Our topic is on guilt and shame in relationship with God.
What should a person do when you feel guilty? What is the solution to guilt and shame?
I researched what some experts in psychology have to say on the subject. Three key recommendations kept popping up.

  • Make amends.  I think that is an important and valuable response when you feel guilty. Apologize. Pay back. Take one-hundred percent responsibility for your part of the offense. No excuses.
  • Learn for the future. I think that’s a really important response too. There’s wisdom here: you don’t want to go through life inflicting wounds on people, and carrying the guilt of the pain you have caused. Don’t be that person. Learn from the future and alter your behaviors.
  • Recognize that nobody’s perfect. That’s a good response too, and it’s true.

While all of these are good ideas, none of them is enough.
Unless you have a way to balance the scales of cosmic justice, your conscience is going to keep pecking at you like an angry bird.

Welcome to week 2 in a series of messages called The Cross. We are digging our hearts and minds into the nitty-gritty nucleus, the crux, the gist, and the heart of hearts of the Christian faith.
The Cross.
And today I want to talk about the relationship between The Cross of Christ and the Guilt of You.
How to deal with guilt in light of the Cross.
Here is our key Scripture passage:

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14, NKJV).

THE GOAL: To Serve the Living God

The end of this verse explains why all psychological recommendations for solving the problem of guilt ultimately fall short.
The last five words tell you the reason you exist:

TO SERVE THE LIVING GOD

If I brought a largemouth bass up on this stage right now and let it flop around, it wouldn’t be a very happy fish would it?
That’s because it wasn’t designed to flop around on the ground.
If that fish were stuck on the ground, it would not lead a very happy life. It could not achieve its potential. It could not enjoy its existence. It could not be all that God made it to be.
That’s because it would be stuck in the wrong element.
It would be existing but not living. And it would not be living for long.
But as soon as you put it where it belongs, back into a lake, that fish becomes a real fish and begins to enjoy its existence. All the potentials of what it can be open up when it’s in its element.

  • You have been created to swim in the ocean of fellowship with God. In that ocean:
  • you know Him
  • you learn of Him
  • you respect Him
  • you honor Him
  • you admire Him
  • you receive from Him
  • you return to Him the massive amounts of love He has first given you.

Until you swim in that ocean you will lead an sub-happy life.
You will not achieve your potential. You will not enjoy your existence. You will not be all that God made you to be. That is because you will be living in the wrong element… which is any element other than that in which you serve the living God.
There is a force that keeps a person from swimming in that sea.
That force is the terrible human condition called guilt and shame.
Chronic, lasting, ongoing guilt and shame turns you into the spiritual equivalent of a fish flopping on this stage.

Where does guilt come from?

THE PROBLEM: the penalty of sin

Let’s back up one phrase. The last phrase in Hebrews 9:14 is five words: to serve the living God.
The phrase before it contains six words: cleanse your conscience from dead works.
You need some power, some force, some secret that will cleanse your conscience from dead works so that you will be able to serve the living God.
The IRS maintains what they call a “Conscience Fund.” It’s for people who have cheated on their taxes. The best year was 1950 when $370,000 came in.
One man wrote a check and sent it with a note. The note read, I can’t sleep; my conscience is bothering me. Enclosed find a check for $50. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the other $50.

Mark Twain said, “Man is the only animal that blushes, and the only animal that needs to.”

Your conscience is the part of you that discerns right and wrong, good and evil.
Without a conscience you are a sociopath. Without a conscience you trample the boundaries of other sacred individuals created in the image of God. You violate their freedoms. You invade their sacred space. And you justify it.
Conscience is the God-given beeper that you have crossed the line from good to evil.

Prime Directive

Every human conscience comes hardwired with a Prime Directive. This Prime Directive comes from God. It offers one simple directive: evil must be punished. Someone must pay. The scales of justice must be balanced. A day of reckoning must come.
God wove this deep programming into the heart of every human, created in His image.
At the core of our universe is a God who is JUST. The justice of God means that, in the end, nobody gets away with anything. All evil is punished. God will by no means clear the guilty. Somebody has to pay.
On your good days you appreciate this. You wouldn’t want to live in a universe where the bad guys get away with it.
A healthy conscience cannot be at peace until every evil act is met with appropriate justice — what theology experts call retributive justice.
Retributive justice is a quality in God’s heart that delivers righteous punishments on all evil doers.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” (Romans 1:18a, NKJV).

The key word here is PUNISHMENT.
A healthy conscience wants evil to be punished. Not overlooked. Not ignored. Not defined out of existence. Not excused.
A healthy conscience doesn’t rest till the scales of justice are balanced.

