guilt·y /ˈɡiltē/ adjective
culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing.
I lit a canyon fire at age 8, guilty of arson. I began watching porn when I was 9 and began rounding the sexual bases shortly thereafter, guilty of lust and adultery. In my teen years I painted a life of theft, drug abuse, violence, lies, sex, rage, and self-righteousness. That’s just the tip of the guilt-berg my life has amassed.
The first time I read Matthew 5 I was crushed. Matthew was the first book of the Bible I ever read. According to the words of Jesus my heart had the seeds of murder, adultery, greed, lies, and self righteousness taking root and wreaking havoc on the foundation of my soul. I still read these chapters wondering who in the world could measure up to this lofty standard, then the verse comes, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfect!? How could I ever be perfect? I am guilty of so much.
I have met many Christians who read this and think, “Ok, I’ll strive for perfection.” That’s not me. I read this verse and the thought that eeks through my mind is one of expletive despair. I may be able to fool others and lie to myself to some extent, but I know the beast that dwells in the basement of my heart. He is a deceitful wretch who continually fights to make life all about me, my control, my pleasure, my power, my self sufficiency. That’s the point Jesus was trying to make! You and I are not enough on our own. You can’t do enough. You can’t be enough. You are not able to meet the standard because the standard is perfection, whelp. The sermon on the mount, Matthew 5-7, is not meant to teach you principles to better manage your anger, lust, lies, self righteousness, or other heart issues. The sermon on the mount is meant to drive you to despair that your guilt before God is so massive that you need external intervention.
Years ago I spoke with a person who thought I overemphasized God’s grace in my sermons. We spoke for over an hour about sin, the law, faith, and salvation by grace alone in faith in Jesus alone. I explained that there was nothing he could do to earn God’s love or be adopted into God’s family. The only way to be perfect to die to your sin-self in Christ so that you can live in Christ’s perfection upon death. (Rom 6:8). At the end of our conversation he said, “Grace won’t help me be a better Christian, I need more of God’s law. The Bible says I have to be perfect.”
Think about that.
It’s true. He has to be perfect. Unfortunately, he thought he could reach perfection through moral obedience. The Bible is crystal clear, you aren’t good enough. You don’t even have the capacity to be good enough on your own (Rom 3:10-11). We are all guilty, but this doesn’t stop people from trying to manage their guilt through a variety of means.
We all have a preferred guilt management system.
Some use the bell curve of human behavior to manage their sense of guilt. “Well, I’m not as bad as _______,’ or, “I’m better than ______.”
Some seek absolution from guilt in religion. “If I’m good enough, God will accept me… love me… save me…”
Others simply stuff down guilt and shame like a bubbling poison in a witch’s cauldron. I have not found any of these methods to provide lasting transformation. Only when I throw myself on the mercies of God in Jesus have I ever seen lasting change. The law is not bad, in fact, it shows us the level of good that God intended at creation. The law of God shows us how the universe was hardwired. Our sin is simply a short circuiting of God’s hardwiring. If we could perfectly obey we would not need a savior, but we can’t.
The guilt management system I chose is a relationship with Jesus. Where I continually fall upon his grace. I am guilty. He is not. He made a cosmic path where my guilt and shame can be put to death on his cross. All that is required is that I believe in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus as the substitute payment for my waywardness.
What does this look like?
When I sin I thank God that Jesus had such a love for me that he would go to the cross where his perfection was punished for my brokenness. When I fall short as a man, husband, father, pastor, or friend, I run to the cross. Over and over again. Daily, hourly, minute by minute. I speak with my heavenly Father with constant gratitude. I trust him to lead me. I don’t just lean on him, I ask him to carry me. Like a child who has yet to walk, I grasp onto my Father’s arms and cling to him as often as I know how. This is what I have meant in the past when I said, “Read your Bible and pray.” I’ve just found that particular phrase isn’t heard the same way I feel it.
I understand this is hard for some. Jesus said, “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” I want you to have a deeply loving relationship with God. Take every sin, every wrong, every guilt, every shame, every broken part of you and walk to the cross. Let it all die there and receive the eternal forgiveness that is the fuel for loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.