1 John 1:7 - Phantom Pain and the Remedy for Guilt
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Do you ever find yourself struggling with guilt??
Maybe you are haunted by the memory of some long-ago failure… and no matter HOW hard you try, you just can’t seem to move past it?
It’s always there, lurking just below the surface and whenever you see certain people - or a particular subject is discussed, that thing consumes your thoughts?
Turns out - there's a name for that: phantom pain.
Dr. Paul Brand used to tell the story of one of his medical school administrators who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg.
Finally the pain became so unbearable that the man said to his doctor - “I’m through with it - amputate my leg.” Surgery was scheduled immediately.
BEFORE the operation, the man asked his doctor, “What do you do with the legs after they are removed?”
“We might experiment with them a bit… but usually we just incinerate them.” “I want mine preserved in a pickle jar,” said the vengeful patient. “I want to put it on my mantle. THEN as I sit in my armchair, I will TAUNT that leg, ‘HA! You can’t hurt me anymore!’”
The man got what he asked for… but in the end, it was the despised leg that had the last “laugh.”
He experienced what is called “phantom pain.” Deep inside his psyche, it felt as though the leg was still attached… and even though the wound was completely healed, he still felt the torturous pressure of the swelling, muscles cramping, and the pain throbbing that he felt before the amputation. He would reach out to touch it - but of course - the leg wasn’t there.
The pain of that thing was permanently etched in his brain.
Some have that very same struggle with their past… held hostage by some sin committed long ago. The pain of their failure is permanently etched in their soul…
- crippling their spiritual growth…
- hindering their ability to serve…
- constantly struggling between what they KNOW (the Bible says) and what they FEEL.
They’ve heard all the sermons on forgiveness… they’ve sung the songs about grace… but they are locked in a prison of their own making - CONVINCED that somehow, someway, that THING will forever haunt them.
What do you do when dozens of trips to the altar don’t take the pain away?? What do you do when the tears fail to wash away the stains of a guilty conscience??
John has the answer in this verse.
You’ll notice when you read John’s letters that he is much less technical in his writing style than Paul. He only deals with a handful of topics - and he drives them home again and again. In this opening chapter of 1 John - he leads us to the subjects of God’s holiness, man’s sin, and how there is really only ONE WAY to remedy our guilt.
Though guilt is a universal problem - their IS a remedy for it right here. There are three things we must understand in this verse:
1. First, we should consider the SOURCE of our guilt. WHERE does guilt come from?
As a believer in Christ, you will experience guilt from at least THREE sources:
Satan - is a source. He is called “the accuser of the brethren” for a reason:
- He will attack your conscience with false guilt…
- he will heap up condemnation…
- he will work to produce such a sense of inevitability in you that you will either get frustrated and quit Christianity, or
- you will fall back into a pattern of sin.
- He understands our desire to please our Father. And he also understands how the weight of guilt grinds on that relationship.
- He will use your friends
- He will remind you of former indiscretions
- He will exploit some weakness - by putting you in a position where the opportunity to sin is THERE before you
- He will feed the desire of the flesh for those things OUTSIDE God’s will for you.
He knows - that the WORST advertisement for Christianity is a Christian who is miserable and defeated.
Satan is A cause of guilt.
So is ignorance. Since many young Christians don’t understand the Bible or the doctrine of salvation, ignorance often shapes their thoughts about grace.
- Many churches give the impression that WORKS save a person
- OR THAT Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to cover PAST sins… but FUTURE sins are left up to US.
- OR they remember something awful they’ve done in their past and just can’t believe that it has been completely forgiven.
Ignorance is what it is. They haven’t grown in the knowledge of the truth - they haven’t grasped the BASIC doctrine of salvation.
Which is why it is sooooo important that we avail ourselves to every class, Bible study, and worship service we can reasonably fit into our schedule… Why we should START OUR DAY with the Word of God and prayer... Why we should feed our minds on things that are pure and uplifting while in our cars or behind our computer screens.
Spiritual growth takes TIME. It took me 2 years before I realized I didn’t have to be saved all over again every time I failed.
But not only are Satan and Ignorance two sources of guilt…
the GREATEST cause of guilt is SIN ITSELF. NOW that you are a believer, the Holy Spirit convicts you when you do wrong. We can’t sin and expect to feel good afterwards. We have been saved FROM that. God requires us to have a change-of-mind about sin. And when we refuse to distance ourselves FROM it, we experience guilt.
You are loved. And part of God’s plan for you is to save you from the terrible consequences of sin. He gives you a new desire for holiness. A love for the things GOD loves. His Spirit warns you when you are in danger of falling. And when you fall, He pleads with your heart to turn FROM your sin because it prevents you from experiencing fellowship with Him.
Whether it is the errant belief that believers can sin without consequence OR us simply entertaining fleshly desire - the believer is his own worst enemy when he has a cavalier attitude toward sin.
2. But after considering the SOURCE of our guilt, notice the SOLUTION for our guilt - when John says, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
So radical and invasive is our guilt that it required the sacrifice of God’s only Son to provide adequate remedy. Doing religious things is not enough. Being moral and an upstanding citizen is not enough. Giving to meet the needs of the poor is not enough.
ONLY the blood of Jesus is sufficient to remedy our guilt!
In an act of complete surrender, motivated by the holiness and love of God, Jesus Christ gave His life:
His death was VICARIOUS. The sentence of death was upon ME - I was guilty before God - but Jesus took my place.
