Through our connection with Christ, the great judge finds us not guilty! In Romans 3:21-24 he writes, “Now God says he will accept and acquit us—declare us ‘not guilty’—if we trust Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, by coming to Christ, no matter who we are or what we have been like. Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal; yet now God declares us ‘not guilty’ of offending him if we trust in Jesus Christ, who in his kindness freely takes away our sins.” Yet, the reality in our lives is that we still struggle with guilt often. Phantom guilt, guilt that comes when there really isn’t anything to be guilty about, is the product of too strenuous a self-standard or a failed attempt to live up to someone else’s standard. But there is still true guilt, even for a believer. True guilt is that sense of shame and sorrow when we do something we should feel guilty for. This guilt is truly God’s “wake up call.” He uses His Spirit in various ways to open our consciences to the wrongs we do, so that we get them right again. He has made a way, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9) True guilt can only be “cleansed” with a true confession.

Guilt is God’s alarm clock. Chuck Smith used that illustration to explain how God moves his people to repentance when they need it. He uses three alarm clocks. The first one plays gentle music. The second goes off a little later and has a more disrupting sound. If he sleeps through that one, the third one will wake the dead! It makes “a horrendous sound.” He compares this to God’s work of His Spirit that arouses us to our guilt. At first there’s a gentle tugging at our spirits to see our wrong. If we fail to “wake up” the Holy Spirit will cause a less pleasant experience. Chuck Smith explains, “That’s what God did with David. The king wasn’t listening to the Holy Spirit’s prompting in his conscience, so God revealed David’s secret sin of adultery to the prophet Nathan and sent him to speak to David. David’s sin was exposed. It became public knowledge, and at that point, David turned to God in repentance. If that’s what it takes, that is what God will do.” But it even gets worse. If we ignore or resist the first two “wake up calls,” God will move more drastically to get our attention. When Pharaoh hardened his heart against God’s confrontation, God took direct action against all of Egypt and its people.

Chuck asks, “Which of these three ways would you like God to use to stop you sinning?” I know I’d like to wake up to soft music. I don’t want to have to be stunned out of my lethargy to sin; I want to be sensitive and open to see my failures. I sometimes don’t want to wake up in the morning and I usually struggle with waking up to my sin, but if we don’t respond to God’s gentle nudging in our consciences, He’ll wake us up in a more radical way. Guilt is God’s way of reaching out to us in the gentlest of ways. It’s always disturbing, of course, but when God speaks to us through the guilt he arouses in us, it’s another expression of God’s wonderful Grace.