GUILT AND THE SINFUL NATURE
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
It seems to me that we do not understand the new covenant. The main area of confusion appears to involve the difference between the removal of guilt and the overcoming of the sinful nature.
I have been a Christian for a number of years. Yet I cannot remember one sermon on salvation that did not stress forgiveness as the primary work of the new covenant. The truth is, the primary work of the new covenant is not that of forgiveness but the bringing forth of a new creation of righteous behavior. The new covenant is superior to the old because it includes the authority and power to accomplish moral transformation.
GUILT, AND THE SINFUL NATURE
But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:3,4)
Notice the phrase “to take away sins.” Here is where the misunderstanding lies. Does this mean take away the guilt of sins, or take away the sinful nature, or both?
Before we go further, let me present three definitions I will be using rigorously throughout this essay.
Actual guilt is God’s disapproval of behavior that is contrary to His judgment of what is good. Our sense of guilt is our awareness or belief that our behavior is contrary to God’s judgment of what is good.
Sin is behavior that is contrary to God’s judgment of what is good.
Forgiveness removes guilt. Forgiveness does not directly affect the sinful nature.
The differences among guilt, forgiveness, and the sinful nature seem to be difficult for people to grasp, so let me elaborate a bit. The distinctions must be absolutely clear in your mind or you will not understand what I say further.
Now, here is the question. When the writer of the Book of Hebrews speaks of taking away sins, precisely what does he mean?
Does he mean take away the guilt of our sins? This would be the same as forgiving our sins.
Does he mean take away our sinful nature? This would be to deliver us from the compulsions of sin.
Or does he mean both forgiveness and deliverance?
I am afraid the general understanding is that the new covenant does a better job of forgiving sin than was true of the old, and that grace takes care of the problem of the compulsions to sin that are included in our sinful nature.
Are you absolutely clear concerning the difference between guilt and our sinful nature?
Guilt is God’s disapproval of our behavior.
Our sinful nature results in behavior of which God does not approve.
These are not the same, are they? Guilt is God’s attitude toward us. Our sinful nature is a force in us that wants to sin.
An attitude of God.
A force that dwells in the members of our body, according to Paul.
Guilt is not a force, it is an attitude. Forgiveness removes guilt totally, but, in theory at least, it does not touch the force that dwells in us, our inherited sinful nature.
Think about the difference between guilt and our desire to sin. Some people find the difference between the two almost impossible to understand clearly.
I don’t see why? It seems straightforward to me?
Perhaps one difficulty here is that when people think of guilt they are referring to their own sense of condemnation. When I use the term guilt I am not referring whatever to our own sense of condemnation. I am referring only to God’s disapproval of behavior that is contrary to His judgment of what is good.
It is not unusual for people to feel guilty when God is not disapproving of their behavior. Satan enjoys having saints feel condemned. It weakens them.
A good way to escape an unnecessary feeling of guilt is to go directly to the Lord. Tell Him that you want to know if you are guilty of displeasing Him. Promise God that if He shows you any area of your behavior that is sinful, you will confess it as sin and by His help turn away from it completely.
I think people sometimes are afraid to come before God. Satan, or their own fears, cause them to imagine that they are so horrid God will harm them in some manner. Because of this attitude they never experience the joy of knowing God is pleased with them.
It very well may be true that you are where God wants you and doing what He desires. But you will never know unless you come before Him and ask for a report card.
If God shows you He is displeased, then do what you have promised. Renounce the behavior and don’t practice it anymore.
Now you are absolutely without condemnation. You have been forgiven. You can hold up your head and rejoice. You are perfect.
You are perfect but you haven’t as yet been perfected. There still are sinful bondages in your personality. But God will deal with them later. When He does, confess them as sin and turn away from them. Christ will help you. The Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen you.
It never, never, never is God’s will that one of His children live in condemnation. God stands ready to clear the matter up.
As long as you are walking in the light of God’s will, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son is cleansing you from all unrighteousness.
Now, let us consider the differences between the old covenant and the new covenant.
The old covenant, the Law of Moses, made provision for the forgiveness of our sins, but not for the removal of our sinful nature.
He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31)
This provision of forgiveness was for the member of the community who had sinned unintentionally. There is no provision in either the old covenant or the new covenant for the individual who sins deliberately; who knows he is displeasing God and does so arrogantly and wilfully.
Notice the clause, “he will be forgiven.”
