Guilt is an interesting word. It is the opposite of innocence and according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary it means, “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously; a feeling of culpability for offenses.” Outside of the dictionary, several Christian leaders have offered their own definition of “guilt.” Famous for his radio show and many books, Dr. James Dobson, defines guilt by saying – “Guilt is a message of disapproval from the conscience which says in effect, ‘you should be ashamed of yourself.'” (Dr. Dobson Talks About Guilt, p. 4). The famous Christian psychologists, Paul Meier and Frank Minirth say “Guilt is anger toward yourself.” (Happiness is a Choice, p. 69).
Not so well known for his radio show or his Christian publications, but the subject of every school boy and school girl’s English Lit Class, William Shakespeare, once wrote,
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues. And every tongue brings in a several tale. And every tale condemns me for a villain. (Richard III)
William Shakespeare, though he lived in what many of us would describe as a pristine and unspoiled age, had such an incredible grip on the effects of guilt upon our lives when guilt is dismissed or not dealt with in an appropriate and godly way.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we see how Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, suffer because of their insistence on dealing with their guilt and shame in their own way. For those of you who are like me and are much more familiar with Sports Illustrated or the comic section of today’s newspaper than Shakespeare, let me give you the Cliff Notes version of the destruction that came upon Macbeth and his wife because of their sin and guilt.
In the Shakespearian tragedy, Macbeth is really a noble figure in the beginning of the story. As time progresses Macbeth develops a hunger for power and prominence, but there is only one problem that stands in his way, King Duncan. For Macbeth to realize his dream and satisfy his thirst for power, Duncan must be deposed of as king.
Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth, comes up with a plan to kill the king and make way for her husband to become the big man on campus, king of the country. Macbeth is unsure at first. He is fearful and not convinced that murdering Duncan is the right thing to do. Macbeth and his friend, Banquo, seek out the advice of three counselors who are much like the false prophets of the Old Testament who tell the people whatever they want to hear. They tell Macbeth that he deserves the throne and that he will soon become king. The seed of wicked ambition began to grow in Macbeth’s heart. Macbeth should have recognized the bad advice for what it was, but instead he began to be obsessed with the thoughts of power. Rather than rejecting their advice, Macbeth finds his mind constantly dwelling on their evil suggestions.
At the same time that Macbeth is obsessing on thoughts of power and killing the king, his wife is busy calling upon the powers of darkness so that she and her husband can pull off the devilish deed they have planned.
As soon as the murders are committed Lady Macbeth and her husband are overwhelmed with guilt for what they have done. Because they don’t deal with their guilt in the right way, they dive even deeper into the darkness and commit more murders. At one point Lady Macbeth mocks her husband’s guilty feelings by saying that he is sick in the head. Instead of recognizing her husband’s need for forgiveness she says, “You do unbend your noble strength to think so brainsickly of things. Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand.” All of the water in all the world wouldn’t wash away the guilt Macbeth felt in his heart. Pontius Pilot had tried washing his hands of his responsibility for the death of Jesus years earlier, but instead of leading to his cleansing it led to his insanity.
Macbeth is on the way to possessing all the power he ever wanted, but he is now powerless over his own mind. He starts having problems sleeping. He has tormenting nightmares and begins hearing voices. His wife can’t sleep because of the guilt upon her heart. She begins to feel desperate because she doesn’t think her husband is adequately covering his tracks or hiding his feelings in front of others. Lady Macbeth begins going into trances and recreating the murders while walking in her sleep.
There is no other way to describe what is going on in the Macbeth household – everyone is losing their mind. The sin within is rotting away their soul. What happened to this “noble” man? Quite simply put, he sinned and refused to repent with a broken heart before God for what he had done. The best that Macbeth can do to help deal with his guilt, because he refuses to go to God, is to wash his hands over and over again. Both he and his wife incessantly wash their hands to try and cleanse themselves from their sin, but there is only One who can wash our sin whiter than snow my friend. Macbeth, tormented by his guilt, cries out to his idols and asks, “Will all Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clear from my hand?”
Things went from bad to worse for Macbeth and his wife. His actions would have gotten him the modern-day diagnosis of being psychotic. He sees things and people who are not there, but people that he had murdered. He is flooded with paranoia and anxiety. He acts crazy in front of his guests. He is spinning out of control.
After Macbeth becomes king he still can’t find any satisfaction. He craves more and more power. Macbeth kills his friend Banquo. He can’t ask for God’s blessing. Even though he knows he needs God’s blessing, he has an even greater sense that his sin is separating him from God.
