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Joy Despite Guilt

Joy Despite Guilt

December 9, 2019 | Jordan Howell

Guilt: a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation; the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.

Who would’ve thought that in an Advent series, a time of great anticipation and Christmas cheer, that we would be talking about guilt? I know that I didn’t. And with the topic of JOY at-hand, I would not have initially run to put guilt and joy in the same sentence. Because, come on, what do these have in common?

This week, Michael dug into Nehemiah 8, discussing this incredible paradox, posing the question, “Is joy possible despite guilt?” If you would have asked me this a mere 7 years ago, I could have boldly and bluntly told you, “No.” Guilt was no stranger to me; in fact, it was part of my identity. I desired to be a good son, but I partied on the weekends behind my parents’ backs — guilty. I desired to be a good student, but I cared more about popularity and being the class clown — guilty. I desired to be in a relationship, but I struggled with purity behind closed doors — guilty. I called myself a Christian, but I did not follow Jesus — guilty.

Surely I had faith at that time. We all have faith. But the problem was, my faith was in myself. As I focused on my ability to measure up, I continued to fall short and feel the weight of failure. To me, God was at arms-length, disappointed, appalled at my erratic behavior. He wanted nothing to do with me. I was too much of a mess for Him to take care of.

“But God,”  the greatest short phrase in all of humanity; He made a way for me in Christ. Growing up in church I had heard the gospel, but I had never understood it until that cold winter evening. Being a Christian was no longer a title to display my moralism or a goal to strive for. No. I was able to identify as a Christian because of a blood-bought identity. My strength was no longer my god; my God was my strength.

Maybe this resonates with you. You have worked really hard and tried to climb the Mt. Everest of measuring up, yet you have come up short. Let me plead with you — submit to Jesus and His finished work on the cross. God knew you couldn’t measure up, and that is exactly why He sent his one and only son. You are saved by grace through faith. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)!

However, maybe the narrative you’re wrestling with today is the one I continue to fight against. Like God’s people in Nehemiah 8, you’re wallowing in self-pity, unable to comprehend how you would continue to resist and sin against a God so worthy to be praised. Jesus has changed your life, yet you are prone to wander away from His helping and healing hands. You have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, yet as you open the Word of God, you see your rebellion. You begin to listen to the enemy’s lies… “How could you do that and call yourself a Christian?” “God is so upset with you right now; He cannot believe your thoughts and actions!” Your untimely lamentation begins to spoil your celebration.

I have recently been comforted and affirmed by the promise held in Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Christian, God is not caught off guard or surprised by your sin. He knew you would look at that image. He knew you would gossip about that family member. He knew you would build a false idol in financial security. And that is exactly why He sent Jesus. You are in need of a Savior.

As we mature in our faith walk, we begin to see our sin and our Savior in proper perspective. As Michael said, “When you maximize your sin, you maximize your Savior.” As we grow in Christ, we don’t actually sin more; the reality of our sin simply becomes more clear and apparent in our lives. We see God as increasingly holy, and we see the vast depth of our own brokenness. This creates a greater divide for Jesus’s work on the cross to bridge. It magnifies the good news of the gospel, propelling us forward to lovingly follow Jesus.

I am humbled by Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15, in which he says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” No need to compare to others — I am the greatest sinner I know, and the appropriate temporary response is to sit in my guilt. I must feel conviction and confess to God. However, I must turn my eyes to Christ Jesus, who came into the world to save me. As Michael taught us yesterday, “Sustained guilt stifles joy by focusing on ourselves rather than our Savior.” My self-centered guilt must cease to exist, as I move into Savior-centered worship. 

Mercy is not getting what you deserve — the guilty verdict, separating you from God and making you subject to His punishment. Grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve — abundant life with God in Christ, set free from the weight of sin and death. As Spurgeon said, “You are a great sinner, but he is a greater Savior.” This is good news of great joy!

As you wrestle with the message this week, join me in answering the following questions:

Do I desire the Word of God? When I am entering into quiet time with God, am I reading just to read or to understand more of who He is?

What is my approach to God’s Word— am I apathetic or in awe?

When was the last time your guilt drove you to your knees? What do you need to confess to God?

Practice confessing to a trusted friend and follower of Jesus who can remind you of your identity in Christ. You are not your sin!

Is your faith self-centered or Savior-centered? How can I actively fight against the prolonging of my guilt this week?

Memorize a truth from the Bible that reminds you of your true identity in Christ.

Jordan Howell

College Ministry Pastor