It has been taught in Christian circles that the superiority of the new covenant is that it provides a better forgiveness. It is true that the forgiveness of the new covenant is an eternal forgiveness, and it is better in that sense. I will get back to the concept of eternal forgiveness in a moment.
For now I just want us to think about the quality of the forgiveness gained by the sacrificing of an animal. One cannot compare one forgiveness with another and say one is better than the other. Forgiveness is an absolute. The Bible says “he will be forgiven.” I am stressing this because I think it is implied at times that the worshipers of the old covenant were not really forgiven, but under the new covenant we really are forgiven.
This is not true. When the worshiper obeyed the prescribed statutes, offering his animal, he was forgiven. That means God no longer disapproves of his behavior. He has been reconciled to God.
The inferiority of the sacrifices of the old covenant is not that they did not provide a genuine forgiveness, it is that the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin. They could forgive sin but they could not take away the behavior that is contrary to God’s judgment of what is good.
Now, back to the idea that forgiveness under the new covenant is better, not because the forgiveness under the old was not genuine and thorough, but because the atonement made on the cross of Calvary made possible an eternal forgiveness of sin. By the way, the atonement was made for the whole world.
This is why if the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, any animals sacrificed there are wasted. Now that Jesus Christ has been offered for the sins of the world, there is no more sacrifice for sin. “It is finished.”
Well, does that mean everyone on earth is forgiven? No, it does not. One could say accurately, I believe, that the potential for forgiveness for everyone is present. But whether an individual is living without guilt depends on his or her response to the sovereign Divine act performed on the cross.
Forgiveness is there for us if we will accept and maintain it by faith.
The old covenant presumes that the worshiper will keep sinning. Therefore the Day of Atonement was celebrated annually.
The new covenant presumes that the worshiper will not keep on sinning.
Let me explain.
When we accept Christ we are totally, completely forgiven. The guilt is removed no matter what we may have done previously.
Now the issue is our sinful nature, our tendency to behave in a manner contrary to God’s judgment of what is good.
Here is something we must recognize: the Kingdom of God is not benefited when we are forgiven. The heart of God is made glad when a son returns. But God’s problem is rebellion. The whole purpose of redemption is to reverse the damage done by the rebellion of the angels in eons past. The problem of our rebellious nature is not solved because we have been forgiven.
So when God began the program of redemption He started with forgiveness through the blood atonement made on the cross. But that beginning was made with the idea in mind that He would be able to bring forth children whose behavior was not contrary to His judgment of what is good.
Does that make sense to you? Can you see from what I am saying that forgiveness is a necessary beginning of the program, but does not accomplish the goal of the program, which is people who behave in a manner pleasing to God?
Let’s think for a moment about the parable of the prodigal son. Suppose he came home and his father gladly forgave him for wasting his inheritance. “My son was dead and now is alive.”
But let us say that the son, after a week or two, would not work, laid around the house, brought in prostitutes, was drunk most of the time, swore, beat the household slaves, lied, and continually fought with his brother.
Now what! Do you see what I am saying? All the good of his return home was ruined by his subsequent behavior.
This is what I mean by saying our forgiveness, while it is the all-important beginning, does not accomplish the work of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is the doing of God’s will in the earth as it is in Heaven.
Once we repent of our ways in the world, are baptized in water into the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our new inward nature ascends in Christ to the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit begins to lead us into battle against the spiritual forces that dwell in our personality.
When a sin is brought to our attention, we are not to ignore it. Deliverance from this bondage is our salvation, our redemption from the hand of the enemy!
- We confess it as sin.
- We denounce it as unworthy of the Kingdom of God.
- We renounce it with all our strength, being determined that we never will practice such behavior again—not one more time!
- We call on the Lord to help us to remain free from this chain.
Speaking of renouncing the specific behavior with all our strength, let me make a point that sometimes is not emphasized. There are several verses in the New Testament that tell us in so many terms to simply quit sinning.
Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. (I Corinthians 15:34)
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (II Corinthians 7:1)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; To be made new in the attitude of your minds; And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
Do the above four passages say to you that there is something we are to do? Does it sound like we can quit sinning if we put our mind to it?
The Lord Jesus told us if we would do what He taught we would be building our house on the rock.
Somehow there has crept into Christian teaching the concept that there is nothing we can do about our sinful conduct. We all are doomed while living on the earth. We have to sin. Nobody is perfect. We have to be saved by grace, and so on and on. We have been sold a bill of goods.
This attitude proceeds from Satan. It is what he wants us to think.
Let us take gossiping. According to the New Testament, gossiping is a sin.
