Bruce Collins, Evangelist

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Guilt trips, Who Needs Them?

Meditation for the week of January 6, 2013

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:19)

Every so often I get a rather good email having to do with the Gospel that gets spoiled by telling me that if I am ashamed to pass it on, then the Lord will be ashamed of me.  I think I can say that without exception I have not and will not pass an email  like that along.  If the Lord had these emails in mind when He says He will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of Him, I have a lot of demerits behind my name in heaven.  I have been tempted to send the emails along with the “guilt trip” part deleted, but I figure that whoever wrote the email is the only one who should have the right to revise it. Without getting the author’s permission to make the revision, I do not feel that I can justify changing what someone else has written.

Guilt has many facets.  There is actual guilt when a person has committed an offense against the law of the land.  There is actual guilt when a person has intentionally violated ethical standards even when there is no actual law to condemn the person.  Usually that person is bothered by a bad conscience for doing something that they knew was not right.  There can be emotional guilt that is not justified when people try to control others by making them feel substandard if they don’t do what the other person asks.  This guilt is emotional blackmail.  Sometimes parents control children that way, and sometimes friends control their friends that way and sometimes religious leaders control those that respect them that way.  Is it proper to control people through guilt?

God has made it clear that because of the righteous standards of the law, we all know that we are guilty sinners.  We deserve to be punished.  If it wasn’t for that “guilt” most of us would never have found out that we were sinners in need of a Savior.  This is not emotional blackmail, however.  This is the actual guilt that arises from actually violating the righteous standards of the law and of our consciences.  But God doesn’t use guilt just to “awaken” us to our sin.  He uses it to bring us to Christ who has justified us by grace (Romans 3:24).  Justification in Romans 3 has been defined by different experts in different ways.  Some say justification makes us just as though we had not sinned.  However, justification is a legal term and while God does wipe our slates clean, all of us will remember sins we have committed.  Some of those sins may mark us for life.  So I would say that is probably not the correct definition.  Some say that justification in this chapter is simply being declared righteous before God.  God has provided a way to declare us righteous in His court of law.  And I like that.  But I think justification not only declares a person righteous, it also makes them righteous.  Trusting in Christ is the first really righteous act that any man can do.  Until we have faith in Christ, everything we do is self-serving and denies our need of a Savior.  Faith says that Christ is right and does right even when that condemns us for doing wrong.  When we do that, God not only declares us righteous, He makes us righteous and calls us saints or holy ones.  We become new creatures in Christ.

After we have trusted Christ, should we continue to be motivated by guilt or should we be motivated by love?  Was Mary motivated by guilt or devotion when she washed the Lord’s feet and anointed Him with oil?   Were Joseph and Nicodemus motivated by guilt or devotion when they buried the Lord in Joseph’s previously prepared new tomb?  Was Paul motivated by guilt or by love when he preached the Gospel after he was converted on the Damascus road?  Are we who are saved motivated in our service to the Lord by devotion or guilt?  Do we “remember the Lord” because we HAVE TO or because we WANT TO?  Do we try to adhere to new testament principles of worship and service because we HAVE TO or because we WANT TO? 

Paul says there are some great gifts given to the church.  Among them are faith (depending on the Lord), hope (looking to the future with confidence and joy), and love (self-sacrificing devotion).  But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). 

Some of those emails that lay guilt trips on the recipients are fairly good and timely. I would probably pass some of them along if I could do it out of devotion rather than out of guilt.  As it is, some good stuff ends up being deleted since guilt is not my best motivator.

Bruce Collins

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