The pure, unspotted, lamb of God became MY substitute, and THERE, on the cross, He suffered my hell, my punishment for me.
In some incredible way that my finite mind can never fully understand, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore my sin and guilt when He died on the cross. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, God “made Him who knew no sin to BE sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
His death, then, was vicarious.
It was also VICTORIOUS. Notice what John said: “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The word “cleanses” implies continuous action… so it could be said, “the blood of Jesus his Son (keeps on cleansing) us from all sin.” Though a SINGLE event in history, it has a perpetual quality about it. He is NOT saying that the death of Jesus was sufficient for all my sins PAST… but that it is sufficient for all my sins - PERIOD...past, present, and FUTURE. His blood KEEPS ON cleansing me. It will ALWAYS be enough.
Therefore - I have victory not only from the GUILT of sin - but ALSO from the GRIP of sin.
Back home, where I grew up, Kudzu is EVERYWHERE. It is an invasive vine that overtakes everything. You can’t hardly kill it, and it grows so fast that if you aren’t careful, it will overtake trees, houses, even stuff made out of metal like that bus on the screen.
Kudzu snuffs the life out of HUGE oak trees. The only way to save the tree is to sever the vine at the ground. Oh, it won’t look any different for a while. The vine will still cling to the tree. But since it has been cut off it has no more power over the tree and will eventually turn brown and fall away.
So it is with sin. It will overtake you and snuff the life out of you. The only way to combat the power of sin is through the power of the blood of Christ. What Jesus did on the cross CUTS SIN OFF at the root. Though it will still cling to you - it has no more power over you and will eventually wither away.
3. But after showing us the SOURCE and the SOLUTION for guilt… there yet remains the need for Self-Control.
John says, “But IF we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another...”
So, you are struggling with guilt. No matter how many trips you make to the altar or how many times you pray about it - you keep struggling with those feelings of unworthiness. If that’s where YOU are, there are two things you have GOT to do:
First, you must be transparent with God.
Confess your sin - that’s what verse 9 says. No more pretending to be one thing when you KNOW you are doing things that are off-limits for the believer. No more going to those places and doing those things that a Christian has no business being involved in. It’s time you STOPPED walking in darkness!
It’s time you took responsibility for your actions. It’s not someone else’s fault. Own up to the things you have done. Stop putting yourself in a position to fail.
Until you commit to walking in the light, you will keep feeling guilt.
When you are living in the light of His Word and the Spirit of God is filling your heart and directing your life, you will find that guilt no longer has a place in your life. God’s Word is like a surgeon’s scalpel… exposing our inward being - all those cancerous thoughts are revealed to the Great Physician.
But not only should I be transparent with God,
Secondly, I must Trust Him. The word “fellowship” is in interesting word. It comes from the Greek word “koinonia,” meaning “partnership, communion, sharing.” Fellowship requires both parties to be involved, interested, and making an investment.
All of us have had those relationships that seemed one-sided, where they only person who gave of themselves was US. That gets old after a while, doesn’t it?
Jesus will not force us to fellowship with Him. When you are faced with a decision, He’s not going to MAKE you do the right thing. If you want to live in guilt, if you want to struggle and find yourself stuck in the vicious cycle of sin and regret, that’s your right. But don’t expect Him to bless your decision to do wrong.
Sin causes a break in fellowship. It drives us away from Christ. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden HID themselves from God after they had sinned, it drives a wedge between us and God.
But trusting Him draws us closer; it deepens our commitment.
The Bible encourages us to “trust in the Lord” for a number of reasons:
- When the devil brings up your past in an attempt to discourage you, your trust in the Lord will combat those thoughts.
- You will see that when God says He forgives you and ‘removes your sins as far as the east’ is from the west, you can trust Him.
- You should also trust that when God tells you NOT to DO a thing, it is only because He has your best interest at heart. He knows that sin will enslave you; it will rob you of joy and ruin your reputation… He knows that there are people watching your life who are on the verge of taking the step of faith themselves - and how all of that will be destroyed if you give in to sin.
- You should trust that with every temptation, God provides a ‘way of escape.’ You will NEVER find yourself in a position where you have no options but to sin
- You should trust that spending time with God, learning, reading, praying - really IS important. It’s beneficial to your whole person ⇒ particularly when it comes to this matter of sin and guilt.
You will never grow in your walk with the Lord, you will never feel fulfilled or understand your security in Christ WITHOUT fellowshipping with Him. The more time you spend with Him, the more you realize He is NOT going to throw you away every time you fail… He will NOT write us off because we can’t be perfect.
As you fellowship with Him, grow in your knowledge and experience - you will find that sin no longer has the power over you it once had.
But you have to make the choice:
Are you going to walk in the light or stay in darkness?
No one can make that decision for you. So how about it? Do you need to make that decision?
Some of us may have never received Christ. You will never be free of your guilt without taking this first step. We offer you that opportunity today.
Others have made that step, and for a while you felt the joy and peace of God that passes all understanding! You felt clean and close to God. But through a series of bad choices, you’ve found yourself in a place of guilt and shame… as if God is a million miles away.
God is calling out to you, longing to forgive and restore you… but you have a serious decision to make. You’ve got to leave the darkness, you’ve got to come back to the light of God.
So if YOU need to take that important step, we invite you to come for prayer. There is a remedy for guilt. Come to Jesus today.