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Lesson 5: Forgiveness and Guilt *

Introduction: Guilt has gotten a bad reputation these days. I have a friend who never attends church, is sure that what he learned about God when he was young is enough to carry him through the rest of his life, and who has turned to secular counseling to eliminate any feelings of guilt from his life. He fears that going back to church will revive feelings of guilt. On the rare occasions when we speak on this topic I tell him, "Guilt is good." He disagrees. What do you think? Is the answer different for different people? Let's jump into our lesson and explore this subject!

  1. Guilt at the Beginning

    1. Adam and Eve are created by God, placed in charge of the creation and warned about sin. Satan shows up to tempt them to eat the fruit. Let's pick up the story by reading Genesis 3:5-7. When Satan says "Your eyes will be opened," what does he mean?

      1. Is knowing evil the beginning of guilt? (Knowing you have done evil is the beginning of guilt.)

      2. In verse 7 we have a repetition of the phrase "the eyes of both of them were opened." Was that guilt?

        1. How did covering themselves with fig leaves make things better?

          1. Is this an early illustration of righteousness by works? Do our works cover guilt?

        2. If realizing they had sinned (their eyes being opened) is really a feeling of guilt, what is the modern equivalent of covering ourselves with fig leaves?

    2. Read Genesis 3:8-10. Why did Adam and Eve hid from God? (They felt guilty.)

      1. Why would guilt cause us to hide from God?

        1. Have you hidden from God when you felt guilty?

      2. Adam admits that he is afraid. What relationship is there between fear and guilt?

      3. God calls out "Where are you?" Did God know where they were? Why did God ask this?

        1. What lesson do you find about God and guilt in this question? (God comes looking for us. He wants to enter into a dialog with us about our sin and guilt.)

    3. Read Genesis 3:11. Let's answer God's first question. Who told them they were naked? (Their conscience. Guilt comes from conscience.)

      1. What is the source of our conscience? (Paul, in Romans 9:1, writes of a conscience shaped by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can and does work through our conscience.)

    4. Read Genesis 3:12. How does Adam answer God's second question (v.11) about whether he sinned?

      1. How does Adam handle his guilt? (He first blames Eve, and then blames God for giving him Eve.)

        1. What do you think about Adam's approach to guilt?

        2. Have you ever used it?

    5. Read Genesis 3:13. How does Eve answer God's question? (She blames Satan. Modern translation, "The devil made me do it.")

    6. Consider the questions that God asks in verses 11 and 13. Does He know the answers? (Yes.)

      1. Why does God ask these questions if He knows the answers? (God wants us to face our sin and guilt.)

        1. Does God ask you these kinds of questions?

      2. Were Adam and Eve giving God the answers that He wanted? (No.)

    7. As you consider this series of events, has guilt done any good so far? What has it produced? (It does not seem to have done much good so far. It has caused Adam and Eve to try to "fix" their sins first by their own works (making fig leaf garments) and then by blaming someone else for their sins.)

      1. What would you say if Adam and Eve came to you for advice about their feelings of guilt? Would you counsel them that feelings of guilt were just unnecessary baggage in life and they should get beyond those feelings?

    8. If Adam and Eve had immediately confessed their sins, would things have been different? Would they have avoided the curses found in Genesis 3:16-19?

      1. What impact do you think the curses ultimately had upon Adam and Eve's view of their sins?

    9. Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain, kills his brother Abel because of jealousy. Read Genesis 4:9. How does Cain react to God's question?
    10. Read Genesis 4:10-14. How would you characterize Cain's remorse? (He never confesses his sin. He is simply sorry for himself.)

      1. How would you counsel Cain if he came to you for help about his feelings of guilt? Would you tell him to just ignore them?

  2. Our Guilt

    1. Read Romans 3:10-18. Paul is quoting and paraphrasing from several of the Psalms. Does this describe Adam, Eve and Cain?

