Lent Makes Me Feel Guilty
FEBRUARY 12, 2018
I feel guilty a lot but more so during Lent.
Over the past few years, several of our staff people have done a liquid fast for Lent. They didn’t talk about it a lot or make a big deal out of it. They certainly weren’t trying to make me feel guilty. It’s just that one couldn’t help but notice as they wasted away.
Well, for Lent this year I’ve made a decision. I’m not making a sacrifice. I’m not giving up anything.
So here I sit—fat, happy and…uh…guilty.
Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.
Romans 8:1-2 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
If that is true (and it is), if the blood of Christ is sufficient for all my sins (and it is…all of them) and if the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to my account (and it has), then why do I feel guilty?
There is always the possibility that I feel guilty simply because I am.
Psychiatrist: “Do you know why you have an inferiority complex?” Client: “No.” Psychiatrist: “Because you’re inferior.”
There is a kind of healthy guilt that recognizes sin. The guilt becomes the very thing that solicits God’s grace and results in great joy. Paul said in Romans 5:20, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Grace is attracted to sin. To be honest (and don’t quote me out of context), there are times when I’m grateful for my sin because it’s the very thing that drives me to Christ, and in his presence I’m accepted, loved and forgiven.
One of our staff members couldn’t make it through the Lenten fast. After about two weeks, she went to dinner with some friends and couldn’t help but reach for the food. Talk about guilt. “Better,” she said then, “to not make the promise than to make it and break it.”
Maybe that’s true but probably not. In fact, she experienced more grace that Lent, the other staff members loved her more, and she understood grace even more profoundly than those who managed to stay away from the donuts.
One of the reasons I grieve for folks who insist on their own goodness is that they miss so much. It’s not their sin that is sad; it’s their stiffness. Once you start calling something right that God says is wrong—gluttony, sexual sin, arrogance, bitterness, lack of compassion, self-righteousness, etc.—you burn the bridge that leads to a God who will “hug” you. I’m not into throwing rocks here…just pointing out that if you have a Father who loves you without reservation, it’s no problem to run to him when you failed to do what he said to do or did what he warned you against. God really isn’t angry with his own.
But fasting at Lent isn’t one of the Big Ten, okay? In fact, I can’t find anything in the Bible that condemns me for not fasting at Lent.
So why in the world do I feel so guilty?
I’ve got it…
I feel guilty because I’ve been trying to measure myself by looking at others instead of at Christ. Paul said something in Romans 14:3-4 so relevant to this subject: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?”
Now I have something to repent of…looking at other people and measuring myself by what they do or in this case, don’t do (i.e. eating). Frankly, I’m better than some of you and probably worse than most of you. Doesn’t matter.
Besides that, it’s irrelevant.
I don’t know your story, your struggles or your pain. I don’t know what temptations you face or how often you have stood against the temptation before you fell. And you don’t know that about me. Very, very pure people may just be phonies faking their goodness. And very, very sinful people may be pleasing God more than the preacher. We just don’t know.
And I’m not your mother and you’re not mine.
I wish I could be as smart as R.C. Sproul, as happy as Joel Osteen and as faithful as John McArthur, and find as much enjoyment in God as John Piper. But then, I’m glad I’m not as debauched as some folks in Hollywood, as dishonest as some politicians, and as greedy as some of the folks on Wall Street.
Do you know what God says?
Stop it. Just stop it!
I have and now you will love me.
Stop that too.
In 1521, Martin Luther wrote a letter to his colleague, Melanchthon. He drove Luther nuts because he was so good. (I’ll bet Melanchthon fasted at Lent too.) One time Luther told Melanchthon to just go out and sin so he would have something to repent of.
At any rate, this is what Luther wrote to him: “If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells…Pray boldly. You too are a mighty sinner.”
It’s about him. It’s about his grace. It’s not about anybody else.
There. Now I feel better.
All kidding aside, I’m proud of those Key Life staff members who fasted. God has given me such beloved and gifted friends. They bless me with their love for God.
But I was proud of them before they fasted.
Believe it or not, that’s how God feels about me. And he feels that way about you too.