“What Should I Do with My Guilt?”

(Genesis 3:8-15 – Pentecost 3 – June 13, 2021)

Genesis 3:8-15 – 8And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” 13And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. 15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Dear Redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ:

When I was a young boy growing up in California, one day two neighborhood friends and I were playing with matches. This, of course, was foolish, as we were doing so in the middle of a field of dry grass, which bordered a small forest, which came in close contact with a number of houses. Before we knew it, a dropped match that was supposed to be burnt out caught nearby grass on fire. Our frantic efforts to stomp it out were futile; the circle of fire was growing with surprising speed. Suddenly the enormity of the situation hit me, as I realized with horror my utter inability to reverse my action and the potential destruction. I was in deep trouble.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? There you are, faced with the wrong you have done, faced with your guilt, fearing the devastating consequences, feeling ashamed. What can you do? Where can you run; where can you hide from your guilt?

In our text, we see the first instance of people in this world facing their guilt and the fearful consequences, as God comes to confront them. As sinful children of Adam and Eve who live in the presence of God to this day, how often we are faced with the question: “What Should I Do with My Guilt?” The gracious answer we find here and throughout in God’s Word is: 1) Don’t try to hide it, but 2) Confess your sins to God, and 3) Receive His forgiveness in Christ.

1) Don’t try to hide it

What were Adam and Eve guilty of? They had defied the clear word and command God had given them. God had told Adam: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). But along had come Satan, that father of lies, speaking through a serpent, tempting them to believe there was something to gain in eating the forbidden fruit. First Eve, then Adam, listened to the voice of the Tempter instead of the voice of God; and they ate.

No sooner had they partaken of what God had forbidden, but as a fruit of their sinful choice, they knew the evil they had not known. They felt it in themselves as fallen sinners. Genesis 3:7 says: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” The perfect peace of the garden, the innocence of walking with God in holiness, was ruined. Now their world was filled with fear and shame. They realized the enormity of their sin and guilt, and their utter inability to reverse what they had done. Adam and Eve had started a fire, and they were in deep trouble.

Their first impulse was to run and hide: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ So he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself'” (vs. 8-10).

“What should I do with my guilt?” That question was burning in their conscience, in the fear and shame they felt in the presence of the holy God. Now as fallen children of Adam and Eve, we all face the same question. How often we feel a guilty conscience, because of sin in our life. We feel guilty because we have not treated others as we should have, but have acted selfishly and hurtfully. We feel guilty because we have entertained sinful thoughts and desires, and have acted on them in wrong and shameful behavior. We feel guilty as we carry around regrets from the past for foolish things we have said and done, those skeletons in the closet that haunt us to this day as we deal with their consequences.

As children of Adam and Eve, we all have started a fire. As sinners, we share in their guilt and therefore in the same consequences. Romans 5:12 says: Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” As flesh born of sinful flesh, we all are left asking in one way or another: “What should I do with my guilt? How can I face the devastating consequences if God should treat me as my sins deserve?”

The first impulse is to do what Adam and Eve did. We may try to cover our shame by clothing ourselves in the fig leaves of good works and an outwardly decent life, to make ourselves presentable to God and others. But underneath all that, we still feel the nakedness of sin, realizing something is wrong in our nature. Again, we may try to hide our guilt behind trees of denial. We reason that if we can’t see God, He can’t see what we are doing; or if we can’t hear His Word, He doesn’t say what He does. Or we try to quiet the conscience behind many trees of busyness, getting so involved in daily work and play and things of this world that we have no time to ask: “What should I do with my guilt? And how will I face God when my time comes?”

Imagine what it would mean if God had left fallen sinners forever hiding in their unresolved guilt. Adam, as we learn in Scripture, would go on to live to the age of 930 years in this world so devastated by his sin. Just imagine how, if God had left him in his guilt, he would have died a thousand deaths as they say – cringing and struggling with his guilt, day after day, year after year, as he saw the fire he had started – the death, the decay, and the suffering in this fallen world. But even worse, if God had left Adam and us in our guilt, we all would have faced an endless death and dying, cringing and struggling with our guilt, in the unquenchable fire that is hell.