      1. Does this describe those around you?

      2. Does this describe you?

    2. Let's read on. Read Romans 3:19-20. Paul has just painted (vv. 10-18) a pretty hopeless situation. Some might say that he is too negative. Is Paul trying to discourage us? After painting this dark picture of our lives, is there any hope in verses 19-20? (Paul is building an argument. He says in verses 10-18 we are all rotten. But then, in verses 19-20, he adds, "If you think you are going to be found righteous by observing the law, buddy, you better think again.")

      1. What does the law have to do with guilt according to verse 20? Is guilt put in a good light? (We cannot become righteous by observing the law because we are a pretty rotten group, according to Paul. However, what the law does for us is to show that we are sinners. At this point in Paul's argument, at least, it seems that guilt is good. Guilt is a consciousness of our sins.)

    3. Read Romans 3:21-24. Paul now tells us rotten, guilty people that there is a way out of our sins, a way to become righteous. What is it? (Faith in Jesus.)

      1. What is Paul telling us when he says "there is no difference?" (He is saying that we all come to Jesus as sinners. None are better, none are worse.)

      2. How has Jesus made us all righteous - regardless of the nature of past sin? (Read Romans 3:25-26. Paul reminds us of the sanctuary system, where the sacrifice of an animal was required to remove sin. Paul tells us that Jesus was the Divine sacrifice on our behalf that, if accepted, will take away our sins and make us righteous.)

    4. If Jesus' righteousness covers your sins, what should it do for your guilt? (It should take it away. The point of guilt is to drive us to God, to drive us to repent (change our attitude) of our sins.)

    5. Read Romans 3:27-28. What problem is Paul addressing? Is he writing to those who are suffering under a load of guilt? (Paul is concerned about boasting about how great we are. He is not arguing that we should stop feeling guilty. Rather, we should stop saying we are so good.)

      1. As you look at those around you, what do you think is the biggest problem? Is guilt so widespread that it is the major problem? Or, is an attitude of self-righteousness so widespread that we need (like in verses 10-18) to spread around a little more guilt? Should we at least (verse 28)spread around a better understanding that works will not make us righteous?

      2. What is the purpose of guilt? What is Paul's purpose in outlining how rotten we are in vv. 10-18? (He wants us to stop thinking we are OK on our own, and drive us to Jesus and the righteousness that He offers through His sacrifice on our behalf.)

      3. Let's look back at Adam, Eve and Cain for a moment. Did they need more or less guilt? (None of them admitted sin. Adam and Eve blamed someone else. Cain was worried about his future, rather than being sorry for his sins. While I feel confident that ultimately Adam and Eve felt very guilty, at the point recorded in Genesis it seems they could use a little more, not less, guilt.)

        1. How about you? If you had to look realistically at your life, are you suffering from too great a feeling of guilt, or too great a feeling of self-righteousness?

  3. The Cure for Guilt

    1. No doubt there are those who suffer unduly from feelings of guilt. Let's look at two texts that will help us. Read Hebrews 10:19-22. If we suffer from feelings of guilt, what will cleanse us from that? (Having our hearts sprinkled.)

      1. Anyone want to explain what "having our hearts sprinkled means?" (This is an illusion to the Old Testament sanctuary service and the sacrificial system. The blood of the animal sacrifice was sprinkled (see, for example, Leviticus 9:12) on the altar in the sanctuary. Thus, the sins of the person offering the sacrifice were transferred to the altar. The cure for guilt is repenting of our sins and believing that Jesus' sacrifice takes away our sins.

    2. Read Romans 5:1-2. Once we are justified by our repentance and faith in Jesus, what change comes into our lives? (Peace!)

    3. Friend, guilt is the first step in the path to peace. Guilt drives you to repent of your sins. Jesus then promises to cleanse us from those sins and give us peace. Why not confess your sins today and begin the journey towards peace?

  4. Next Week: Forgiveness and the Church
* Copr. 2003, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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