Guilt is a problem most Christians face more or less regularly throughout their lives. Pastors and counselors see it all the time in their work. Few things disable Christian practice more readily or thoroughly than guilt.
By guilt I mean that sense that we are in the wrong for this or that reason. And that sense activates what sin has made our default baseline – that we are wrong. We incur guilt because we are guilty.
Edmund Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe exemplifies this issue and how followers of Aslan, the Christ-figure in the stories, should deal with it. Edmund is guilty of betraying his siblings and Aslan to the White Witch under whose evil enchantment he has fallen. Aslan, like Christ, “saves” Edmund from the death his betrayal earned him under the Deep Magic, the moral order of Narnia. He does so at the cost of his own life under the grace of a Deeper Magic that founds Narnia – a substitutionary atonement as it were.
Rescued from the hands of the Witch who is preparing to slay him, Edmund I reunited and reconciled to his siblings and becomes a devoted follower of the lion. The Witch as the enforcer of the Deep Magic still has her claim on Edmund’s life, for he is indeed a traitor. Aslan and the Witch meet to deal with this matter.
Edmund is with Aslan as the Witch approaches. “You have a traitor there, Aslan,” she says. Even though Aslan has not dies and been raised back to life yet, he has told Edmund the cost of his infidelity and Edmund has taken it to heart. The Witch’s accusation is intended to keep him from faithfully following Aslan and fulfilling the lion’s purpose for him.
Edmund, however, knows he will be redeemed by the lion, and acts accordingly. His guilt has been removed and he has been transformed. So, in the face of the Witch’s accusation, “Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning (with Aslan). He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said” (141).
Isn’t that wonderful! The evil one’s accusation bounces right off Edmund and has no effect. It does not divert his attention from Aslan. The accusation, though true, has (or will be dealt with). It does not reflect who Edmund has become by Aslan’s grace. Edmund does not take his eyes off the lion to try and protest or defend himself or even admit his failure and place himself under the Witch’s power. “He just went on looking at Aslan.” It’s that simple. And that difficult.
We can hardly resist the urge to fight back or give in to the enemy’s accusations. Most of us have not internalized grace sufficiently to rest solely in what Christ has done for us. We still act like we have, or should have, a leg to stand on. The accusation challenges that presumption and jumps starts us into whatever ways we try to cope with it. And we take our eyes off Jesus. The accusation affects us and diverts our attention from where it ought to be.
Just looking at Jesus. Can it really be that simple? Really? Let’ look at 2 Peter 1:3-9 for an answer. Peter writes:
“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.”
If we are not growing into goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, Peter says, it’s because we have forgotten we are forgiven. Forgotten we are forgiven. Yes, it is that simple. And that difficult.
To forget we are forgiven is to act to justify, deny, or confess that we are in the wrong. And then slide almost inevitably back to the position that we are wrong. And then we’re done as far a faithfully following Jesus goes. Until we embrace his grace again and anew and get our focus realigned on him. Then like Edmund we will able to move on again unaffected by the accusations of our enemy “for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev.12:10).
The great theologian Karl Barth articulates this truth beautifully:
“[Man’s] legal status as a sinner is rejected in every form. Man is no longer seriously regarded by God as a sinner. Whatever he may be, whatever there is to be said of him, whatever he has to reproach himself with, God no longer takes him seriously as a sinner. He has died to sin; there on the Cross of Golgotha…We are no longer addressed and regarded by God as sinners…We are acquitted gratis, sola gratia, by God’s own entering in for us. (Dogmatics in Outline)
If God no longer takes us seriously as sinners, why should we? Are we better or more scrupulous than God?
It really is that simple. Keep our eyes on Jesus. That’s the whole thing. The only thing. The thing God intended us to do from all eternity. If you’re attacked by guilt, that’s not coming from God. It’s from the enemy or yourself. Either way, the response is the same – keep your eyes on Jesus and the guilt attacks will have no effect on you. It really is that simple.