Unwilling to face his guilt, he turns away from God back to the wicked counselors of his day. Macbeth tells them to summon their master, the devil himself. Do you see what sin and guilt will do to us if we refuse to bow before the throne of grace, confess our sin, and repent of our wrongdoing? We will sink deeper and deeper into sin and depravity.
Lady Macbeth becomes so tormented and depressed that eventually she dies. Some have suggested that she even committed suicide. Macbeth is left alone. He decides life is meaningless, but still he pursues even more power.
Macbeth had the innocent wife and child of the noble Macduff murdered. Macbeth was once considered an honest and noble man. What happened? Shakespeare ends his play with Macbeth dying at the hands of Macduff. The tragic story of a once noble soul eaten away by sin ends in his ultimate destruction – not just the destruction of his life, but also his character.
What do we do with our guilt? Do we compulsively wash our hands or take showers to try and wash it away? Pontius Pilate and Macbeth ought to be proof that this will not suffice. Do we simply play like it is no big deal? Do we justify what we have done because it was for a higher good – like Macbeth, to gain power or position for ourselves? Do we go through religious rituals to try and quiet the chorus of guilt that sings its sorrowful song in our soul in the quiet of the night? Religious ritual has never done one thing to absolve any person of their guilt. There is a better solution my friend. A solution that takes guilt and sin and removes it as far as the east is from the west from those who will come to God with a repentant and broken heart. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Hebrews 10:1-18.
1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll- I have come to do your will, O God.’ 8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:1-18 NIV)
As we have worked our way through the book of Hebrews we have seen over and over again the ineffectiveness of the sacrifices offered at the tabernacle and in the temple to deal with the pressing problem of sin. I really hope you are not tiring of learning about this important lesson for you and me. I am convinced that the Church desperately needs to study over and over again this central tenet of our faith. Jesus would have never come to earth if it were not for the problem of sin. We would not have any of the problems that we experience today, both individually and in our community, if it were not for the problem of sin. Sin will do you in. Sin is destroying countless lives today. Guilt that is not recognized for what it is and dealt with appropriately and quickly will cause us to rot away in our very soul.
It is amazing to me how many folks in the Church today are burdened and weary with carrying their sin, soaking in their sin, and remaining in their sin when there is a Deliverer who has come to deliver us from the power and consequences of sin. I believe one of the main reasons for this phenomenon is that we try every remedy under the sun to absolve us of our guilt before we go to God. None of our solutions will work apart from Christ. The prescriptions of the tabernacle and temple couldn’t deal with the people’s sin at a depth that would free them from the guilt and shame they carried from day to day. Hebrews 10:1-5 says,
1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
In verse 1, the writer of Hebrews tells us once again that the sacrifices offered year after year could not make “perfect” those who drew near to worship God. John MacArthur tells us that when Passover took place as many of 300,000 lambs were sacrificed for the sins of the people within a week. The blood ran so deep that it would run out of the temple ground through specially prepared channels into the Brook Kidron, making the water look like it was blood. If all of those slain animals couldn’t completely cleanse the people of their sin then could there be any hope for you and me? Well, that just depends.
Hebrews says that the sacrifices couldn’t make the people perfect, but how do you define “perfect.” Perfect for many of us today is doing our best. As long as we do our best, then we are, well maybe not perfect, but we are doing our best. God has a totally different standard my friend. I want to take you back to the Old Testament for a moment this morning and give you insight into God’s standard of perfection because I think it will really help us combat the temptation to accept society’s standard of perfection. The word translated perfect in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word, “~ymiT”‘ (taw-meem’). The word is translated in different ways as it appears in 91 different places in the Old Testament. Forty-four times it is translated, “without blemish.” It is translated as “perfect” eighteen times. “Upright” eight times. Six times it is translated as, “without spot.” The definition of the word “perfect,” is “complete, whole, entire, sound, innocent, having integrity, what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact.” Let me show you a few of the places where the word appears. In Psalm 18:30-32, the Psalmist writes,
30 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. 31 For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? 32 It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. (Psalm 18:30-32 NIV)
Going all the way back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we are told that God appeared to Abram and told him,
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1 NIV)
In the book of Deuteronomy, God speaks, not to a man, but to an entire people, the chosen people of God, and tells them to be blameless, or perfect before Him. Look at Deuteronomy 18:9-13 with me.
9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 18:9-13 NIV)
God comes to the Father of the Chosen people and says, “you must be blameless before Me.” God comes to Abraham’s descendants and repeats His high standard, “You must be blameless before Me.” You must be complete, without blemish, living in accord with My truth, wholly devoted to Me not just in your actions, but in your heart.”
