we have in the world as our new birth is realized from the inside out. The development of righteous actions from an inward righteousness is termed sanctification. This sanctification process is what Paul referred to in Phil 2:12 "... work out your salvation with fear and trembling", and then in verse 13 "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." God wants us to have the will to always do His will and He wants us to actually do work all for His good pleasure. Since it is God who is at work in us on this venture, we can be assured that it will be accomplished.

Now let's look at some details about the two applications of these reality views.

II. The State of our Sinful Acts

A. Relative Sins

One conceptual problem many people have which forms the basis for the paralyzing preoccupation with former sin(s) is thinking that some sins are much worse than others and God certainly can't wash away just any sin. A help with this problem is a study of Gal 5:19-21 in which are listed the works of the flesh. We tend to look at those works and categorize some as tremendously evil and some as not-so-bad. But God calls them all equally sinful before Him B He says at the end of Gal 5:21 that "those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Take a close look at that list. As we go down it we tend to say "Sorcery, I surely don't do that!", and "Drunkenness, I surely don't do that!", and "Immorality, I surely don't do that!". But then we get to factions, disputes, envyings, and dissensions. Is there anyone who can say that they never envy anyone concerning anything at all? Is there anyone who can say that they are never involved in any factions. Some examples of words that lead to factions are :"The preacher should never have hired that new music director," or "We should never have let that person join this church. He is too different from us." Can anyone say that they have not been at least on the fringe of involvement in such? So "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". All of us are sinners and all sin is an abomination to God; those who envy, and those who murder B both require the same grace to remove the sin.

Now what is the point of this discussion? We already have read that nobody who practices such will inherit the kingdom of God, and the key word is practice. If we are Christians then indeed we don't practice any of these actions. However we can stray temporarily into them and they are sins and they are all equally sinful before God. Some of these sins can carry heavier worldly consequences than others. For example, immorality and drunkenness can result in many people being hurt with consequences being spread over several generations. David and many others suffered many consequences of his actions. However there is a difference in worldly consequences and our standing before Holy God. When we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1John 1:8-10). That is all unrighteousness. There are no qualifications to His forgiveness. So before Holy God we can become pure. But before the world we may still have to pay heavy consequences. We should certainly regret our sins -- remember that is all of the sins as in Gal 5 -- but when we morbidly brood over our forgiven sins, that is not God at work in our life. God wants us to push on and develop more Christian character, not sit and continue to weep over forgiven sin. We may have to make restitution for a long time, but we should not become a crippled Christian.

Perhaps the greatest example of someone who committed awful sins and then became perhaps the greatest Christian of all is Paul. Look at 1Tim 1:12-17. Look at the awful things Paul says that he did. Now think a bit with me about Paul. He says that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was a Pharisee. He was totally dedicated to his religion. Was he at the trial of Jesus? The Scripture does not answer this question, but I think that it is very probable that he was at the trial of Jesus. If he was there, think of the awful realization that he had when he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. At that moment he knew that he had been involved in the crucifixion of The Son of God (if he had been at the trial). Even if he had not been at the trial, this moment of truth was still an awful moment as he realized that the stoning of Stephen and all of the other Christians that he had persecuted in the name of god had in fact been blaspheming God. He was nailed to guilt at that moment and for the next three days he probably sat blindly reliving the awful years that he had wasted by not really serving God, and the awful sins that he had committed against God. He could have just rolled over into a corner somewhere and never been heard from again. But he picked himself up (with the power of God) and became the greatest theologian of all time. Look at all of the Bible that we now have which was penned by Paul.

Now consider 2Cor 12:7-9. This is a familiar story to most Christians, but is it well understood by most? What is the thorn in the flesh for Paul? This Scripture says that it is a "messenger of Satan". And what is a messenger of Satan? A messenger of Satan is a demon. And what is Satan well known for? He is well known as a liar and as the accuser. And what could this demon be lying about as he accused Paul of something? From the above paragraph we see that it could easily have been taunting Paul with the lie that his awful sins could not possibly be forgiven and that he was not worthy of even eating the crumbs from God's table. If he failed at that approach with Paul, the demon could also be hurling thoughts about all the time that he had wasted in not really serving God. What a victory it would have been for Satan if he could have gotten Paul into deep depression over his sins and the wasted time in his life before becoming born again. Paul is a tremendous example to us in how we must continue with God and become the person that we can be for Him.

With Paul as an example of a forgiven sinner who pressed on in service to God, any of us should have confidence that we are also forgiven. Paul did his awful acts against Jesus ignorantly. He did not know who Jesus really was. If he had known who Jesus was, and did what he did, then the story would have been very different (Heb 6:4-6).

Joseph was a man who saw wickedness for what it is -- a sin against God (Gen 39:9) -- and he then refused the temptation. David also saw his yielding to temptation as a sin against God and he had many consequences to bear, but he was forgiven. We must all see sin as sin against Holy God and that all sin is an abomination to God. But we are forgiven through Christ.

