How does the gospel address both guilt and shame?

Some church leaders today argue that the gospel addresses shame rather than guilt. Or they say that shame is a more primary category in Scripture and that we should de-emphasize the idea of guilt when we share the gospel.

Broadly speaking, we can define guilt as the objective state of having committed a crime against God and having incurred his judicial displeasure. Shame, on the other hand, is both (i) a subjective sense of defilement and remorse over a wrong committed as well as (ii) a broken relationship with God and neighbor. Does the gospel address both? Does it speak to one more than the other?

  1. The gospel addresses our guilt. We’ve sinned against God’s law and God demands a penalty (Heb. 2:2). The good news of the gospel is that Christ has paid that penalty (Heb. 9:15).
  2. The gospel also takes care of our shame in both senses. With the judicial problem solved, our relationship to God and to others can be restored and our subjective sense of remorse can be replaced by joy and gratitude (Col. 1:21-22; Rom. 5:1-5).
  3. Those who claim that conceptions of guilt are rooted in either medieval or modern Western legal categories and are foreign to the Bible are simply wrong. From beginning to end, in the Old Testament and the New, God has given us an inviolable law and breaking that law always leads to the penalty of death—unless there is a mediator.
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