Over the centuries guilt has been used to motivate people to action. Evangelism leaders have often reminded us that God has given us responsibility and that we must use our God-given talents and gifts. We are told that God or the church is depending on us. If God has done so much to save us, how can we remain evangelistically inactive? All these attempts to call us to action, delivered, no doubt, with the best intentions, subtly appeal to our sense of guilt and indebtedness to God. Motivation always seems to become counterproductive when we remove the emphasis from what God has done and onto what we must do.
Read Romans 3:19-20. What did the apostle Paul mean when he said the whole world is guilty before God? What’s his point?
The way that Paul uses the word guilty in this passage communicates the sense of accountability. He has already stated in Romans 3:10 that “ ‘there is none righteous, no, not one,’ ” (NKJV), and in verse 19 he confirms that the law makes “all the world” guilty before God.
The law’s function has often been likened to a mirror that reveals our sinful condition but which cannot provide the cleansing soap and water. Looking into God’s law, we become aware of our sinfulness and at the same time are driven to the Savior in order to receive His free pardon and cleansing.
After we come to Christ, we are no longer motivated by guilt because the guilt has been washed away, covered by the righteousness of Jesus. We stand in Him, perfect and guiltless and forgiven. Yes, we are sinners, but we have been forgiven, our guilt has been atoned for; now—based on the salvation that is ours through Christ—we are motivated to witness to others about what Christ has done for us.
Read James 2:10. What is the main point James is trying to make? How would you explain this verse to a new believer?
The fact that an offense on one point makes one guilty of defying the God who commanded the whole law, underscores the futility of the attempt to gain favor in God’s sight through law keeping. Law breaking, even to a small degree, reveals an underlying desire to do our own will rather than God’s.
While acknowledging your wrongs you have to surrender them to Jesus, claiming His righteousness, His forgiveness, His grace, regardless of how unworthy you are. And lest you be mistaken, you are unworthy, more than you could imagine. If not, the salvation offered to you wouldn’t be from grace but from a debt God owes you (see Rom. 4:1–4), and do you really think God owes you anything?