When theologians talk about guilt, they are talking about an objective deviation from an ethical standard. To feel guilty and to be guilty are not the same thing. Apart from Christ, we all stand guilty before the law whether we feel like it or not. The law is God’s ethical standard, but the law could not be kept by any of us, because we were “weakened by the sinful nature” (Rom. 8:3). Therefore, we all stood condemned by the law. According to the gospel, Jesus came in “the likeness of sinful flesh” and became a sin offering so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us (vs. 4).
As children of God, we have been justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). We are no longer guilty before God. God will not condemn us, because Christ has met His righteous demands. Because of our position in Christ, we are to consider ourselves to be, “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). We are now rightly related to God and we are no longer in Adam, nor are we in the kingdom of darkness. We are alive in Christ, and the law of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death (vs. 2).
The law of sin and death is still operative, because you cannot do away with a law. Sin is still appealing and powerful and physical death is still imminent for all of us. If Jesus didn’t do away with the law of sin and death, then how can we be free from it? Jesus overcame that law with a greater law, which is “the law of the Spirit of life.” For the sake of illustration, can you fly? Can you by your own self-effort overcome the law of gravity? We can momentarily overcome the pull of gravity by jumping, but even the greatest high jumpers fail to overcome the law of gravity. However, we can fly “in” an airplane, because the airplane has enough power to overcome the law of gravity. If you stepped out of the plane or should the plane lose power while in the air, you would crash and burn.
Even for believers, physical death is imminent, but we shall continue to live spiritually even if we die physically (Jn. 11:25,26). As believers we will be tempted to sin. But when sin makes an appeal, we can say, I don’t have to sin. I am alive in Christ and dead to sin. I have a power within me greater than the power of sin. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1,2). We also have an adversary who accuses the brethren day and night before God (Rev. 12:10). Should you ever feel guilty as a believer, you can say with confidence, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1)
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