From Guilt to Grace, and on to Gratitude

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I grew up in a church that taught a fear of God’s wrath was the most effective way to keep us sinners on “the straight and narrow” road to salvation and relationship with God.  I even recall being told that, “If you don’t feel guilty, the devil must really have you”.

Thankfully, I never bought into such thinking.  Somehow-I suspect by God’s grace-it made little sense to me that His way of drawing us closer to Him would be to keep us frightened and feeling guilty. Such an approach I reasoned might help steer us clear of our sinful ways, but surely, it would not do much to build a relationship with Him.

Some years later, my childhood belief in a God who was not out to condemn us but rather, to redeem us, was clarified and verified by the New Testament account of two  bungling followers of Christ.

In the gospels we are given the very painful and dramatic description of Christ’s death on the cross.  In the very midst of His crucifixion, Peter, Christ’s otherwise faithful follower, was not only a witness to Christ’s death first hand, but was at that very moment, denying that he ever knew Him. Clearly, Peter had sinned, and he was guilty.

In the same general area of the cross was Judas who just hours before had betrayed Christ by pointing Him out to the Pharisees.  Like Peter he was a disciple of Christ. And like Peter, he too had sinned and was guilty.

It is natural for most of us 21st century sinners to identify most with Peter since we are all guilty of denying Christ each time we sin, and like Peter we are deserving of death. Judas on the other hand, actually betrayed Christ-a sin that most of us find more difficult to identify with. Since we can all relate to Peter’s sin more than we can to Judas and his outright betrayal of Christ, the common inference is that Judas was the most egregious sinner of the two,  and even less worthy of redemption than was Peter.

From this episode in the life of Christ, I am struck less by the distinction between the two sins of denial and betrayal, and more by the dramatic differences that can be seen in the response of the two sinners to their sin. Both Peter and Judas sinned and had as a result, “fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).  But it is the difference in their responses to Christ’s offer of forgiveness that brought me back to my childhood recollection where I was told that feeling guilty and fearful would keep me from sinning.

Both Peter and Judas realized they had sinned; “Peter wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75 NIV), while Judas was, “seized with remorse and declared, ‘I have sinned’” (Matthew 27:3-9 NIV). Both were apparently aware too that they were deserving of punishment.  But it is at this juncture that the two part ways.

Somehow-I suspect by God’s grace-it made little sense to me that His way of drawing us closer to Him would be to keep us frightened and feeling guilty.

Peter followed a path from guilt into the process of conviction where he confessed, and then accepted Christ’s sacrifice and unconditional grace as sufficient. He then was free to move on to a life motivated by gratitude.

Judas chose to remain in his state of guilt rather than to move on to conviction and grace- a process that like Peter, would have led him away from destruction, and on to a life motivated by gratitude.

So we all have a choice to make in response to our daily sins:

Will we follow Peter’s example of conviction where his gratitude for the gift of undeserved forgiveness motivated him to move on to a life of serving Christ?

Or will we take the fear and self defeating route, refusing as Judas did to accept the sufficiency of Christ’s unconditional gift of forgiveness?

Fortunately, the vast majority of us do not choose suicide as did Judas.  But too often we do choose to sabotage relationships, undermine success, and to defeat ourselves in a myriad of ways that while not as extreme, are self defeating nonetheless-all in our futile effort to augment Christ’s unconditional sacrifice and gift of forgiveness.

So what will it be? A life held captive by guilt and self defeat, or one motivated by gratitude and the desire to serve?  The choice is ours.

Prayer: Lord, grant me the faith to accept the absolute and unconditional forgiveness you offer.  Then give me the courage to live my life as a gift and tribute to you.

May I choose freedom through your grace rather than condemnation because of my guilt.


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