Fire fascinated me when I was young, and our wood stove provided ample opportunity to stoke my interest. I enjoyed waking before the rest of my family to start the fire in the morning. I often put a glass door on the stove when I started the fire. I loved the dancing flames and the intense warmth on a winter day. Because I had the fire burning very hot one morning, I needed to replace the glass door with a metal one. As I removed the hot door by its handles, it shifted in my hands and burned my arm causing me to drop the door on our new carpet. I immediately retrieved the door, but the damage had already been done. Thus, began one of the longest days of my life. Mom made me wait all day for Dad to return from work to deal with me. I felt horrible, and I could only imagine what Dad would do. To my surprise, Dad did not punish me. The greater surprise is this: I felt cheated. I deserved to be punished. I felt I needed to be punished in order to reconcile my guilt.
Guilt is a natural emotion. We all do things we regret. We say and do things that hurt others, and guilt motivates us to desire reconciliation. People respond to guilt in different ways. One response is self-punishment. Forms of self-punishment include self-denial, deprivation, and mutilation. Other people attempt to redeem their sin through good works such as community service, church work, or financial generosity. There are even some religions which require different forms of self-punishment for a person to receive a pardoning from their sin.
Our guilt is real. We are all sinners in need of reconciliation with God. It is a good thing for us to seek freedom from our guilt, but self-punishment is not the answer. The cost of our redemption is beyond our personal resources. This is why Jesus came to earth. He paid a debt He did not owe, and He offers redemption to those who will simply believe. Romans 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Self-punishment may or may not make us feel better about ourselves, but it does not cover the cost of our sin. Salvation is only obtained through believing faith in Jesus.
He paid a debt He did not owe;
I owed a debt I could not pay;
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And, now, I sing a brand new song,
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.
- Anonymous hymn