In the New Testament, God continues to come to His people and require the same high standard of them as they represent Him to an unbelieving world. In Hebrews 10 we read how the sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple were not able to complete the people, they were not able to cleanse the people entirely, they were not able to empower the people to live in accord with God’s Word. The word that is used in Hebrews 10:1 has the same meaning as the Hebrew word that was used in God’s instructions to Abraham.
The Greek word used in verse 1, that is translated, “perfect,” is the word, “teleio,w” (teleioo) and it means, “to make perfect, complete, to carry through completely, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end, to add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full, bring to a close or fulfillment by event.”
Let me show you some of the ways that word is used in the New Testament. In 1 John 2:3-6, John tells us,
3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6 NIV)
John tells us that if we obey God then God’s love is made “perfect,” or “complete” in us. God’s Word, His truth is what brings us to completion; it is what makes us wholly devoted to Him.
In Hebrews 12:22-24, we see that God is the one who makes us perfect, or acceptable in His sight. Read along with me.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV)
Back to 1 John once again and we will see the purposes and process of God’s work through our Savior to make us complete. Read along with me beginning in verse 7 of chapter 4.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12 NIV)
After Christ gave Himself paying the price for our sin, He now offers us the opportunity to allow Him to live through us, or as John says, “that we might live through Him.” It is God’s work through Christ, not by lambs sacrificed at the tabernacle or temple, that we are made perfect, acceptable men and women without blemish before the very presence of God.
The sacrifices made each year at Passover didn’t relieve the people of the guilt they possessed. The writer of Hebrews says that they only reminded them of the sins they had committed. Read verses 3-4 with me.
3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4 NIV)
It was not that the people walked away not knowing that they were forgiven. The sacrifices were God’s way of showing them that if they came to Him with a repentant spirit and a broken heart over their sin that He would forgive them. The shed blood of the animals was symbolic of the high price of sins penalty. Yet, even though they saw the evidence of their forgiveness as the blood of the lamb spilled out of the temple, they did not experience the cleaning that God desires for His people – they were only reminded of how far they had fallen. Look at Hebrews 10:2 with me.
2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. (Hebrews 10:2 NIV)
The Greek word used for “cleansed” is the word, “kaqari,zw” (katharizo). The word means, “To make clean, cleanse, purify, declare clean, as from sin and a guilty conscience cleanse, make pure, make acceptable to God.” Many people use the word “catharsis” today to describe an exercise or experience that is freeing, cleansing, or therapeutic to them in some way. The word “catharsis” comes from this Greek word, “katharizo.” There may be many things that we can experience today that make us feel good, but there is only one thoroughly effective cleansing, and it is the blood of Christ our Savior. His cleansing assures us that our sins are taken away, never to be brought up against us again. His cleansing sets us free from the habitual offering of sacrifices to keep us in God’s good graces. His cleansing cleanses us through and through.
God had purposed, long before Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, to totally and completely cleanse His people so that they might be made perfect before His holy presence. In Isaiah 53 we read,
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:1-12 NIV)
He bore our sin. He paid our debt. He has freed us so that we might live in the light of His glorious presence. There are many prescriptions for dealing with guilt today, but the only one that is truly effective is for you and me to bow with broken hearts before the One who took our flesh upon Himself and suffered so that He might free us from the heaviness of our sin and guilt. Let’s revisit Hebrews 2. Read along with in verses 14-18.
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18 NIV)
The holiness of God will never be altered. The standards of God will never be changed. He continues to come to His people today and command of us to be blameless before His presence, but He comes to us to transform us from enemies in His reconciled servants, free from accusation. Read along with me in Colossians 1:21-23.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23 NIV)
I read one of societies prescriptions for our guilt this past on the internet. It is by a man named Bill Ferguson. I don’t know him, have never heard of him, but evidently he is a well respected counselor. Even though I don’t know him I can tell you that you don’t need to send off for his advice because it will not suffice for the guilt we feel so deeply. Dr. Ferguson writes,
The key to releasing guilt is to recognize that we all go through life doing the very best we can with the extremely limited skills and awareness that we have at the time. Unfortunately, the awareness that we have is seldom enough. As a result we make mistakes. Sometimes we make big ones. So here is the big question: Are you willing to forgive yourself for not knowing? Are you willing to forgive yourself for not being wiser and more aware? You might as well. If you look, you did the very best you could with where you were at the time. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being wiser and more aware. Forgive yourself for acting consistent with your limited awareness and forgive yourself for the damage that you caused as a result of your not knowing. Allow yourself to be human. (Bill Ferguson, http://www.divorceasfriends.com/index.htm)
Don’t flippantly dismiss your guilt my friend. Allow the heaviness of your heart to cause you to fall into His arms of grace that are able to cleanse you, fill you, and set you free. Won’t invite Jesus into your heart this morning as Lord of your life?