Guilt, Self-punishment, and the Cross

Here’s a great section from a great book: Domesticated Jesus by Harry Kraus.  This section is about how Christians wrestle with guilt.  We domesticate Jesus when we think our self-pity for sin makes God accept us more.

“To continue to punish ourselves for sins for which Jesus died is an insult in the face of a most gracious and merciful Father.  Do you feel it is appropriate to spend a little time in misery so as to show your proper penance?  Do you think you deserve to feel bad for your sins?”

“Perhaps so, but walking around punishing yourself for old sins is a case of gospel debt, pure and simple.  There is nothing more we can do to make ourselves more acceptable than that which has already been done on the cross.  Any amount of squirming about in self-flagellation is worse than futile; it’s arrogant.”

“Arrogant?  Yes.  How do we dare think that the work that Christ has performed has not been adequate?  When we wallow in guilt, we act as if we are adding to a job that Jesus describes as “Been there, done that.'”

“Dear brother or sister, spend your time at the foot of the cross in amazement at the sacrifice he made.  Look no longer to your sin but toward the One who became sin for us.  Turn away from your guilt, and waste no further time in this grievous activity.”

“This is one of those conditions that may require some dedicated time in God’s presence, soaking in the reality of what has been done for you.  I’ve known times when I felt that the fight against the guilt emotion was hopeless.  My brain acknowledged the truth of forgiveness, but it seemed my soul was trapped in a web of remorse over my sin.  But I believe that with time we can train our minds to think according to biblical truth, and as we do, proper feelings will follow.  In that way, feelings cannot be the focus of our intervention, but they often prompt a closer look at what may be driving the problem.”

“It becomes a matter of the will.  We make a conscious decision to direct our thinking according to the truth presented in the gospel.  Christ died in my place.  My sin has been covered.  Christ’s record is now mine” (p. 48-49).

This entire book is a focus on grace, and how we often lose sight of the “amazingness” of grace.  He continually points the reader to the gospel of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Kraus also explains how we domesticate Jesus by our immature faith, by acting Christian, by underestimating his power, by wallowing in guilt (i.e. the quote above), by underestimating grace, by worry, by anger, by anxiety about the future, by our heartless worship, by hiding sin, by self-dependence, by self-love, by bitterness, and by legalism. These are the topics of different chapters. Though there is more to it, Domesticated Jesus is a great lesson on humbling ourselves in the presence of our gracious God and Savior.  I know I mentioned this book before on the blog, but it is worth mentioning here again.  Highly recommended!

shane lems

3 thoughts on “Guilt, Self-punishment, and the Cross”

  1. I find it kind of a hard balance … hating my besetting sin and feeling shame for my woefully inappropriate life not characterized enough by gratitude … but also not allowing that to make me despondent since my sins have already been punished at Calvary and I am viewed by God as perfectly obedient to his law because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to me.

    It’s almost like we need to distinguish two kinds of guilt; guit before the bar of God’s perfect law, and “guilt” that we experience subjectively when we see our continued commitment to our old way even though we know what has been declared of us now that we are in Christ … I’m sure someone has already written about this … somewhere!

    Great post and a great looking book!


  2. Godly sorrow produces repentance, not guilt. I would say that there is no correct guilt feelings as a Christian. Godly sorrow over sin is always sweet because it knows that all guilt has been atoned for. The Holy Spirit doesn’t accuse us of sin, but He does point us to repentance in love. Sin should be confronted with the Gospel in the power of the Spirit. Guilt is not a good motivator and can never produce true repentance.


    1. I guess that’s the key, the distinction is between guilt and sorrow….

      But since we’re contrasting a status (guilty) and a feeling (sorrow) things don’t match up exactly. Thus when one speaks of “feeling” guilty, that may or may not actually correspond to the reality of guilt. After all, a Christian who says that they “feel” guilty does better to say that they feel “sorrow” since they have, in fact, been declared NOT guilty, thus there is no way they can truly “feel” guilt.

      Of course this begs the question of whether guilt is something one can actually feel or whether it is simply something one is declared, thereby nuancing even what you said; it’s not simply that there are no “correct” guilt feelings as a Christian, there are no guilt “feelings” to be had at all by Christians. Indeed, do we read anywhere of even unbelievers truly “feeling” their guilt, or do they instead feel “anger” or “frustration” (insert your emotion) by the fact that they ARE guilty? Herein lie the linguistic preliminaries that stands behind both of our comments …


Comments are closed.