Lesson 5

* April 26 - May 2

Forgiveness and Guilt

Sabbath Afternoon   April 26

MEMORY TEXT:  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

I N SHAKESPEARE'S PLAY MACBETH, Lady Macbethinvolved in murderwanders around the castle at night, murmuring to herself, going through the motion of washing her hands. "It is an accustomed action with her," said a gentleman of the castle, " . . . [to] continue in this a quarter of an hour." In the same scene, Lady Macbeth then cries out, "Here's the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

Though portrayed in the play as a cold-hearted woman willing to do anything to achieve her goals, Lady Macbeth apparently had something inside her that she didn't realize, and that was a conscience. And that conscience began eating away at her because of the terrible crimes she had committed. In short, even someone so hard, wicked, and callous as Lady Macbeth was suffering from guilt.

Of course, she's not alone. Who cannot relate? After all, are we not all guilty? Have we not all sinned? Have we not all done things we are ashamed of? This week's lesson will help us look at the answer to this perennial human problem.

THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Who's guilty? How bad are we? Why do we suffer from guilt? How high of a moral standard are we expected to follow? What is the only remedy for guilt? In what ways are guilt and forgiveness linked?  

*Please study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 3.

Sunday  April 27


On May 29, 1919, Arthur Stanley Eddington pointed a telescope toward an eclipse and proved that gravity did, as Einstein theorized, bend light. Unfortunately, nothing has been pointed toward the heavens, in the earth, or in any direction that has proved, with such "provable" objectivity, that Christ is the Son of God, who, at the Cross, shed His blood as an atonement for sin. People need faith to believe that "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1 Cor. 15:52), but do not need faith to believe that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" or that gravity bends light. In other words, our religion requires faith, belief in something that cannot be "proved" in the same sense that one can prove simple math equations.

However, if there is one aspect of our religion that doesn't require a whole lot of "faith," it is the sinful nature of humanity. It is as obvious as the morning paper, or perhaps even the lusts of our own hearts. Jean Paul Sartre once wrote: "Hell is—other people!" He does have a point.

Read Romans 3:9-18. Write out in your own words the essence of what Paul is saying there.  

In one sense, someone could argue that Paul's words are too strong. There is none that does good? There is none that seeks after God? Is that not a bit overstated? After all, are there not some people who do good things, who are earnestly seeking to know the Lord and know truth?

On the other hand, perhaps Paul is simply portraying the general state of humanity were it not for the power and presence of God on the earth. Those who do good do it only because of the action of God upon their hearts; those who seek Him do so only because the Spirit is moving upon them. But left to ourselves, without divine intervention, we are all just like those whom Paul wrote about here in Romans.

How do you respond to those who argue against the Christian notion of humanity being essentially evil? Perhaps the best way them understand as to help them understand the definition of evil. How would you as a Christian define that term? 

Monday  April 28


Yesterday's study said that every human being was, basically, sinful and evil. This is scriptural. Is it any wonder, then, that human beings suffer from guilt? Or that the whole world is, to some degree, on a guilt trip? Paul continues in Romans: "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19, emphasis supplied).

If nothing else, guilt reveals to us our fallen humanity. After all, when we look at history and see some of the worst crimes committed by people who showed no remorse, no sadness, no guilt over their deeds, we often call them "monsters" or some epithet, giving the idea they are devoid of humanity. Guilt is part of who we are, especially if we are creatures who, by nature, do wrong.

Take a look at the past week of your life. What things have you done that make you feel guilty? Make a mental note (or write it out if you want) of what element these acts, thoughts, or words have in common? In other words, look for a common denominator (such as, "It violated the law of God" or "It would have made me ashamed if someone found out" or "It could have hurt someone I love."). What can you learn from this exercise?  

There is no question that guilt is a part of our existence. For Christians, the possibility of guilt rises even more so because of the high standards we have. After all, if you are comparing yourself to others, then you might not feel so bad about things, because most of us can find people who do "worse" than we do. On the other hand, as followers of Jesus, we, of course, have only one Example.

Look up Philippians 2:5 and 1 John 2:6. What do they tell us to do?  

The Bible gives us a very high standard to follow: Love our enemies, do not lust in our heart, give freely of ourselves, take up our cross daily, minister to others, keep our thoughts in captivity to Christ. We know we are to do these things; we know we have been promised the power to do them—and yet sometimes we don't do them. No wonder we feel guilty.

Though guilt is a reality, how can we as Christians allow God to use that guilt for something good in our lives?  

