Author: Ron Graham
Innocence and Guilt
—Bible Teaching About Guilt
Another pair of opposites in the Bible is innocence and guilt. In this lesson, we study the arrival of guilt, an argument about guilt, and the answer to guilt.
We are not talking about feeling guilty or feeling innocent. We are talking about being judged innocent or guilty by God. Our standing with God is surely more important than anything else in our lives.
To be judged guilty by God is a most horrifying thing. ¶“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Earlier, the same passage mentions ¶“a fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devastate God’s adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27).
1 The Arrival of Guilt
Guilt came into the world almost as soon as human beings were created. The first two human beings (Adam and Eve) were created innocent. This can be deduced from the statement, ¶“And God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
God had fellowship with Adam and Eve. He talked to them, and came to walk in the garden of Eden which he had planted and given them to tend. They had no guilt or shame, even though they wore no clothing. ¶“Adam and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
So how did this happy state become spoiled? What changed their innocence into guilt? God had created the serpent ¶“more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). This beast was the culprit who introduced sin to Adam and Eve.
This beast was created “very good” as everything God created. But somehow the serpent got into fellowship with the devil instead of with God. The serpent seduced Adam and Eve into disobeying God. The serpent was the first guilty being on earth. Adam and Eve were the second and third.
When Adam and Eve were innocent they nevertheless knew that disobeying God was wrong and punishable. God had told them, ¶“You shall not eat of the tree that is in the centre of the garden. You shall not even touch it lest you die” (Genesis 3:3). But they listened to the serpent and not to God.
Since those strange and ancient times, countless men and women have become guilty like Adam and Eve did. ¶“For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God. Nor did they give thanks to him. Rather they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts became dark” (Romans 1:21).
2 The Argument over Guilt
Having reviewed the arrival of guilt on earth, we now consider an argument that has continued for centuries. I mentioned before that, since Adam and Eve, “countless men and women have become guilty like them”. I could have said they “lost their innocence”.
Many would take issue with that. They would say that nobody since Adam and Eve “became guilty” or “lost their innocence” —rather they were born guilty. They never lost innocence because they never had it.
The argument is that Adam and Eve may well have been created innocent or blameless, but none of their progeny were born that way. They were all born with Adam and Eve’s guilt, transmitted to them by heredity.
This idea is called “original sin”. Children are born inheriting not only physical traits, but also guilt. This is passed on through the same sexual act that led to their birth.
There is an obvious problem here. We understand that many traits, characteristics, and abilities are passed on genetically. But it seems quite a stretch to say that guilt (here meaning a divine condemnation not a human emotion) is so inherited. Is there a gene for such guilt?
Are Children Born Innocent?
Jesus recognised the state of innocence in little children. ¶"The kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Luke 18:15-17). Little children are not condemned, but in a state of grace.
Nobody is born a sinner, nor is sin inherited from one's fathers. Nobody is condemned before having grown up and committed personal sin. "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:2-4).
We are all born perfect, because God created our innermost being (Psalms 139:13). The "spirit returns to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The soul or spirit is a gift of God, and all God’s gifts are "good and perfect" (James 1:17).
3 The Answer to Guilt
We now come to the most important matter in this lesson. Inherited or not, there is an overflowing guilt of sin in the world. Whilst the word of God shows us God’s will, most of us are painfully aware that we have not always done God’s will.
As scripture says: ¶“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). ¶“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8,10).
So although human beings are born innocent, we all become sinners very early in life. ¶“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the thrall of the evil one” (1John 5:19).
What is the solution to this problem? We need an answer, and only God can provide it. God’s justice finds us guilty, but his mercy finds a way to forgive our sins and make us blameless before him.
¶“You may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish amid a crooked and perverted generation. You shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15)
How Does God Make the Guilty Innocent?
How can those who became guilty be made blameless and innocent? There is one simple answer: through Jesus Christ the Son of God.
¶“7In Christ we have redemption through his blood. We are forgiven of our trespasses, befitting the riches of God’s grace. 8God made grace abound toward us, in all wisdom and insight, 9after he made known to us the mystery of his will. This fitted his good pleasure and what he purposed in himself. 10It was his plan for the fullness of time, to bring all things to a head in Christ —things in heaven and on earth.” (Ephesians 1:7-10).
Notice that Christ shed his blood (as a sacrifice for sins) in order to satisfy the justice of God and permit the mercy and grace of God. ¶“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
This is God’s amazing answer. Now what must a person do to accept God’s way of forgiveness, and become blameless and innocent through the sacrifice Jesus made for everyone?
The words of Paul in Romans (and his agreement with Jesus in the gospels) on what people should do to receive grace
1. Hearing Christ’s word
(Romans 10:8-17, Matthew 7:24).
2. Believing —having faith
(Romans 1:16-17, John 3:16)
3. Repentance from sin
(Romans 2:4-5, Romans 6:1-2, Luke 5:31-32)
4. Confessing Christ
(Romans 10:8-10, Matthew 10:32)
5. Being baptized into Christ’s death
(Romans 6:3-4, Mrk 16:15-16)
6. Ongoing commitment
(Romans 12:1-2, Romans 12:11-12, Luke 9:62)