Dead Works and the Barrier

And this is exactly our problem, because we know we deserve to be punished.
The author of Hebrews uses a great term here: to cleanse your conscience from dead works.
I would have expected him to have said evil works, or sinful works.
But he says dead works.
Your conscience needs to be purged from dead works. Up in verse 1, he talks about the same thing: repentance from “dead works.”

In this series we are talking about a BARRIER that exists between God and us. That barrier stands for everything that separates us from God.

The Barrier consists of SIX gigantic blocks…

  • Sin
  • The Penalty of Sin
  • No Righteousness
  • The Holiness of God
  • Spiritual Death
  • Spiritual Bondage

You cannot touch the face of God until all six problems have been solved. If one is solved, but not the others, you cannot serve God. You cannot swim in the ocean of fellowship with Him. All six must be solved.
In part one of this series, I showed how God solved the problem of sin… that Jesus Christ, by His death on the Cross, removed our sins from us as far away as the east is from the west.
Sin… Atonement… God took away my sins through the death of Christ on the Cross.
Here we have the penalty of sin — the very problem your conscience has been hard-wired to meter.

The Penalty of Sin

When God set Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He gave them only one commandment: Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
He warned them: on the day you eat that fruit, you shall surely die. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The soul that sins, it shall die (Ezek 18:4).
They ate the fruit, and the first thing they did was to hide from God.
Why?

  • Because conscience was awakened.
  • Because they knew they had sinned.
  • Because they knew they were alienated from God.
  • Because they knew they were under a sentence of death.

But there was something deeper going on.
God warned them they would SURELY DIE ON THE DAY they sinned.
And they did.
They died spiritually — they were alienated from the love of God, separated from relationship with God… they became fish flopping on the ground… dead to God. Dead in trespasses, and dead in sin. And they knew it. The very instant they ate that fruit they died to the most beautiful,  life-giving relationship they could ever have. Spiritual death means alienation from communion with God. They died spiritually. But that’s not all.
They began to die physically too — the process of physical death began that day. Illness began that day, the wearing down of the body, disease and decay. Their bodies were designed to live indefinitely, but the moment they sinned that ended. They became mortal, corrupted, and subject to every pain, and every disease, and every process of physical death.
The penalty of sin is death, and they died spiritually and began to die physically.
And in that condition of death, what did they do?

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” (Genesis 3:7, NKJV).

Is it a sin to stitch together leaves? No. Is it a sin to cover your body with leaves? No.=
They thought they were remedying their sin. They thought they were doing good works.
But their good works were dead works because they were performed for God, by persons who were dead to God, in an effort to merit approval before God by their own philosophy.

Adam and Eve were the first legalists and their fig leaves were the first dead works in the human race.

  • It is dead works to bribe God with good behavior.
  • It is dead works to usher in God’s kingdom by human power.
  • It is dead works to serve God in the energy of the flesh.
  • It is dead works to perform religious deeds to merit the approval of God.
  • It is dead works to act as if there is anything you can do to please God while in a condition of spiritual death.

You cannot pray your way out of the penalty of sin.
You cannot perform your way out of the penalty of sin.
You cannot good-deed your way out of the penalty of sin.
God hates your personal cover up. It won’t work.
And deep inside, your conscience beats you up every time you try.
There was nothing humanly speaking you could do to cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

THE SOLUTION: Expiation

So God had to do it for you:

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14, NKJV).

The very thing you needed most happened: the blood of Christ. Punishment. Justice cried out for it. And every conscience even half alive required it. Punishment.
The blood of Christ — another way of talking about His death on the Cross — has the power to strip away the fig leaves and all your dead works. That’s because…
Only the blood of Christ can provide what your desperate conscience needs: a punishment that fits the crime of all your sins.
You can lay your head on a pillow at night with a conscience washed clear by the blood of Christ.

There is a word in theology I want to teach you. It is the word EXPIATION.
This word occurs in English Bibles, only once, and only in one translation: in the New American Standard translation in Numbers 35:33.
Expiation means to send away guilt by punishing the guilty. It means to inflict the penalty of sin to the maximum, thus satisfying justice, satisfying retributive justice, satisfying divine justice, and balancing the scales of justice.

Here is a definition for everyone who’s taking notes:  EXPIATION: God punished Christ for my sins instead of punishing me.

  • That punishment is complete.
  • That punishment is exhaustive.
  • That punishment is eternal.
  • That punishment is once for all.
  • That punishment is unrepeatable.
  • That punishment is decisive.
  • That punishment is subsitutionary.
  • That punishment is legal.

