I used to think that becoming a Christian eradicated guilt and shame…that once Jesus saved me and my sins were gone I was safe from the dread and fear of guilt. Unfortunately guilt seems to be as built into me as any other emotion.
I think that the reason that the Church has found it necessary to over preach grace is because we have just come out of a Church age that over preached judgment. To keep their congregations “under control”, pastors preached messages heavily laden with guilt. This type of manipulation spread to the family units and suddenly parents were controlling the behavior of their children who “ought to be ashamed”.
I grew up as one of these children. My behavior fell in line with my parents and with the church because honestly, I was scared to death that God would get me if it didn’t. My actions were often not based out of a heart of love, but rather a heart that cowered at the possibility of being in trouble. The overreaching feeling of what I was taught was that God was just waiting for a reason to send me to hell. Be careful little eyes what you see…ears what you hear…mouth what you say…feet where you go…cause the Father up above is standing over you with a baseball bat just waiting for an excuse to use it.
As a result, I developed absolutely no boundaries. Hi, my name is Candace…nice to meet you…let me be your door mat. When I read “love your neighbor as yourself”, I heard “never say ‘no’ to your neighbor”. And even after I had worn myself thin doing whatever I could (which usually never made a dent in the problem), I would go home, get off the phone, leave the conversation thinking that I should have done more, said more, given more, been more. Guilt plagued me and all the “yeses” in the world would not cure it.
As a result, I also developed an overloaded ministry schedule. If there was a need, I jumped to fill it. If somebody said, Christians don’t give enough, I emptied my pockets. If a pastor gave a lecture on morning quiet times, I dragged myself out of bed before the crack of dawn to develop a morning prayer habit (and let me tell you, Peter and I have a lot in common). If a missionary came to speak, I spent the next week just trying to function as guilt screamed “How can you live with yourself when so many people are dying?” Guilt plagued me and all the “works” in the world would not cure it.
It took a long time and a whole mess of Word to wake me up to the fact that guilt is a weapon used by the enemy to yield the Church ineffective.
I wrote a whole post on sin called “Sin: EXPOSED” that deals with the correct way to deal with the conviction and guilt that comes from sin. I am not talking about that guilt in this post. God uses guilt and conviction at times in our lives to draw our sin into the light so that we can repent and turn from the things that are destroying us. I am talking about living in guilt after Christ has set us free. I am talking about “I feel so guilty.” about everything even though I am following Christ. I am talking about a sense of guilt that follows us into every nook and cranny of our changed lives and says “You should…”, “You didn’t…”, “You aren’t good enough.”
Jesus did not live this way. He was not motivated by guilt. If He felt it, He didn’t give in to it in His actions and words. He wasn’t motivated by guilt because He was motivated by something far greater. “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” (John 12:49-50) Jesus was always motivated by the Father. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37) Jesus knew that His ministry opportunities came from the Father. “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) And He knew that sometimes, the Father was saying “no, this is not your calling.”
Paul also experienced this “no” of the Father during his ministry. “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia.” (Acts 16:6) How many modern day Christians would have judged Paul for this when He was only following the Holy Spirit? “What do you have against Asia, Paul?”
“Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:16) You came to this earth with a Kingdom plan attached to you. Sometimes following that plan means saying “no” to some things, so that you can say “yes” to the things you were created to do. Sometimes that plan means that you have done as much as you can for someone and it is time to leave them in God’s Hands so that you can minister effectively to someone else. Sometimes that plan mean that lost people will think you are crazy and Christians will think you are lost. Sometimes that plan means waiting for God-given opportunity when everything and everyone else is screaming “join my ministry”.
There are many ministers and writers out there that are contributing to a voice of guilt in the Church to try to get people to follow them into some very worthwhile causes. Some of these people have gone as far as to say that something is wrong with your relationship with the Lord if you aren’t developing the same heart for certain places and people that God has given them. Guilt is a motivator if we aren’t careful, but guilt will not be able to follow up that motivation with strength and endurance for the call. Only the Father can do that and He is the only Motivator that a Christian is commanded to follow. When we stand before God, we will only be accountable for our obedience to the Father, not how many lives we touched or saved…not how many children we adopted or rescued from slavery…not how many countries we visited for missions or humanitarian efforts…not even how many lost people we said the sinners prayer with or witnessed to. We don’t get to take a long list of good deeds to the throne. We only get to take our submitted heart. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:14). To be sure, some of us who have spent our entire lives in work for the Lord will stand right beside people who were saved right before their last breath.
I’d like to end with a VERY important portion of Scripture, because guilt has the power to render you useless to the Body of Christ and we NEED you. Because of the guilt that is passing through the Church, many are ineffective and many are being made to feel ineffective. The truth is that EVERY PART of the body is necessary for it to function. Instead of judging each other, we should be encouraging each other to walk in our God-given callings. The Kingdom of God is within us as a body and no one individual or calling is more important than another’s.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (I Corin 12:12-26)
No guilt in life. No fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me. Let’s bring back the body parts and banish the guilt.