Day 57: Wrestling with Guilt


BREAKING THE HARD HEARTED

Allow me to say something bold: its easy to sin if you don't intimately know God. Before knowing Christ, our hard hearts give into all kinds of sin and don't frankly care about the repercussions as long as it doesn't inconvenience us. We lose our conscious, having no guilt whatsoever. Paul even goes so far as to say that if there is no hope of salvation, we might as well revel in drunkenness and gluttony for we are doomed anyway (1 Corinthians 15:22). Without any hope, what option do we have but to harden our hearts and find any form of comfort, numbing ourselves to the pain and misery that eventually await us. Who cares about the repercussions if nothing matters?

But, when Jesus came in the flesh he ushered in eternal hope by conquering sin and death, becoming the first to rise from the dead and show that this life is more than it seems. His vulnerable love and unashamed hope shatter our presuppositions to find life on our own. We become aware of our ignorant revelry in things that promised false comfort, and instead turn to a hope that will not put us to shame. We gain understanding by the Holy Spirit of what is right and what is evil:

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity... - Ephesians 4:17-19

It is clear that we are called away from a life of sin once we come to know Christ. However, in spite of that calling, it can take time to truly rid ourselves of our old ways of looking for life. Although we hate the things that blinded us in the past and strive to do the good we know we ought to do, we can find it hard to change. Even Paul admits that he struggled with doing the things he despised instead of the things he knew were right.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. -Romans 7:15

What are we to do with our new-found awareness of the evil we can so easily find ourselves doing? Although Christ doesn't condone sin, he doesn't condemn us as long as we turn to Him for life. It is a priceless gift that he paid for in blood. Through Christ, we are aware of our shortcomings, but we know that we are not defined by them. However, this wasn't always the case...

THE ORIGINAL STANDARD

Before the coming of Christ, God provided the Levitical law by which people were judged. Most people know these laws as the Ten Commandments, however, the law goes far beyond this. The Pentateuch (or the first five books of the Bible) lay out the standard that the nation of Israel was expected to abide by so that they could remain God's chosen people. This was the Mosaic Covenant, that God would bless his people as long as they obeyed his commands: the Ten Commandments as well as some 600 other laws stated in The Pentateuch.

God's expectations were perfect, just as he is perfect, but the law exposed our sin without providing a way to righteousness. It is by this standard that we are condemned and worthy of death. Luckily for us, God planned to make a new covenant - one that would expose sin for what it was without condemning the sinner:

"This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." - Jeremiah 31:33-34

Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath towards sin, becoming the guarantor of the new covenant. We no longer sin in ignorance - Jesus has written the law on our hearts through his acts of love and sacrifice. By his sacrifice, we are broken-hearted to know what lengths God will go to in order to free us from hopelessness and the grip of sin. In our humility, we turn away from the things that lead to death and turn rather, to Christ.

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THE POWER OF A CONTRITE HEART

If, however, we continue on in our sin using the grace of God to justify our evil acts, we stubbornly refuse to be changed and forfeit the redemption of the cross. People who live in such a way love to look good on the exterior - it seems nobody can get to them. Whereas those who are contrite in heart stumble along wrestling with the weight of their actions, and they may be vulnerable to the judgement of others. To these people, their guilt only goes to show how much stronger the redeeming work of Jesus is.

There are some who will go to extreme lengths, even doing "good" in order to justify themselves, yet they are still excluded from the Kingdom of God. What is it about their lifestyle that warrants condemnation? That my friend is a trick question, for it is not their acts or works that hold sway, but it is the fact that their hearts that are far from God.

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Lets look at an illustration of two men that prayed to God:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” -Luke 18:9-14

What was the difference between these two men? Their hearts were in two significantly different places. Tax collectors were unpopular in this day (they basically stole money from the citizens). This is why Christ chose them in this illustration . Even the most revolted person on the outside is justified before God if their heart is right.

So what is it about this that relates back to us? When we feel dashed and hopeless by the wrongdoing in our lives, we now have the saving power of Jesus that turns our guilt into gladness! Rather than the Pharisee who attempts to justify himself, our guilt reminds us that there is nothing we can do to be righteous before God other than to seek his mercy - which he gladly gives to those who ask. As those who turn to Christ, our guilt doesn't reveal us to be wrongdoers, but recipients of God's gift of redemption.

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

The point of this lesson is not to condone sin, for Christ called us to turn away from our sin in following him:

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It is clear that we are called away from a life of sin once we come to know Christ. That isn’t to say that we won’t struggle in our journey to know him deeper. It took me many years to find true freedom. Most of my struggle was a result of misunderstanding the freedom that I already had from the law (the law defines sin):

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” -Romans 7:7

Day 57 Application