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I wish I had a dime for every person in the past 35 years who confided in me something like this: “I feel God is punishing me for….”
Unfortunately, dragging around a conviction that you’re condemned and that God is directing wrath at you looks nearly legitimate complaint when I look at their lives, especially when they hit middle-age. By then their anger or self-pity has pretty much encased them in bad habits. C.S. Lewis has a good word on guilt and condemnation:
“If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
When challenged no one can ever come up with a Christian scripture to support his feeling that God’s punishing him. I suggest that your feelings regarding this don’t matter–take your feelings to the blackjack table. (We all know how that works out.)
Not only is this toxic guilt not Christian doctrine at all but it also is contrary to God’s will for people: this mindset is a kind of cage. People quit growing as Christians when they spend their time looking over their shoulder, waiting for the boom to fall, or for God to boot up them to the ‘next level.’
Christian maturity is something I can do only as I look forward, and walk forward. But people who nest in toxic guilt are too afraid to try new things for fear of failure. Not only has Christ has set them free from the law of sin and death, Christ has set free them from unreasonable fears. Not from the emotion of fear or even of reasonable fear, but from the quirky, guilt-laden fear.
But why–why would Christ ask us to live in freedom? I think it should be enough to say that we’re not automatons and He knows that. Guilt hurts–it’s painful–it’s deadening. It’s because of His love for us that He would not want us to live this way.
There might be a side benefit, too. I think it has something to do with living out His kingdom in this world. For with Christ’s freedom from guilt, we have freedom to do, and a kind of permission to fail-and learn from failure (though I find, it often takes more than one time to figure out why I fail at something!).
Perhaps you wonder if this is really a Christian way to think (I know we don’t get this picture painted too often). I am sure it is. Biblically we’re freed to love-to love people, not our possessions. Loving requires all kinds of talents and all kinds of works. Paul calls it being “formed” as a Christian, in Christ’s image (Colossians). I’ll let Paul spell it out here, where he reminded the new churches about their freedom and its pertinence to Christian maturity:
“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand!…When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience? This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place. And please don’t toss this off as insignificant. It only takes a minute amount of yeast, you know, to permeate an entire loaf of bread. … It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.”
Galatians 5:1-15 The Message (paraphrase), portions