Now, you tell me. Can you quit gossiping? Are you so chained with a gossiping spirit that it is able to compel you to gossip?
Nonsense! You want to gossip, so you talk about how you are saved by grace and not by works of righteousness you have done.
It is the will of Jesus Christ that you cease your gossiping. If you simply cannot control your mouth, then come to the elders of the church, confess that you are a gossip, and when they pray you will be delivered.
The same is true of most of our bad behavior.
Sometimes there are lusts, or a critical spirit, or cigarette smoking, that we find impossible to manage. In this case we need to have the elders of the church pray with us until we gain total victory.
It never, never, never is the will of the Lord that a Christian walk in known sin.
As long as we are walking forward in victory, the blood of the Lord Jesus is cleansing us from all sin.
But the moment we grow careless, not seeking the Lord, we come under Divine judgment. In that case we may become sick, or even die, so we will not be condemned with the world.
If we sin wilfully and presumptuously, there is no more sacrifice for sin. We have become the enemy of God and are facing eternal fire.
The Christian message of today does not portray the sternness of the true Christian salvation and discipleship. The people have been lulled to sleep by ministers who are telling the people only positive things while neglecting the terrible warnings of the Word of God.
The Book of Revelation implies clearly that if we do not live a victorious life we are in danger of having our name erased from the Book of Life. Have you ever heard that preached? Probably not, because the general sentiment is that such a fate is impossible for a church member. Yet it is in the Book of Revelation, and those who remove passages from that book are in danger of losing their share in the Tree of Life and in the holy city.
I am not being too harsh. I merely am emphasizing what the New Testament emphasizes.
We are not obeying the Scriptures but our traditions. We are not warning the believers that they are prepared neither to come before the Lord nor to stand during the era of physical and moral horrors that is approaching our country.
The new covenant has made one perfect sacrifice for us. It does not allow that we ever will sin again, even though it recognizes that we have a sinful nature.
The following is the way the new covenant works.
Let’s say you are going along in the Lord, doing what He tells you to do. Meanwhile you are committing numerous sins. Your relatives and friends can see them but you are blind to them. Because you are unaware of them, you are without guilt because you have put your trust in the Lord Jesus.
One day you fly into a rage and strike your wife. When you quiet down you realize you have sinned against your wife and against God.
What do you do? You make it right with your wife, and you tell God you have sinned and with his help you never again will permit yourself to fly into a rage.
As far as God has concerned, this sin is not held to your account. You have confessed and turned away from your sin. Your are forgiven and cleansed from all righteousness.
Can you see that if we deal with our behavior in this manner we remain without sin? This is what I mean by saying once we receive the eternal forgiveness we do not sin again. We sin, it is true; but God does not condemn us because we have done all in our power to cooperate with the work of salvation.
Now, let us say you do not apologize to your wife. You justify yourself, saying she deserved to be struck. You do not go to God and confess your sin. You do not ask God to help you renounce this satanic behavior. Yet you believe you are a Christian.
Are you still without guilt? Absolutely not. You have broken the covenant with God. You promised in water baptism that you have placed your old nature on the cross with Christ and now you will walk in newness of life. But you have not done this.
Now you are under condemnation. The Spirit of God will attempt to lead you to repentance. You will repent, or else you will be in trouble with God.
Will you go to Heaven when you did? Going to Heaven is not the issue. When you die you will go wherever you belong. Your concern is what you will receive in the Day of Resurrection!
When you stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christian or not, you are going to receive the good you have done and the bad you have done. You are going to be clothed with your own behavior.
In this case you will be clothed with rage. Then you will be placed where people with rage are located.
This is a very serious business, I think you will agree.
In the Day of Resurrection we shall experience joy or pain according to God’s evaluation of our behavior. Part of our experience of joy or pain depends on God’s decision to enforce or suspend the Kingdom law of sowing and reaping. That decision depends on the effort we have made to do what is right in God’s sight.
Perhaps in past time God has winked at the sins of Christians. I don’t know. However, I do believe that the time has come for God to judge both the living and the dead. The dead are being judged in the spirit realm. The living are being judged now on the earth.
The Bible tells us that in the last days the messengers of God will remove from His Kingdom everything that causes sin, as well as all who do evil. In that day the righteous will shine like the sun. The wicked will be thrown into the fire.
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:40-43)
It is my opinion that this time has arrived, that we are being judged now.
I suppose that most Christians, if they have thought much about it, realize that the people that God saves into His Kingdom are not just forgiven but have been transformed morally. Their sinful nature has been removed.
