RPM, Volume 12, Number 17, April 25 to May 1 2010


By Scott Schuleit

This essay was influenced by an article in the August 2002 issue of Tabletalk magazine entitled, Perfectly Legal by Douglas Wilson.

Most everyone—if not everyone, whether Christian or not, suffers from some form and to some degree, with guilt. There is a good kind of guilt and a bad kind of guilt. For example, the conviction of sin rendered by the conscience or by the Holy Spirit is the good kind of guilt. A feeling of condemnation after a sin has been properly repented from is one among many forms of the bad kind of guilt. Christians know they can go to God when dealing with either form of guilt. The process for dealing with each form can be different, but the Source of forgiveness and healing is always the same.

With regards to the previous paragraph, one might ask the question where this guilt came from in the first place. Or more specifically, what laws have we broken and from whom did they derive? Scripture reveals to us that human guilt resulted from the fall, the breaking of God's command in the Garden of Eden, (Gen. 3:7-8) which caused us to start to willfully "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," of what is clearly revealed to us by God "through what has been made," including "His eternal power and divine nature". (See Rom. 1:18-20) This guilt has also derived, in part, from our failure, in varying degrees, to live fully up to the inflexible demands of the inner-law—also known as the "conscience", (See Rom. 2:15) implanted within us. All of us have rejected this general revelation, but what is even more reprehensible than this is the suppression or rejection of what has been revealed through the Word of God—or special revelation, which includes: the Person and works of Jesus Christ and the gospel of grace. Not all reject this greater revelation, but for those who do they incur an even greater measure of the good kind of guilt. A person is only able to accept either general or special revelation or both after salvation—after he is "born-again", by the sole grace of God.

To propose a question, if a non-Christian closes himself off from hearing, believing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ—the only channel of healing from the good (or bad) kind of guilt, what does he do with it? One way is through works that are aggressively sinful (such as sexual immorality or drunkenness) and another is through works that tend to be more subtly sinful, and often outwardly charitable. This latter method, in particular, often involves the attempt to achieve righteousness through one's own efforts. Both of these methods involve the attempt to silence the guilty throb of conviction through illegitimate means. Sinful works are often, if not always, an attempt to sear (or drown) the conscience into silence, while outwardly charitable works are sometimes employed in an attempt to obey its incessant demands or make penance for having disobeyed its guidance, and thus, avoid judgment.

With regards to the charitable type of work, if a society (or an individual) increases in corruption, the level of its moral campaigning, derived, in part, from the impetus to banish guilt, may correspondingly increase, often becoming more and more garish and violently exerted. A cycle ensues of growing guilt and increasing efforts, whether flagrant or subtle, to ignore, suppress, hide, deny, or destroy it. Having rejected God's laws and broken His standard of righteousness, rather than repent and receive the grace of forgiveness through faith in Christ alone, our society, in general, would rather attempt to establish its own standard of righteousness, which generally involves weaving various aspects from an assortment of philosophies together with elements from the moral law within. Religion is inescapable. No one remains neutral. Everybody, whether they realize it or not, holds to some form of religion, including the atheist. There are many false religions, whether complex or crass, out there in the world today. All of these false religions strive to do away with God in their thinking by attempting to remove guilt and accrue righteousness on terms apart from God's design as expressed in the Christian faith. These attempts frequently involve moral activities amidst the immoral ones. Though some of these activities will undoubtedly be inherently good, the motivations, according to Scripture, (see Romans 3:10-18) of the unrepentant heart will always be bad. It can be tempting to embrace the old lie that mankind is basically good, the common refrain from our culture, if we observe these moral acts and neglect the viewpoint regarding mankind given to us through Scripture. On a horizontal, earthly level, good works, (through common grace) in a sense, can be performed, but before God, on a heavenly, vertical level, these works will never be good, but are actually like filthy rags to Him and will only incur for the unregenerate soul a deeper debt and greater condemnation. A work that is truly good (on both the horizontal and vertical levels) can only occur when a regenerate individual abides in Christ.

In our culture, it is not uncommon to see philanthropists and celebrities and others engage in an array of efforts under various moral pretensions for the support of certain causes while defending other obviously immoral causes. Most of these people would vociferously decry any form of cruelty to animals; (something most Christians would—and should, decry also) some might even protest against killing a mouse, yet when it comes to protecting the life of the unborn many of these benefactors would passionately strive to impose what they believe is their right to abort (murder) an unborn child. And how do they try to relieve themselves of the mounting guilt derived from this view? One way is through their attempt, in disregard of Scripture, the conviction of the conscience, scientific proof and reason, to assert that an unborn person is not a human being. We live in a strange, convoluted, complex culture that often calls light dark and dark light, therefore it is important, as it has always been for Christians, to "be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt. 10:16) that we might discern and unveil not only the brazen assaults on truth, (as in the example given) but also the subtleties of what's really going on in our society beneath the surface of its various activities.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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