The joy of salvation cannot be separated from a sense of guilt. Only as we realize what we have been saved from can we begin to appreciate that to which we have been called.

One of the strange phenomena in the church today (and there are many) is the linking of a consciousness of guilt with an unhealthy Christian experience.

There are of course sick persons, a part of whose illness consists of a morbid feeling of guilt, which is one symptom of an afflicted mind. But this is not the subject here.

Rather I am writing of those who live with a radiant joy in their lives and on their faces—men and women who know their sins have been forgiven and who bask in Christ’s forgiving love.

David, guilty of adultery and murder, said, “My sin is ever before me,” but he did not stop them. He pled for forgiveness and had restored to him the joy of God’s salvation. It was this attitude of repentance and confession which made him a man after God’s own heart.

Contemporary preaching rarely goes further than to condemn men for sins against society; rare indeed is the sermon that condemns sin against a holy God.

A few years ago an outstanding evangelist held a meeting in a large southern city. The response was gratifying and the writer knows personally a number of individuals who made decisions for Christ at that time.

But all was not sweetness and light. The evangelist stated in the clearest biblical terms the fact of man’s sinfulness before God, the potentialities of the human heart for wickedness, and man’s only hope through faith in Christ’s atoning and redeeming work.

When these meetings were concluded a prominent minister publicly remarked that it would take ten years to eliminate the guilt complex that such preaching had brought to his community.

The fact that some of his parishioners had come face to face with their separation from God because of sin unrepented and unforgiven had apparently triggered his own animosity to the evangelist.

David, the psalmist and sweet singer of Israel, rejoiced in the Lord and extolled His mercies and loving kindness because he could look back on his sins and know they had been forgiven.

In Psalm 32 he speaks of the happiness of those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered, and he goes on to speak of the deadening effect of unconfessed sin: “When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away.… I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; then thou forgave the guilt of my sin.”

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We live in a time when culture and social graces are confused with Christianity; when a “decent life” precludes the necessity of facing up to our own sinfulness; in a time when the average church member seems to feel that in some measure he is doing God a favor by engaging in church activities.

The devotion of Peter and his fearless preaching of a gospel which he well knew could lead him to a martyr’s death stemmed in some degree from his memory of denying his Lord three times.

Church history is replete with the stories of saints who frequently referred to the pit from which they had been rescued by a loving God.

Why is there so little joy of salvation today? Christian joy should not stem from the hope of heaven one whit more than from a sense of sins forgiven.

That many Christians have no sense of joy is, in some instances, due to the temperament of the individual. But in the case of many, the problem is really that the enormity of sin and its eternal consequences have never been apprehended, nor has there ever dawned upon the heart a realization of the implications, both temporal and eternal, of the Son of God dying for those sins.

Inherent in the joy of salvation is a deep apprehension of the grace of God. It is grace all the way with no merit on our part. Yet for most of us there is the lurking feeling that we have done or are doing something to earn our own salvation and justify God’s loving us.

In past generations there may have been a tendency to preach sin and its dire consequences in too lurid detail. We say “may” because we are not sure sin can be depicted in a manner worse than it actually is.

But of this we are sure: there is much that is lacking in preaching today when it comes to the sins of the human heart. Our Lord says: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.”

There is little joy of salvation because too few admit the evil in their own hearts and therefore have no sense of cleansing and release.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and some others may inveigh against anything which produces a “guilt complex,” but an honest minister of the Gospel can only preach the love and mercy of God against the background of human sinfulness. To pat men on the back and tell them they are “not too bad” is contrary to the Scriptures and engender in the sinner a false sense of goodness and security.

A victim of cancer may be lulled into an unjustified state of optimism because some charlatan tells him his ailment is a minor one, amenable to palliative treatment; but another victim of malignancy can rejoice after his disease is accurately diagnosed and adequately treated.

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When the psalmist said, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,” he was affirming the privilege and obligation of the saved sinner to give glory to God.

When Christ told the healed demoniac “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee,” he was affirming the obligation of Christian witness. This individual knew of his wretched state and how Christ had changed it all. Little wonder that the story concludes, “And be departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him; and all men did marvel.”

The joy of one’s salvation is in itself a wonderful witness to others. This is a far cry from a “satanic sweetness” which tries to impress on others one’s own goodness. Rather it is a sense of sins forgiven and glory and praise rendered to the One who has forgiven.

Furthermore, out of such joy of one’s salvation comes a compassionate love for others who have never experienced forgiveness and release.

The “prison house of sin” is more than a poetic expression—it is a reality, and only those who have in some measure sensed its awfulness and found deliverance through Christ can either sense or express the joy of salvation.

The greatest joy to be had in this world is in the realm of the spiritual. It is joy centered in the Saviour and a sense of the sin from which he has saved us. Only then do we magnify the Lord with our lips and honor him with our lives.


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