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The solution to fear is deliverance. The answer to guilt is justification. The solution to shame is the honor of glorification. To release someone from one of these chains requires that he be released from all. And Jesus Christ is the only one who can do any of it. Last week we considered the authority of fear, and the deliverance provided by the fear of God —which is love for God, given by the grace of God. This week we move on to the chain of guilt in order to address how God has released us from it.
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19).
Summary of the Text
In the first chapter of Romans, we learned that the Gentiles were under the power of sin. In the second chapter, Paul argued that the Jews were also under that same power. Here in the third chapter, he is showing us that Jews and Gentiles together were sinners together, and that all are under the power of sin. Everyone is a sinner, and everyone is a sinner in accordance with the law. God gave the law to those who are under the law (meaning under the condemnation of it), and God’s purpose in giving the law was so that every mouth would have to shut up, and so that whole world would become objectively guilty before God.
Guilt Outside and Inside
In Scripture, guilt is not primarily existential guilt. When we say “guilt” our primary meaning for this is guilt feelings. But guilt is created by, and measured by, the law of God. In other words, guilt is objective, regardless of how the guilty party feels about it. Once the judgment of the law is passed, and the accused has “his mouth stopped,” there are certain subjective sensations that come when the holy law of a holy God comes into the conversation and shuts you down. But that is a consequence.
When a man is wounded, that wound is objective. As a result, he usually feels wounded also. But the feeling is the result of the wound. We don’t create wounds out of feelings, unlike so many today, but rather the feeling comes after the wound.
The Stain of Guilt
A common image or metaphor for guilt in Scripture is the image of the stain. Saul’s house is described as blood-stained because of what he did to the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1).
David says that Joab had his belt and sandals stained with blood (1 Kings 2:5-6). Soap cannot wash away this kind of stain (Jer. 2:22). Stains are problems of a more permanent nature. Sin is not something that can be dusted off. No, the guilt of sin is there, and what can be done?
Guilt is always a function of a standard of righteousness, and false guilt is a function of a false standard of righteousness. This harkens back to the point about guilt and guilt feelings. A false standard of righteousness can create feelings every bit as intense as those created by a violation of the true law of God. A man might feel more guilty about eating a piece of cheesecake, or about not doing his part to save the rain forest, than he does about his fornication.
The solution to false guilt is to repent of the false standard that has been set up in place of the law of God. The solution to false guilt is real guilt and real repentance. When you are confessing your sins, always make sure to be confessing the right ones.
Jesus, the Lord our Righteousness
So how is guilt addressed in Scripture? God will by no means clear the guilty (Ex. 34:7) —so how then can the guilty be cleared? The answer is just a few verses down from our text.
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21–26).
In this passage, we are “justified freely” and God offers “propitiation through faith in his blood.” Propitiation means the turning aside of wrath—and wrath is always aimed at guilt. God offers “remission of sins” that are past, and how is this possible?
God could just say “whatever, let’s let everybody into Heaven.” But if God just throws the gates of Heaven open, what is the problem? The problem is that He is no longer just. Or God could be very, very strict, and He could send us all packing off to condemnation. Now He is just, but He is no longer the one who justifies. God set Christ out to be a propitiation so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Him.
In order to understand this, you cannot understand Jesus as just another individual, or even as a perfect individual. Jesus is an Adam. He is the head of the new human race, which means that His obedience is imputed to us, just as the disobedience of the first Adam was imputed to us.
Because of this, a glorious exchange can be made. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ had no sin, and was made sin. We had no righteousness, and were made righteousness. This means that when God looks at you, He sees nothing to condemn (Rom. 8:1). When God looks at you, He sees Jesus, which means that He sees no guilt. None. Gone. Washed. Cleansed. This is because we can call the Lord our righteousness.