Tuesday  April 29

THE CROSS FACTOR (2 Cor. 5:19).

Look at this text for today. Whom did God reconcile to Himself? Not just Asia, not just South America, not just the Solomon Islands—but the world. In other words, all those whom in Romans Paul described in the most unflattering terms he now says can be reconciled to God.

What's the one key phrase in the text that expresses the basis of this reconciliation? What does it say, what does it mean, and how does it bring about this reconciliation?  

We feel guilty because of our sins, because of our trespasses. Yet, according to this text, God through Christ no longer imputes or holds those sins and trespasses against us. In other words, no matter how universal the guilt, God's forgiveness is just as universal. We all are sinners, we all are guilty, but through Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, we all are offered forgiveness.

It is crucial to remember that Christ died for us, not despite our sins but because of our sins. Because "there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:12), Christ died for us. Because "their throat is an open sepulcher" (vs. 13), Christ died for us. Because "destruction and misery are in their ways" (vs. 16), Christ died for us. Because "their feet are swift to shed blood" (vs. 15), Christ died for us.

Not despite these things but because of them Jesus became our Sin Bearer, taking upon Himself the shame, the penalty, and the guilt of our sins.

Look at the following statement from Ellen White: "When Satan seeks to cover the people of God with blackness, and ruin them, Christ interposes. Although they have sinned, Christ has taken the guilt of their sins upon His own soul. He has snatched race as a brand from the fire. By His human nature He is linked with man, while through His divine nature He is one with the infinite God. Help is brought within the reach of perishing souls. The adversary is rebuked. "—Christ's Object Lessons, p 169. How does the truth that Christ bore our guilt help us deal with guilt in our own lives? How should it help us? 

Wednesday  April 30


"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).  

Some people, plagued by guilt, are like boilers waiting to explode. Years of repressing their guilt have turned it into rage and rebellion. According to psychologists, our parents, by demanding too much, criticizing too much, affirming and praising too little, can produce harmful guilt in us. This process becomes even more acute in the context of religion.

The story of Cain illustrates this point. Notice that Cain (1) becomes angry and commits the murder of his brother, (2) experiences guilt as a result, and (3) deals with his guilt by rebelling against God's authority that condemned him. (See Gen. 4:16.) How often are repeated these principles behind this scenario, in one form or another, throughout history.

Of course, as Christians we are called to a high standard, the highest possible standard (Matt. 5:48). Yet, before seeking to reach that standard, we must be sure we understand that the foundation of our salvation rests not in how close we come to that standard (because we can never get close enough to earn salvation) but only in Jesus. He not only reached that standard for us; He offers His achievement in place of our failures. Without understanding this foundation, many people, fueled with rage and guilt over their failures, have left the church in an attempt to gain some peace of mind.

High standards are essential, as long as the gospel is their center. But without the balance of love for Christ as the basis of high standards, church members can experience frustration that leads to rebellion.

Read 1 John 4:7-10. What principle is operating here that can help us deal with those who, perhaps rightly so, are suffering from guilt? What is John saying? What did God show toward us that we need to show toward others? Yet, how can we do this without, at the same time, excusing the sin and deeds that brought the guilt to begin with? In what ways does the Cross reveal to us just how fundamental forgiveness is to love? Can we truly love and yet not forgive?  

Thursday  May 1


"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).  

Unless we are willing to surrender ourselves completely to Christ, to give Him our wills, our desires, our fears, and our sins—we will fight a losing battle with guilt. We will never be able to forgive ourselves for our sins and, wallowing in our own guilt and anger, we will be less likely to forgive others.

Here is the moment when the Cross becomes so crucial. Only as we understand that we have been forgiven, that our guilt has already gone beforehand to judgment, can we begin to forgive ourselves and others. Only as we look at the Cross and realize that not only did God know beforehand of our sins but He made a way to forgive us those sins can we truly have the peace that we desire.

Look at Romans 5:1. What has happened that gives us peace with God? Using the context of this week's lesson, write in your own words what Paul is saying here. How do guilt and forgiveness fit in the equation? See also Romans 5:8; 1 John 1:7.  

That God forgives our sins, even the worst of our sins, is a mystery too deep for us to fathom. There is no question, though, that because He does forgive our sins, because He has borne the guilt of them at the Cross, we can forgive ourselves and live without the crushing burden of guilt.

