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January 29, 2011

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“Pray tell me what makes the sense of guilt in the man's conscience? Paul says that ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’" (E. J. Waggoner, The Gospel in the Book of Galatians, page 53). “You know what guilt is, do you not? It is the stain of sin. Now of all those who have the Father's name written in their foreheads, we are told that ‘in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault (guilt) before the throne of God.’ So when God says that we shall not take His name in vain, He is promising to make us guiltless, ‘without fault.’ He will ‘hold him guiltless’ who does not take His name in vain, for His own perfect likeness will be seen in all such.” {June 20, 1901 EJW, PTUK 395.4} Our lesson this week deals with guilt. More importantly, it deals with God’s victorious recovery from it.  


Guilt, empowered by the law (Romans 7:9), is a powerful motivator. It drives the surrendered soul to submit to the crucifixion of the self, while the rebellious soul is driven to suicide in one form or another. If one could ask Peter whether guilt is a tool in the hand of God for reclaiming the sinner, he would no doubt answer, “Yes, it drove me to cast myself upon the ground in utter despair over my condition. It made me abhor myself and cling to Christ!” If one could ask Judas if guilt is a tool which Satan can use, no doubt he would answer, "Unto death."


Many Christians walk about flogging themselves over their past trespasses. Many create a series of self-manufactured penances by which to painfully crawl towards heaven in the hope that God will accept them. One does not even have to be a Christian to experience a guilt-driven need for repentance. Many a tortured soul has wandered into a police station and confessed his crimes, declaring that he cannot bear his burden of guilt any longer. These miserable souls make confession, thinking to find relief through submitting to a man-made punishment for their crimes.


All such efforts must fail. It was in this miserable, hopeless condition that Martin Luther finally realized that "the just shall live by His faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). It takes supernatural intervention to remove the stain of guilt.


The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the law which shows us our guilt. "And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin ... because they believe not on Me" (John 16:8, 9). But this revelation is for the purpose of driving the guilty soul to Christ, who has taken our guilt upon Himself.


How does God view the guilty sinner? "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than you ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8, 9). "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil" (Jeremiah 29:11).


Psalm 51 is evidence that the Holy Spirit can transform the heart of the vilest sinner and bring him to repentance. In God's eyes, David's sins were buried in the bottom of the sea. Abraham is called the father of the faithful (Galatians 3:8, 9) after having repented of an act of unbelief whose effects are still felt in the world today. In spite of all Abraham's shortcomings the Bible states, "Abraham believed God, and was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God" (James 2:23). 


The disciples did not understand who their Master was. They did not understand His purpose. They were so busy striving for “first place” in a kingdom established wholly upon their own fertile imaginations that at the first sign of real danger in Gethsemane they would flee in fear and disgrace. Peter would deny His Lord, not once but three times in that night. They were, verily, guilty. The stains of sin were imbedded deep in their hearts. Yet, listen as Jesus lifts up these same disciples in prayer after the Last Supper:


"I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever Thou hast given Me are of Thee. For I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee and They have believed that Thou didst send Me ... I kept them in Thy name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition ... They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (Psalm 17:6-15).  


Jesus presented the disciples to the Father as what they would become in Him. This is how Jesus thinks about each one who clings to Him in faith 


Our memory text asks the question, "If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Psalm 130:3). The answer is, nobody. About the Great Exchange, Ellen White pens these words: "Christ is speaking to every human being. Whether they know it or not, all are weary and heavy-laden. All are weighed down with the burdens that only Christ can remove. The heaviest burden that we bear is the burden of sin. If we were left to bear this burden, it would crush us. But the Sinless One has taken our place" (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 329).


“The robe of Christ's righteousness is prepared for all those who will exchange their own sinful, filthy garments for the robe Jesus has prepared for them. This garment was furnished at great cost by the Son of God, and he presents it as a free gift to any one, rich or poor, high or low, wise or ignorant, who will exchange his sin-defiled garments for this robe of matchless purity…[I]s it not a matter of great astonishment that every human being is not willing to make this exchange? 


“But we see with sorrow many…who wrap themselves in these sin-defiled garments, and will cling to them and refuse the pure garments Jesus has purchased for them at the price of his own life. Can we wonder at the language of Paul, when writing to some in similar circumstances: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Christ hath evidently been set forth, crucified among you?" It is the bewitching power of Satan that blinds the eyes of the understanding so that sin does not appear exceeding sinful” (Ellen White, Youth’s Instructor, August 11, 1886).


“Christ bears the burden of the world’s guilt, and bears it easily. Our sin crushes us, and presses us down to destruction; but He swallows up death in victory. Though sin crushed out His life, yet He rises from the dead with the freshness of eternal life. Whoever knows this, and believes the truth, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, will of course let the burden fall entirely on Him who is able to bear it, and will thus be free” (E. J. Waggoner, Present Truth, page 690).  


"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity ..." (Psalm 32:1, 2). 

--Glen Striemer