“If the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21).
Sin and guilt were introduced into the cosmos by Lucifer (Hebrew Heylel; Greek Eosphoros; “morning star”), who thus became Satan (enemy). Satan accused God of lying and keeping Eve and Adam back from learning, “Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” After the sin, God confronted Adam, and Adam blamed Eve, saying, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” In turn, Eve blamed the serpent, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:4-13 ASV). The response to guilt was to blame someone else, even from the beginning in Eden.
Cain committed the first murder. He expressed no remorse for what he had done, but he sorely regretted the penalty of being a fugitive and wanderer in the earth (the first Diaspora). Not until five generations later did any of his descendants express remorse for the sin of Cain. (But when Lamech does express remorse, then he is fully forgiven and his children begin to prosper. Genesis 4:19-24)
Dealing with a Burden of Guilt
No one enjoys a burden of guilt. But there is a remedy, provided by our God. “God is light … if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:5,7).
In the modern age, Lucifer offers three alternatives:
(1) Sectarianism: Pardon for sin comes through — and only through — the ecclesiastical organization. (The supernatural powers of the one officiating would be deemed to be in no way diminished by the possible scandals of his daily life.) You must join us (and support us) to be saved. Some on the hard right think: Everyone has equal opportunity, so the successful should feel no guilt for those in hard straits, as the latter must be lazy or are being punished for their sins.
(2) Islam: You did wrong, and you must bear the consequences. Cleanse your conscience by repenting and/or by redressing the wrong. And you must be one of us to escape eternal torture. (An Al-Jabiriyah group says Allah predetermined everything; so the sinner is not really guilty.)
(3) Leftism/atheism: You should never have any feelings of guilt. There are no laws higher than the laws of man, and those laws are frequently wrong — you are your own judge. (Because it is presumed there are no universal laws, there can also be no lawgiver — no God.) You should feel good about yourself. The only sin is on the part of those who criticize us.
Yet none of the alternative remedies for guilt is satisfying. The burden of guilt remains.
Justifying Self by Accusing Others
Years ago someone observed that in a divorce case there will usually be one that does most of the accusing. We may know by it that the accuser is almost certainly the guiltier party. (An innocent person seldom feels the need to justify self.) The principle extends far beyond divorce cases, and is applicable to politics, business, religion, etc. It is the unrepentant guilty who most accuse others and continually find fault with them.
The word “devil” means “accuser.” The Devil himself is the chief accuser of the righteous: “the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth … for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night” (Revelation 12:9-10).
The fallen human nature is tempted to justify self by comparing with others less righteous. Hence, there is a strong desire to find others about the same as we, or worse. If another seems more righteous than we, there arises a desire to expose his hidden sins (real or imagined), making him worse than ourselves. We might feel thus justified, yet the conscience is not cleansed.
Christ Cleanses Guilt
To cleanse the conscience of guilt, we must first recognize the problem: We are imperfect, we sin; so we have guilt. We cannot remove the guilt by ourselves, but Jesus Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” that in due time he may cleanse all the human race from sin and its associated guilt (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
If we accept that Jesus Christ did “taste of death for every man,” then we must cleanse ourselves from further sin to the extent we are able. God accepts us as we are, only if we (1) accept the cleansing from sin and guilt offered through Jesus, and (2) dedicate ourselves to change from what we are to what we should be. “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters … nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” But we are not doomed by our past: “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Saul of Tarsus was complicit in slaying Stephen and imprisoning other Christians. “I was praying that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3 RVIC; similar in A. Marshall’s interlinear). Yet when Jesus Christ revealed himself, Saul became Paul (meaning “small”) and with full energy testified “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus” so that he could then say, “I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:21-26).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Moreover, we are to make amends for what we have done to others. One common non-sectarian baptismal questions is: “Have you repented of sin with such restitution as you are able?”1 Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have done their part, and are continuing to do their part. If we do our part, we will leave the past in the past, and we will endeavor to live the Sermon on the Mount.
(1) Following are questions put by Brother Russell when receiving candidates for water immersion. They are on broad lines — questions which any Christian, whatever his confession, should be able to answer in the affirmative without hesitation if he is suitable to be acknowledged as a member of the church of Christ:
(A) Have you repented of sin with such restitution as you are able, and are you trusting in the merit of Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins and the basis of your justification?
(B) Have you made a full consecration of yourself with all the powers that you possess — talent, money, time, influence — all to the Lord, to be used faithfully in his service, even unto death? (R5246, May 15, 1913). An affirmative answer to both questions presents an open door to full Christian fellowship.