Do you struggle with guilt? Do you struggle with shame? I do. I know that I am a Christian. I know that I am saved by the blood of the Lamb. Yet I still battle. I still have to be intentional about taking thoughts of guilt captive and reminding myself that though I struggle with sin, it is not now I, but Christ who lives within me(Galatians 2:20). I have to remind myself that I possess "a righteousness that is not my own but that which comes through faith in Christ"(Philippians 3:9). I have to remind myself that my desire to resist sin and follow Christ is the evidence that my faith is real. I am encouraged by the fact that the Apostle Paul wrestled with these same thoughts as he worked out his salvation with fear and trembling(Philippians 2:12-13).
Wretched Man That I Am
In Romans 7:7-25, Paul speaks to the relationship between the law and sin and how it impacts us. There is a whole lot in this passage, but the general idea is that the law makes us aware of our sinfulness and of the sinfulness of sin. It makes us keen to our natural tendency toward sin. It makes us aware that no matter how badly our minds want to do right, quite often, we find our flesh doing the opposite. Paul was so disgusted by this that he called himself "wretched" in Romans 7:24. Then he goes on to share the hope that he understood as he continues to flesh out the truths of the gospel in his rich letter to the Romans.
If we are honest, we will admit that we also are painfully aware of the struggle and tension created between guilt over sin, and the freedom that is ours in Christ not to live under condemnation. Paul clarifies in Romans 7:25 that we wage war with the sinful tendencies of the flesh now. Yet we are also now set free spiritually from the penalty of sin through Christ Jesus and we will one day be delivered from this body of death as well. Paul goes on, beginning with Romans 8:1, to clarify that we do not have to live in guilt over our struggle with sin because, "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
We need to remember that there is now no more condemnation and consequently, no more need to carry guilt for wrongs past, present, or future. Yet we must remain aware of the necessity for living with conviction and being willing to live under the constructive criticism and admonition of other brothers and sisters in Christ.
What's the Point?
So why am I writing about this. And why after some encouragement regarding condemnation and guilt do I bring a challenge regarding conviction. Well, there are two reasons that this discussion is important. One is our tendency to live under condemnation because we do not understand what the grace of God through Christ Jesus does to remove our condemnation and guilt. Two is the tendency of so many sheep and shepherds to be so anti-guilt in association with condemnation, that they reject all criticism and admonition because they fear the discomfort of conviction. I believe there is a gross miss understanding of the difference between condemnation and conviction.
Many struggle with living under condemnation regarding their battle with sin. Many struggle with guilt, feeling that they are not good enough for God or that every time they sin, they have to start over gaining favor with God in order to deserve heaven. In fact, one sect of "Christianity" teaches this very thing. This is not so.
As Paul goes on to flesh out in the rest of Romans 8, God did for us what the law working through us could never do. He sent His Son to perfectly fulfill the law and then take the punishment for our sins, removing the guilt of believers, and making His righteousness our own. The truth is that without Christ, we actually are not good enough. Apart from Christ, there is no one righteous, not one(Romans 3:10). That is why we need a savior who's righteousness was and is good enough to make all who believe, righteous in the sight of God. We can know that this righteousness is ours by the testimony of the Holy Spirit with our spirit(Romans 8:16) and the fruit of that righteousness at work in our lives(1 John 2:1-6).
If we are in fact "struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within us"(Colossians 1:29), then we can know, because of that desire to struggle and war against sin and the desire to bear fruit in keeping with repentance(Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8), that we are in fact, in Christ. Otherwise we would not desire to resist the sinful nature and pursue obedience to God's word. Therefore, if we are in Christ, then we know that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"(Romans 8:38-39).
This is such freeing news. When we possess the salvation made available through Christ, we can embrace all of the truths that scripture teaches. We don't have to fear conviction, for it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit brought through the word and through accountability to other bible believing Christians that we are able to stay the course. We should actually embrace conviction and admonition as that factor that motivates us to become more like Christ.
We don't have to compromise any truth in the name of feeling better about our position with Christ or feeling better about who we are. We can know that we are in fact sinners saved by grace, yet still struggling with sin. We can also know that we are saints, set free from the control of sin in order to find victory over it progressively for the rest of our lives on this earth by the saving power of Jesus blood on the cross. Christ's blood on the cross saves us and the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey.
It is a fascinating and joyous truth that we have the responsibility to obey out of the abundance of grace that God has given to those who believe. We must obey if we truly believe but we don't have to fear stumbling because if we truly believe, we will obey. Yet because of sin, we will never obey perfectly, which is why Jesus had to come and obey perfectly for us. However, because of the righteousness of Christ that we possess, we will desire and strive to obey perfectly all of God's holy word. We will not look for loopholds and justifications for satisfying the sinful desires of the flesh that God's word clearly condemns. NO! We are freed from the power of sin to pursue all righteousness because of Christ's death on the cross. And we are freed from condemnation when we stumble because of that same death and resurrection.
I know I am belaboring the point but it is a truth that many struggle to grasp. This is such good news that I could go on forever.....but I won't. However, I would still like to speak to the the need for conviction and accountability in the face of fear and compromise. So, in the interest of brevity, I will continue this in a part two. I know this has already probably been longer than what some would want to read but I pray it has helped someone and that you will stick with me as we move forward to continue the conversation.
I truly do write from a heart of love and compassion that longs to see others enjoy their greatest satisfaction through God's glory being made known via active repentance and obedience.
In Jesus name,