Guilt Defines Us
MARCH 30, 2016
The truth is that we are guilty. The problem is that we don’t understand the solution. Obedience grows in us through the grace and freedom of the gospel. Not the other way around. Guilt is a good thing. Guilt is not your enemy, but, rightly handled, it can be the beginning of a life of freedom.
How can you be godly and a sinner at the same time? Martin Luther called that Simul Justus et Peccator, and it means that we are righteous and a sinner at the same time. We have defined godliness in terms of purity when godliness should be defined in terms of repentance. The fact is, we don’t even know what repentance means. Cleaning up spilt milk is not repentance; cleaning it up is the result of repentance.
One of the Old Testament words for repentance means “to comfort.” The New Testament word means something that has gone on in your mind that eventually manifests itself in your life.
Repentance is when you look to the God of the universe and know who you are and who he is, and what you have done and what needs to be changed. That’s all. It is not changing. It is God’s methodology of change if he sees fit to change us, and he usually does. If repentance meant changing, I could never repent. There are things in my life that I simply can’t change. God knows it, and I know it. Radical and pervasive depravity is a part of my life on this earth. Repentance is, in effect, agreeing with God that there is no hope for us without Jesus.
One time when I was a pastor, a young leader in the youth ministry came into my study. I was reading a book and looked up. Sarah said, “I went to a Bible study last night and I learned some really good stuff. I learned that you can’t hug a stiff kid.” I said to her, “That’s a good illustration. I’ll use it sometime.” Then I went back to my reading, hoping she would leave. She just stood there. Finally, I asked, “What is it, Sarah?” She said, “I learned something else last night. I went to babysit after the Bible study for a two-year-old. He had played in the mud all day and was the dirtiest kid I have ever seen. I walked into his room and he lifted up his arms to be hugged. I found out that it’s easier to hug a dirty kid than it is to hug a stiff kid.” So true.
I’m not worried about your dirt. Jesus already took care of that on the cross. When Jesus said “It is finished,” it really was. He took your sin to the cross. And not only that, Paul talks a lot about what theologians call imputation. That means that he took your sin and gave you the goodness, the obedience, the perfection of Christ. Whenever you stand before God, you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Your sin is covered, but the stiffness (e.g., “I’ll do it my way,” “I am my own master,” “I’ll control this situation, thank you”) will kill you.
When you read Matthew 23 where Jesus said so many harsh things about the religious leaders— and they were the most genuinely righteous people around—he spoke to their stiffness. And not only that, the reason Jesus hung out with the prostitutes, the drunks, and the sinners (so much so that he was called one) was because he had trouble dealing with the stiffness of the good people. Sometimes God brings obedience and sanctification (obedience being harder and sanctification longer than most suppose), and he can do that more easily when stiffness isn’t the problem.
This is excerpted from Steve’s minibook, Feeling Guilty? Grace for Your Mistakes.