Guilt & Gumption

I am the guilty type. When I was a kid and the teacher asked who had stolen something, I immediately felt red faced and obvious, on the edge of my seat in sure anticipation of her finger pointing right at me. I’ve never stolen anything in my life; I’m just the guilty type.

It doesn’t take much to flush my face and make me squirm so that even when I read the Bible, my natural inclination is to get scared. I tend to think I need to work harder to please God. And I’ve realized a few things about guilty types like me: 1)  We don’t fully understand how much God loves us, 2)  We don’t fully understand the nature of God, and 3)  We don’t fully trust God.

Guilty Observation #1: Guilt isn’t a feeling; it’s a condition.

Let’s start by separating guilt from “feeling guilty.” Forensically, we’re all guilty before the Lord. So realizing over and over again that we are guilty shouldn’t be such a great surprise. Feeling guilty and being guilty are different things. But both have a cure.

Guilty Observation #2: Acknowledging guilt should draw us to God.

I quote Jeremiah:

Only acknowledge your guilt—
you have rebelled against the LORD your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
under every spreading tree,
and have not obeyed me,’ ”
declares the LORD.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion.

We’re not to wallow in our guilt but bring it to God’s altar. We are to be honest and teachable. We are to return to God and know that he promises good things.

Guilty Observation #3: We are to stand guilty before the Lord with gumption.

We’ve got to have some gumption when it comes to how we view our God and his willingness to receive and restore us. We are told to be confident that our God is gracious and faithful to forgive and cleanse us. In fact, the worst thing we can do in our guilt is to shrink back and be faithless. I got that in Hebrews:

Since we have confidence… Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience…In just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Guilty Observation #4: Guilt should remind us to fix our eyes on Jesus.

I guess that living with guilt is just a fact of life. We were guilty when our red faced naked selves entered this world all covered with blood and amniotic water. But that’s only half the story. The other half of the story is that our guilt doesn’t condemn us, thanks to faith in a good and gracious God. When, aware of our guilt, we come naked to the altar of God, he covers us with the blood of Christ, and he washes us not in the amniotic waters of our first birth but in the cleansing waters of baptism. Then he calls us something new. He calls us Righteous, and we are guilty no more. So whether we feel guilty or not isn’t really as important as knowing that we are guilty on the one hand; and on the other, we are not condemned, thanks to Jesus. If guilt has a role, it is to remind us that we need Jesus, like the writer of Hebrews tried to remind us:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame [emphasis mine], and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

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