Now look at the story in Acts 10 where Peter had the vision from God about the many unclean animals coming down in the sheet. The direct application of this story is that God had declared the Gentiles as equal recipients of His grace. Another application is just the stark reality of God's words: "What I have declared clean, let no man declare unclean." When we come to Christ to accept His death for our sins, God declares us clean. Now let no man, including ourselves, declare us unclean. Make 1Peter 2:24 an integral part of the basis for our life: Jesus took our sins in His body! That is all sin with no limit and with no qualification. It is finished. Remember the crude mental picture above of the black sheet over the light (Jesus took our sins as His debt), and the mirror over our heads (God sees Himself in us).

Now take a close read of Romans chapters five and six. These are such wonderful chapters to free us of the guilt of our sin. We should actually look at the sin in our lives and praise God for what He has done in forgiving us. The closer we walk with God, the more awful our sin becomes as we begin to better understand the holiness of God. But praise God, He is the one who has forgiven us. It is blasphemous of anyone to then condemn us who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. If we begin to feel overpowering guilt for our forgiven past we are listening to the deceiver rather than to the Deliverer. Bury this guilt and press on for the glory of God.

III. Regret over a Wasted Life

Knowing that we have wasted a lot of our life in disservice to Christ could be an awful load on someone and result in the person wasting a lot of their remaining time by being miserable and crippled by the thoughts of a wasted life. This further waste is not even good common sense, much less Biblically based logic. However this regret is a common source of depression and the person must deal with ridding himself of the guilt.

Common sense tells us to quit further wasting time and get on with life. There is also an excellent Scripture reference for this approach: 1Cor 15:10 which is what I refer to as the Popeye theology "I yam what I yam." For people who do not know about Popeye and the way the character talked, I must refer you to other material. For those who do know about Popeye, you understand the reference. Let's do expound upon this concept some from the Bible rather than from comics.

Again, Paul is the perfect example for us in examining how to deal with depression about a wasted life. We have to back up to 1Cor 15:1 to get the picture being painted for us by Paul. In verses 6-8 Paul discusses how Jesus appeared to many people after His resurrection, and that Jesus appeared to Paul last. Paul was the last person to see Jesus in person on earth. In verse 9 Paul said "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." As we discussed in the previous topic, Paul did some awful sins against God and he could have just shut all systems down and become vegetative. If he had done that then Satan would have lost Paul's soul, but we would have lost much Scripture and great insight into Who God is. However Paul did not become a recluse. We read in verse 10 "But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me." Paul did not waste time regretting his past life. He could have been a disciple of Jesus with Peter and the others if he had come to Christ sooner. But that was not God's plan. God's grace came to Paul in God's time. Paul understood that when he said "I am what I am". Then Paul gives us the example to follow. He said "I labored even more than all of them". That should be our response whenever we feel the black cloud of guilty regret rolling over our souls and extinguishing our flame. We should say "By the grace of God, I am what I am", and then press on with renewed energy toward God's goals for us here. Even though the thorn of Satan kept after him (2Cor12:7-9), he pressed on toward his goal of glorifying God.

God taught me a very neat phrase many years ago: "You can't be what you can be until you be what you are". Sit and think about that phrase a little bit and you will see what a powerful phrase it is. "To be what you are" is to totally act out in your environment what you are -- all of what you are as God as led you to the point where you are now. If you leave out some aspect of who you are in your actions, you can never fully develop your potential. It is only as you put into action every aspect of your person that you will fully develop yourself to be the total person that you can become. This is good psychology only for the Christian for there are aspects to my personality that God wants to squelch, not develop to a greater potential. Yet there are other aspects of my personality that God does want to develop, and I must exercise them as they are before they can reach their full potential. So this exercising of our present person so that the fully developed person can emerge, must be led by the Holy Spirit in all actions of our life. So this phrase "You can't be what you can be until you be what you are" is excellent for the Christian and is a further development of the phrase "I am what I am".

So what am I as a Christian? Among many other things I am:

This is a short list of all that I am in Christ, but it is enough to make the point that regardless of your past life, you now are equipped to do God's work. It may very well be that God now wants you working with people who have been through a similar life that was yours before you became a Christian. Seeing someone who has obtained victory in Jesus over the same circumstance in which they find themselves can be just the needed impetus to allow these people to see the truth.

I leave you with one final Scripture: Matt 20:1-16. This is the story about the workers in the vineyard, some of whom came to work early in the day and some of whom came to work late in the day. They all received the same pay. Our "pay" does not consist of monetary reward for our good works, or getting to heaven because of our works. Our "pay" is Heaven forever because of what Jesus did, and we all receive the same Glory. So don't waste any time fretting about your wasted past. God has a glorious future for you, and He wants you laboring in his fields now for His glory.

Bury the covered guilt.



Web Author: Dr. Leon L. Combs
Copyright 2000 by Dr. Leon L. Combs - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED