That has to be one of the most earth-shattering words that could ever be directed at a person – especially when it is spoken by a judge. We can almost see the defendant slump down as his or her family break out in tears. This is magnified all the more when the guilty verdict results in the death penalty.
“Guilty” is the verdict that rang down on all of mankind from no less a judge than God himself. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10) As the footnote in the LDS edition of the Bible correctly states, “offend” means to stumble or err. The breaking of the law in consideration is not an intentional, but an unintentional one. It is a stumble, a mistake. But that makes no difference. The verdict is just as devastating. Guilty! “Guilty of all”. You stumble at just one point – you break it all. God’s commandments are a unified whole. It only takes one pinprick to burst a balloon. It only takes one sin to break the whole law.
And it doesn’t make any difference how much good a person did before or after – the verdict “guilty” remains. He could have been the model citizen before and the model prisoner afterwards but he remains guilty.
But what makes matters even more sobering is the realization that James is talking hypothetically. There has been no person who just erred once. Reality is that we stumble and err regularly. There are so many good things we fail to do – so many sinful thoughts, words, and actions that we end up doing. No matter how hard we try, all we can do is dig ourselves into a deeper hole. This contrast: “offend in one point – guilty of all” makes for an airtight case. If a person’s obedience isn’t perfect – if there is just one slip – he is guilty – guilty of all.
That’s why I am so thankful that Jesus took all my guilt and became guilty in my place – and served my sentence. That is why I am so thankful that Jesus was perfectly obedient and God credited that perfect obedience to me. That is why, when I think of living eternally with heavenly Father the only work that I base that on is his work for me. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”