2) Confess your sins to God

It was not cowering sinners, but the God of grace and mercy, who came to make things right. He did not leave fallen man and woman forever hiding in the misery of their guilt. He did not abandon those who had started the fire to the fiery punishment their sin deserved. He came in love to confront them with their sin, so that He could show them His forgiveness and salvation. For already, God knew the great sacrifice He would make to take away their sin and guilt, as Revelation 13:8 says, in “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Already, God knew He would send His own Son into the world as the Lamb to be slain to take away the sins of Adam and Eve, all their descendents, and you and me. In view of that promise, God calls Adam and Eve, and all of us, out of hiding. He leads us to confess our sins so we may hear His gracious forgiveness in Christ.

It was with this loving purpose that God confronted fallen man with the painful truth: “And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate'” (vs. 11-13). So desperate was Adam to escape his crushing guilt, that he was willing to lay the blame on his wife, flesh of his own flesh. In this, he even tried to put the blame on God, who had given him such a helper who led him astray. And Eve, in turn, tried to pass the blame to the serpent.

That day as a boy, when my friends and I had played with matches and started a fire, the first impulse may have been to run and hide. But that was impossible. The next impulse may have been to try to pass the blame to those I was with – especially that one friend who always getting us in trouble! But that would not have removed the fact that I myself was playing with matches. I was guilty of the fire burning around me, and that was why I was cowering in guilt and fear.

Despite every attempt by Adam and Eve to shift the blame, the bottom line was, as each of them confessed: “I ate.” Whatever circumstances led up to the unholy eating, whoever tempted them and joined them in their sinful action, did not matter. Each one ate of his or her own will. There was no one else to blame for their guilt. That is why they were filled with fear and shame.

When it comes to the question, “What do I do with my guilt?” It will do no good to try to hide it from God. It will do no good to make excuses and pass the blame. We may say we were shaped by our circumstances in life. We may say we were tempted by others around us. We may say the devil made us do it. But none of this changes the fact that we have sinned.

But what happens when, instead of hiding in dark shadows of denial and passing the blame, we come into the light of God truth? What happens when we confess our guilt exactly as it is before God? 1 John 1:7-9 tells us: If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Yes as we confess our sins to God in truth, we find that He does not treat us as we deserve. He is the God who loves us so much that He was willing to make the greatest sacrifice of His own Son; and by His blood sacrifice, He forgives all our sin and saves us from all guilt and condemnation.

3) Receive His forgiveness in Christ

That day as a boy, as I cowered in fear and guilt at the fire I had started, I was helpless to reverse the situation. But thankfully others came to the rescue. Here came an older brother, running to control the flames. My father called for help, and in minutes here came the firemen. As I watched, the fire was put out. The potentially devastating consequences were removed. And to be honest, I did not even get the punishment I deserved. My father was gracious.

Here in the presence of sinners who were helpless to change their guilty condition or do anything to save themselves from the fiery consequences, God Himself came to their rescue. The Father of all grace and mercy was sending help. He would send His Son as our Brother in the flesh, to put out the fire. He would do everything it took to save a world of fallen sinners. As Adam and Eve stood watching, God announced his gracious plan in the first Gospel promise: “The LORD God said to the serpent… ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.’ “

Now we know the rest of the story. In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, to destroy the works of the devil and redeem us all (1 John 3:8; Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus came to rescue us from the wages of sin, from eternal death and condemnation with the devil. He did so by His innocent sacrifice on the cross, where He took all our sin and guilt on Himself. Satan would strike Jesus’ heel in His suffering and death; but by His sacrifice for us, Jesus would crush the head of Satan and save us from his power. Satan cannot accuse us before God; for on the cross, God laid on His own Son the iniquity of us all. Jesus felt the devastating consequences of the fire we started. He suffered the burning wrath of God against all our sin and died the death caused by our guilt.

In Christ, God Himself has put out the fire. In Christ, God has taken away all our sin and guilt. Therefore, no more must we cower before Him in fear of punishment – for there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). And in Christ, God has taken away our all our shame. Therefore, no more must we hang our heads before Him feeling dirty and unlovable – for God has baptized us, cleansed us by the blood of His Son, and poured out His Holy Spirit on us; so He presents us holy and without blemish in His sight (Ephesians 5:26-27). In Christ, God has removed any claim Satan had on us; for through Baptism and faith, God has claimed us as His own children in Christ, and heirs of eternal life in His Kingdom and Glory.

When we find ourselves asking, “What should I do with my guilt?” the answer is simple. Don’t try to hide it. Confess it to God. And go forth in peace, knowing all your sins are forgiven in Christ. Go forth in joy, knowing that you are dearly loved by your gracious Father in heaven.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.