If you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, there is no other punishment for your sins other than what Christ already suffered for you on the Cross.
When you die and stand before God, He will not mention your sins.
When He begins to open the pearly gates, He will not mention your sins.
When He hears your prayer in Jesus name, He will not mention your sins.
Expiation means whatever punishment your sins required has already happened at the Cross.
When God found Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, He took away their fig leaves. He sacrificed animals for them. He made them coats of skin (Gen 3:21). A death had happened… a tiny preview of the coming death of the Cross. A death had happened… and God, in His matchless grace, would count the death of the substitute as the death of the sinner.
It was the first sacrifice.
It was the first expiation.
The wrath of God fell on the sacrifice instead of on the sinner.
And this has been God’s way for all of human history leading up to the Cross.

The Barrier Again

So, we are building a concept of the Cross and it goes like this: Problem… Solution… Definition…
Sin… Atonement… God has sent away my sins by the sacrifice of Christ.
The Penalty of Sin… Expiation… God punished Christ for my sins instead of punishing me.
And we will do the same thing for all of the problems in the Barrier: sin, the penalty of sin, no righteousness, the holiness of God, spiritual death, and spiritual bondage.
Do you know why?

THE ENEMY: the devil accuses you (Revelation 12:10).

Because you need ten thousand reasons to shout down the voice of guilt and the voice of shame.
That’s because the Bible calls the devil the Accuser of the Brethren… he accuses you day and night.He magnifies your sins greater than Christ’s cross.

  • He whispers your sins in your ear on your pillow at night.
  • He demoralizes you.
  • He discourages you.
  • He convinces you the hammer of Justice will soon fall on your soul.
  • He hisses condemnation, and paints a depressing picture of a dissatisfied God.

So much self-destructive behavior is an unconscious attempt to punish yourself for your own sins.
And unless you have the voice of Scripture coded into your soul, you will fall prey to the devil’s lies.
You need to hear the apostolic preaching of the Cross echoing in the corridors of your mind. And the voice of the Scriptures — which is the only voice of God — needs to drown out the legions of satanic voices accusing you day and night.
Like a lawyer arguing the case from every angle, your Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, has an argument to silence every condemnation of Satan.

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33, NKJV).

“Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34, NKJV).

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1, NKJV).

  • Expiation means the end of self-punishment.
  • Expiation means the end of self-harm, self-destruction.
  • Expiation means the end of self-atonement.
  • Expiation means there is nothing you do to balance the scales of justice with God, because that is a done deal.
  • Expiation means your forgiveness is not only real, it is legitimate.
  • Expiation means God will never punish His child, not in this life and not in the next life.
  • He may discipline you, but He won’t punish you. There is a difference.

Punishment means balancing the scales of justice by inflicting the penalty of sin. God won’t do that to you because He’s already done that to Christ.

Discipline means bringing us the consequences of our bad choices to motivate us to get on a better path. It has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with love (Heb 12:6-8).

Punishment, no. Discipline yes.
Christ is the door to heaven.
And the Cross is the door to Christ.

  • You do not understand Him by His teachings.
  • You do not understand Him by His love.
  • You do not understand Him by His miracles.
  • You do not understand Him until you understand Him by His CROSS… because only then do His miracles, and His love, and His teachings make sense.

THE POWER: By God, for God, and through God.

Look at our key verse:

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14, NKJV).

Christ… the Second Person of the Trinity.
By the eternal Spirit… the Third Person of the Trinity.
Offered Himself to God… the Father, the First Person of the Trinity.
He did not offer Himself to you.
He did not offer Himself to me.
He did not offer Himself to Satan.
He offered Himself to God.
Get yourself out of the way long enough to really appreciate the Glory of the Cross. It was all about God.
God put Him to death. (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 2:23).

Do not interject yourself too quickly into this mysterious moment.
Let the Cross be about God. God’s work, by God’s Son, through God’s Spirit, for God’s own Glory.
And because God did all these things…
You stand can before God with No Condemnation now and forever more.

Conscience

I am glad you have a conscience. I am glad it bothers you when you sin. That’s how God made you. Keep your conscience tender toward God. Make amends where you can. Apologize if you need to.
But when your conscience works overtime…

  • when it disables you from moving forward with God…
  • when you can’t pray… or worship…
  • when you want to hide from God…
  • when you feel you’ve crossed a point of no return…
  • when you begin to punish yourself

then…
Bring your conscience to the foot of the Cross. Remember your Savior dying there. Embrace the powerful reality of Expiation.
Tell the devil to shut up.
And move on with your life… to serve the Living God.
There is no service for him that does not grow out of deep roots in the Cross.

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