Guilt is Not A Fruit of the Spirit

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
(Psalm 119:10–11)

“The road to godliness is one of discipline, and discipline doesn’t come naturally to most.”
Bill Hull, Choose the Life

One of the great goals of the Christian life is that we are to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom 8:29), that we would “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:15), to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18.  This growth in the likeness of Christ is only possible by the inward working power of God’s Holy Spirit, but the Spirit uses and supplies many spiritual graces, helps for our life of faith and maturity in Christ.

These graces, or Spiritual Disciplines, are vast.  We have the opportunity to come together as a congregation for worship and prayer. We have the signs of grace in the sacraments to aid us in our walk with the Lord. We are all literate people, and have the advantage of mass-produced copies of God’s word: every home has multiple copies of the Bible, and now you can have the Scriptures on your Smart-Phone, tablet, and mp3 player. There are endless opportunities for service, prayer, giving.  All of these are gifts given from God as disciplines intended to help you mature in your faith and understanding, as you grow in love for God and one another, and are transformed in the likeness of Christ.

The road to godliness is one of discipline, using the means of grace that have been given for our growth and strength.  We are to daily take up our cross, to die unto ourselves and to live unto Christ. The problem is, like diet and exercise, for most of us, discipline does not come naturally.  We want to be like Christ, and we love the idea of worshipping regularly, of reading the Bible daily, of serving more readily. But when it comes to actually doing it, the demands of work and family come crashing in. I’d go and visit my neighbor, but I don’t know what to say, and my favorite TV show is about to come on, so maybe tomorrow…

We have good intentions when it comes to Spiritual Discipline, but the implementation is difficult.  Add to that the fact that our enemy doesn’t want you to be disciplined and to grow in grace.  Satan would rather have you “spiritually soft” and undisciplined, stewing in the regrets of unfulfilled commitments, struggling with the doubts of despairs of an undisciplined heart and mind.

Friends, the purpose of taking on Spiritual Disciplines like daily reading scripture, prayer, fasting, service, etc, is not to make you feel guilty about the times when you neglect the spiritual disciplines.  The purpose is to make you more like Christ, to lead you away from reliance upon yourself – your own wisdom, strength, and even tenacity – and turn ever more to the perfect wisdom, the perfect strength, the perfect faithfulness of God.

Rest assured, the disciplines are hard work, they take time, and we will all, at one point or another, fail in our efforts to be disciples.  The original 12 disciples often failed in their discipleship. But the point was, they kept following.  When many would be followers of Jesus left Him because of some very difficult teaching, He turned to the 12 and said, “Will you leave me too?” Peter replied, “Where else shall we go to find the words of life?”

If you made a plan to read a chapter of the Bible every day, and then one day wake up and realize it’s been a week since you’ve last read, don’t be overcome by guilt and shame and just give up altogether. Turn to Jesus, admit your lack of discipline, then pick up and read. Seek His grace today. Sit at His feet and learn from His word.

If you want to grow in prayer but struggle to pray, then plead with God would put a passion for prayer in your heart. The desire to pray is a prayer in and of itself. Don’t despair that you cannot go more than two minutes in prayer without your mind wandering. Pray through the wanderings, then come back to prayer in praise.

I will say it again: Guilt is not a fruit of the Spirit. Discouragement is never the product of close communion with Christ.  Do not despair if you are not where you want to be.  Keep putting yourself in the place where growth will occur. Stop dwelling on the things you haven’t done, or you struggle to maintain some self-imposed standard. Rest in the grace of God, trust in His steadfast love, keep running back to the nail-pierced hands of Christ who died for your disbelief and rose for your righteousness.

SDG

He Came for our Shame

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
(Genesis 2:25)

I seem to be raising an exhibitionist.  I want to protect his identity, so I won’t reveal which child, but one of my little boys (under 7) apparently has no sense of shame.  He’ll run through the house naked, having “forgotten” to bring his clean pajamas and underwear down for after his shower, never giving a second thought to his, ahem… current state of affairs.  I’m praying, hoping, that someday here soon he will develop a sense of modesty and dignity – we’ll see.

I only mention this because I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the story of the fall.  We read in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we are told that their “eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”  The next thing we know, Adam and Eve are sewing fig leaves together, hiding from the sound of the Lord walking in the garden.  They hid in fear, for they knew they had disobeyed God, and they knew the consequence of such disobedience: death.  They made loincloths to cover their shame, a shame they did not know up to that point.

Where did this sense of shame come from?  They were naked before and knew no shame.  God created them, male and female, and God called His creation good.  Why they are they ashamed of their bodies?  Was there some physical change that suddenly made them shameful?  Did the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil add 50 pounds, fast?  If that were the case, then all we would need to do to lose this shame is return to the ideal physical form, whatever that may be.  While I could stand to lose a few pounds, I don’t think that will take away my shame before God.  So what were they ashamed of?

Donald Barnhouse writes in his commentary on Genesis, “It was not skin nakedness that they discovered, but the nakedness of their dead souls… When sin came there was nothing left of righteousness and they were naked indeed.  We must not think of this as a change from blissful innocence of nakedness to a conscious knowledge of it, but from glory to nudity.”

Their shame came from the loss of glory, and while they had always been physically naked, now there was a spiritual nakedness, too.  This was not an embarrassment over a lack of clothing.  It came from deep within, from a fear of exposure, of being really seen, known as a sinner, a rebel from the ways of God.  I think this is a shame we all share.  We know our sins, they are ever before us.  While it would be humiliating to be exposed physically before others, to have my soul laid bare before God and man is truly terrifying.

D.A. Carson writes in The God who was There, “You cannot hide moral shame with fig leaves… You cannot undo the loss of innocence. It cannot be undone.  We cover ourselves in shame.  There is no way back to innocence.  In the Bible, there is only a way forward – to the cross.”

You see, even in the fall we have a glimpse of the Gospel.  God provides a cover for Adam and Eve’s sin and shame with garments of skin (Gen 3:21), presumably that of a lamb.  The first sacrifice for our sins was made by God.  And the final, perfect, sacrifice for our sins, to finally remove the guilt and shame, would also be made by God.

John tells us that in Christ, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  That very thing which brings us shame, the flesh, the body, Christ took upon Himself so that He could take our shame away.  1 Peter 2 says, “He has borne our sins in His body upon the cross.”  Isaiah 53:4 says, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow.”  Every consequence of sin has been put upon Christ and has been answered in Him as well.  The debt has been paid.  Sin in has been atoned.  The dividing wall of hostility has been torn down.  The chains have been broken.  Death has been defeated.  Judgment has been satisfied.

He came in the flesh to take away our guilt and shame, not so that we can go back to being naked, but so that we could be further clothed in glory (2 Cor 3:18, 5:4).  The glory for which we were created, the glory we lost in sin, the glory whose absence is our shame, has been restored and magnified in our Savior Jesus Christ.  When we come to Him in faith, laying down the “fig-leaf” attempts at self-righteousness and trust in His perfect, complete, and eternal righteousness, then we will begin to know the freedom from guilt and shame deep in our souls.

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood;
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

SDG