The good news is not that we won’t die, we will. The good news is that death does not have to be the final word. We will all die, but in choosing to ‘die to self’ in this life, we become alive in Christ. In believing in Jesus we are raised to new life. The death of our body is no longer the defining moment, no longer the end-point of our existence.
Similarly, with guilt and condemnation. The good news is not that we will never have to feel guilty or condemned, we will. If we hurt someone, if we let them down, speak badly about them, lie to them, abuse them in some way, then we should feel guilty. What we did was wrong and if we have any goodness in us, our conscience will condemn our actions. And rightly so. The good news is that these do not have to be the banner that is written over our life.
I’m not talking about things we feel guilty about but for which we have no responsibility. The enemy loves to weigh us down with guilt and condemnation that is not deserved and sometimes we receive the burden rather than rebuking the enemy and brushing ourselves down. I’m talking about those times when we know we got it wrong, when we absolutely were the cause of the problem, the pain, the hurt. Times when we rightly feel the weight of guilt, because we are guilty.
The good news is that the agony of these feelings no longer has to define us or control us. Because of Christ’s work there is a means of forgiveness. A means by which we can be forgiven by God and by which others can forgive us. We can confess our sin and repent of it – to God and to those who we have hurt. We can offer restitution and we can be forgiven and set free.
At the risk of making us feel guilty, I wonder though, if we have become too keen to absolve ourselves and others of these painful feelings, quoting “There is now, no condemnation….” but applying it too quickly, short-cutting the process by which we receive that freedom.
I don’t believe that the Gospel is a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It doesn’t give us a licence to behave selfishly without facing the consequences, it doesn’t mean we can do wrong, press the ‘I am saved’ button and have our painful feelings of guilt and condemnation removed without due process.
Being forgiven for what we have deeply felt and owned – all of the responsibility, the grief, the horror, the guilt, the right condemnation, is a transformational experience. Forgiveness received in this way isn’t on the glib basis of “it’s alright, it doesn’t matter”, or a trite response to a favourite verse. It isn’t an analgesic to hide the pain without dealing with the cause. It is a true and deep cleansing, won at immense cost.
And knowing that does two things. It builds a barrier to us doing the same again and it deepens the love we have for those who have so graciously and expensively, forgiven us. Then, and only then, can we experience the wonder of guilt removed and condemnation replaced with acceptance and renewed relationship.