Yet, this does come with some hard questions. What do you say to someone whose child had been murdered by a person who, though sitting in jail, has just accepted Jesus and who proclaims joy, peace, freedom, not to mention true sorrow of the terrible crime he has committed? As a result of confession, repentance, sorrow, the murderer now claims to have "peace with God." Is it right that this person should now be guilt-free? Could you go to the parents, who weren't Christians (or even if they were), and tell them with rejoicing that the individual who murdered their baby now stands perfect in the sight of a loving God and who, though sorry for that sin, has confessed it to the Lord, who not only bore the guilt of that sin but has now given the murderer peace of mind and freedom from guilt? How could you explain this in a way that could make any sense to anyone?

Or can you? 

Friday  May 2


Acouncil was held in heaven, the result of which was that God's dear Son undertook to redeem man from the curse and the disgrace of Adam's failure, and to conquer Satan. Oh, wonderful condescension! The Majesty of heaven, through love and pity for fallen man, proposed to become his substitute and surety. He would bear man's guilt. He would take the wrath of His Father upon Himself, which otherwise would have fallen upon man because of his disobedience."—Ellen G. White, Confrontation, pp. 16, 17.

"As one with us, He must bear the burden of our guilt and woe. The Sinless One must feel the shame of sin. The peace lover must dwell with strife, the truth must abide with falsehood, purity with vileness. Every sin, every discord, every defiling lust that transgression had brought, was torture to His spirit."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 111.

"God is waiting to bestow the blessing of forgiveness, of pardon for iniquity, of the gifts of righteousness, upon all who will believe in His love and accept the salvation He offers. Christ is ready to say to the repenting sinner, 'Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.' The blood of Jesus Christ is the eloquent plea that speaks in behalf of sinners. This blood 'cleanseth us from all sin.' "—Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 517.  

1. What do you say to someone who says "The cross makes me feel even more guilty, because I see God's love for me there and yet I sin anyway, despite that love"? 
2. What does it mean that Jesus suffered the guilt of our sins? Is that fair? Is it supposed to be fair?  
3. No guilty man "is ever acquitted at the bar of his own conscience," wrote the Roman poet Juvenal. How does the Cross help undo the truth of that statement?  
4. Is it right for a Christian no longer to feel guilty about bad deeds, even after those deeds have been forgiven? Explain your answer. 

InSide Story

The Power of a Gentle Life

J. H. Zachary

The two young men sat in a New York factory classroom waiting for their new job orientation to begin. Ivan introduced himself to Luis and began telling some off-color jokes. But Ivan noticed that Luis did not respond to the jokes as most men do.

Ivan watched Luis during class. He was different-kind, thoughtful, patient, and seemed to enjoyed helping others.

As the newness of the job wore off, Ivan felt depression settling over him. One day in the factory cafeteria, Ivan saw Luis sitting in a corner by himself He must be depressed too, Ivan thought. As he approached, he saw that Luis was not depressed; he looked peaceful, even joyful. I've never met anyone like Luis in my life, Ivan thought.

"Hey man, are you religious?" Ivan finally asked.

"Yes, I am," Luis replied.

During his teen years, Ivan had spent many hours reading the Bible. But some things he read did not agree with the teachings of his priest, such as the Sabbath. Jesus had kept the Sabbath, Ivan thought. Why don't Christians? Then there were other questions.

Ivan began asking Luis questions about the Bible, and Luis always answered them. Luis's answers made so much sense. Finally Ivan asked, "Hey man, what church do you attend?"

"I am a Seventh-day Adventist," Luis answered. Ivan had never heard of that church. Luis explained. "The Sabbath of the Bible is $Saturday, the day that Jesus kept all of His life on earth."

"That answers one of my biggest questions!" Ivan said with excitement. "Ever since I was a kid, I thought that was what the Bible taught."

"Ivan, you would enjoy listening to a pastor who is speaking in town," Luis offered. Their friendship made it easy for Luis to agree to attend a Protestant church for the first time.

Ivan was deeply impressed. Everything the preacher said was founded on the Bible. Ivan took home the sermon review sheet and carefully studied each text. This preacher is right and follows the Bible, Ivan told himself.

During the meetings Ivan saw that he was a sinner, and he cried out to Jesus to save him. Ivan continued taking Bible studies and was baptized several months after the meetings ended. "I want to live a life as close to Jesus as I can," Ivan testifies, He would like to study theology, if it is God's will. And the change in his life began when he met a gentle, quiet Christian in a noisy factory.

J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour.

Join the SSNET moderated email discussion group.  You are also warmly invited to join a group discussion of this lesson Sabbath morning with your local Seventh-Day Adventist congregation.

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