Perhaps we have imagined that when we die our sinful nature will remain in the grave. There is no scriptural basis for this. After all, sin began in Heaven around the throne of God when Satan rebelled against the Father. So what will passing into the spirit realm accomplish, if this is where sin began?
Or we may have thought that when the Lord returns He will magically remove our sinful nature from us.
But we read in the Book of Matthew that when the Lord returned and found a man who had buried his talent, the Lord did not bless and save the man in spite of his being fearful. The Lord called him a lazy, wicked servant, took his talent from him and gave it to someone more diligent, and threw the lazy servant into the outer darkness.
So on what basis could we believe that the return of the Lord will remove our sinful nature? Yet we know our sinful nature must be removed, because we don’t want to live in Heaven or anywhere else with the type of person one finds in the Christian churches of today.
Matthew tells us that in the last days the messengers of God will remove all sin from the Kingdom. This is what will take place. How will God’s messengers do it? By preaching, I guess. They will remove the prevailing blindness and show the believers how to deal with the sin the Holy Spirit shows them.
Perhaps the messengers of God will come and just speak a word of deliverance. Then all of our sin nature will disappear. Possible, but not probable.
Why not probable? Because such deliverance would leave us innocent, like Adam and Eve who had no sin nature. In this case we would be vulnerable to temptation, just as they were.
When we have to drive Satan from our personality according to the program I have mentioned above, we develop in ourselves a militant righteousness. We are not just innocent, we are prepared to resist sin wherever we find it.
Let us think about covetousness, for a moment. Covetousness is one of the major idols of the United States of America.
If the messengers of God spoke a word, and the covetousness was removed from our nature, we would be free of it. But what if we were faced with that same temptation at a later time?
If, however, we confess covetousness as sin, denounce it, renounce it, calling on the Lord for help, we gain the inner strength needed to resist the temptation of covetousness. Then, should we be tempted again, we have a wall of protection built within us. We have a rod of iron with which to destroy the covetousness.
The role of mankind, in God’s Kingdom, is to serve as rulers and judges. If we have lived as a victorious saint, we will descend with Christ and install the Kingdom of God on the earth. We will be judging not only people but angels as well, according to the Scripture.
If we are not militantly, fiercely righteous, we cannot prevail in the war against evil. If God’s messengers come and deliver us without any effort on our part, I am afraid we will not be of much help with installing the Kingdom of God on the earth.
God wants overcomers—saints who through prayer and obedience have overcome sin and Satan. God does not need innocent people but battle-hardened veterans—mighty men of righteousness who can ride with Jesus against all wickedness.
And so the Book of Hebrews offers a covenant that is infinitely superior to the old covenant, which worked by animal sacrifice. Why is the new covenant superior? Because it removes the sinful nature. It takes away sin. It is not limited to forgiving sin.
The old covenant was in the form of laws written on stone, parchment, wood, and finally paper. God was displeased with the Israelites because they could not keep His laws properly.
Now God has given a new covenant. The new covenant includes forgiveness, but its principal feature is the writing of God’s eternal moral laws in our mind and heart.
As we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, obeying Him in all things, He gives us of His body and blood. He Himself is the moral Law of God. As He is formed in us the eternal moral Law of God is formed in us. Our eternal forgiveness, as I have pointed out, keeps us without condemnation during the process of moral transformation.
The Holy Spirit, working on the authority of the blood of the cross, helps us put our sins to death. Putting our sins to death is the negative aspect of redemption. The body and blood of Christ, which are given to us as hidden manna (hidden to all except the victorious saints), constitute the positive aspect of redemption. We are delivered from the sinful nature and transformed as Christ, the eternal moral Law of God, is formed in us.
This is the new covenant. It not only forgives sin, it takes away sin. The Son of God was manifested for the purpose of destroying, not forgiving, the works of the devil.
Perhaps one of our misunderstandings has been that our change from wickedness to godliness would happen somewhere, somehow, sometime, probably in Heaven. No, that is not scriptural or sensible. Our change from wickedness is a definite process and it operates as the Holy Spirit performs the work of sanctification in our personality.
Redemption is not a vague, open-ended program. It is specific, beginning with the blood atonement and proceeding forward until we are a new righteous creation. Then we are filled with the fullness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and receive a body fashioned from indestructible resurrection life. Once all this has been accomplished we are fully redeemed and ready to commence a future that will last forever, in which every moment will be more wonderful than the preceding.
(“Guilt, and the Sinful Nature”, 3874-1)