- It is best to own everything you did, resist sticking up for yourself, avoid explaining your reasons, and let people fall apart in their own way.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. – Psalm 73:13 ESV
In that moment of shame, after you have done what you knew you shouldn’t, it’s tempting to want to cleanse the soul by cleansing the moral palate. You read only Christian literature, listen only to Christian music, get more involved in Christian circles, and with Christian causes. You do this until you feel clean again, then you relax and go back to the business of being you. It’s psychologically sound that dipping into the cleansing pool of law abiding religion can make a psyche feel clean, but it’s not a relationship with Jesus.
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” – Matthew 27:24 ESV
In a 1971 study, a couple of researchers wanted to know how people’s behavior would change if they felt guilty for some moral infraction (McMillan & Austin, 1971). They tempted half of the subjects to lie during an interview. After the interview, they asked the subjects if they could stick around and help the researchers set up for a completely unrelated test. Those who didn’t lie stuck around for a couple of minutes to lend a helping hand. Those who lied stuck around for over an hour. People who are trying to compensate for their own guilt will be more giving and helpful than those who aren’t experiencing guilt. Being helpful and giving doesn’t mean that you have a relationship with Jesus.
Back in February a study was published where a few researchers wanted to measure prosocial behavior as it relates to feelings of guilt (Xu, Begue, & Bushman, 2014). They had a group of people recall and write down a personal failure that affected a significant other. These people were divided into three groups: those who washed their hands after writing down their story, those who watched a video of someone else washing their hands, and those who watched a video of someone typing. They were, then, given a questionnaire to fill out within three weeks that would help a doctoral student achieve her PhD. Those who washed their hands sent fewer questionnaire’s back, those who watched someone else wash their hands sent an average of a few more back, and the group who watched someone type sent the most questionnaire’s back. This shows two things: physically cleaning yourself can reduce feelings of guilt and the less guilt, the less prosocial behavior you will exhibit.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! – Psalm 51:2 ESV
We want the memory to go away. The flashbacks of strobe light snapshots cripple us with the dirt we let in. Wash me! screams the heart, the mind, and the eyes closed onslaught of our mistakes and our fault. Can any amount of prosocial behavior, moral standard achievement, or fancy soap cleansing make our deepest spiritual fissures subside and allow us sleep?
Tragic is the soul who quiets without the Blood. A wolf under the fence. Lost is the man who can perform his way into a peaceful conscience.
All we know is that we have to put as much distance between ourselves and our sin as possible. If we can fill out time with with good-guy behavior and hyper-moral activities, then maybe it will drown out the sulfuric stench within us.
… the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7 ESV
Have you ever felt like super-morality was an attempt to compensate for something? Or wondered what they’re hiding with all of their religiosity? Do you notice the fear laden gasp when you teeter on a tightrope you didn’t even know you were on? People can and do feel like better people when they clean up, help others, and get some religion. But, it doesn’t mean they have a relationship with Jesus.
Like pickled ginger on your sushi plate, cleansing the palate isn’t a bad idea. It’s helps alleviate the dissonance. But, don’t rely on your own ability to keep yourself clean and emerge thinking that you’ve accomplished something. It doesn’t work like that. Churches are full of the helping hands of the guilt wracked. Don’t emulate what you see. Trust in the Blood and walk through the Gate.
McMillen D. L., Austin J. B. (1971). Effect of positive feedback on compliance following transgression. Psychon. Sci. 24, 59–61
Xu, Hl, Begue, L., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Washing the guilt away: effects of personal versus vicarious cleansing on guilty feelings and prosocial behavior. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014; 8:97.
It wasn’t long before some Jews showed up from judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: “If you’re not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can’t be saved.” – Acts 15:1 MSG
People have always put stipulations on salvation. It’s why some think they can never be good enough and others think they’ve messed it all up. I wish I could say that it’s because they don’t know the scripture well enough to know any better, but I can’t. People can quote chunks of scripture and still forget that Jesus changed everything.
Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. – Acts 15:2 MSG
Where are versions of those guys now? It’s not “if you do this, you can be saved.” You are saved. The only unforgivable sin is unbelief. The “good news”, the news that “makes everyone cheer”, is that the outsiders are now insiders. The unrefined screw-ups and brash non-conformists are in. Just as they are. The only people not cheering are the insiders. Even the “believing” insiders shift their weight at the thought. They want to “get it”, but it’s so hard to let go of the nagging feeling that we’re leaving something out.
Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. “You have to circumcise the pagan converts,” they said. “You must make them keep the Law of Moses.” -Acts 15:5 MSG
This argument is age old, half-blind, and still driving. Even people who can quote the Story misinterpret the result. They embellish the application.
The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. – Acts 15:7 MSG
God has an enemy. You are the object of God’s love. This makes you the target of His enemy’s deception. You tell me what you think is happening when God’s people are reduced to heated arguments about the result of His greatest act of love. We’re supposed to be giving a first-hand account of the message, but those in the best position to give a first hand account of God’s grace are shushed because they’re the screw-ups. How can they deliver their eye-witness account of the salvation power of Jesus when the collective church too afraid to let the sinner talk? If someone does try to be different and capture the attention of the fringes, he can end up way out in left field saying absolutely nothing. He dulls the people with pointlessness. Maybe he’s afraid of sounding like a preachy Christian, but he’s lost his relevance. An eyewitness account of the salvation of Jesus is necessary for understanding the scriptures or balancing a religious message with the Spirit of Truth. You get to the Truth through Jesus. A huge failure who has been rescued by grace can see Him everywhere. Old Testament and New Testament, He all there. The arguments go on and on… back and forth. Getting more and more heated. Just echo Peter when people try to put stipulations on salvation or tell people what to do once they become Christians:
“God, who can’t be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person’s thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us. He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him. So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too? Don’t we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?”– Peter to the arguers in Acts 15:8-11 MSG
If you are someone who feels like you damaged your relationship with God either intentionally or unintentionally, please know this: There is nothing you have done, are doing, or can do that will nullify what Jesus did for you. God’s enemy isn’t out trying to get you to screw up, you can do that all by yourself. The enemy is trying to get you to believe that your mistakes separate you from your Father. Nothing can take you away from Him. Read the Bible. There is stuff in there that will save your spiritual life and rescue you from the well-intentioned faithless words of your fellow Christians.
With all of this name calling and finger pointing and scripture touting, this is how you can tell the difference: One accuses their brothers and sisters and the other loves them. One demands righteousness and the other reminds them of it. One flares up against and the other stoops down to support.
I read something in my facebook feed that made me freeze up. I’m very selective with my facebook friends, so I actually know or, at least, really respect those on my “friends” list. I’m telling you this because I’m about to quote someone that I know and respect, then I’ll tell you why I think they’re wrong. I could have just commented on the status update, but I haven’t written to you in a while and I want to start a conversation.
Here is the status update:
There is a new movement toward transparency about sin in many circles of the church. While this can be good, it is also leading to a tendency to hold up our sin as a badge of honor, never even trying to overcome it – becoming identified by it in fact.
It has gotten to the point that those with open unrepentant sin believe they are the future of the church while those without it are viewed as Pharisees. While we all have sin, none of us are excused from attempting to overcome.
Unrighteousness has become the new (self)righteousness.
Beware Isaiah 5:20
I can appreciate personal opinions, and sharing fears or observations. Knowing this friend, it may even be a founded issue to take up. I am, though, extremely protective of the one who messed up. I can’t stay quiet where they are concerned even if the words were not meant for them. I can’t help but feel reprimanded, even if the words were not meant for me.
The comments got more explicit as one commenter put it, “wallowing in our brokenness.” Another commenter said, “Self-pitying group therapy. VOMIT!” They get uglier and more shrill as the comments go on.
I don’t support picking a fight where the people at the center are too fragile to survive any more hits. Clueless remarks that could literally scream condemnation into the core of another person’s eternal existence need a response.
The original post used a scripture, so I’ll use that scripture to support my argument.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!– Isaiah 5:20 ESV
This scripture, within the context of the facebook post, is a death blow to the one who is working through his or her sin and trying to find Jesus through the chaos. Being able to state your sin in an actual church is only a temporary spot, like a toddler finding his legs. It’s a way to take the power away from the spiritual accuser as the person becomes desensitized to the accusation.
The reason that it’s important to become desensitized is because all of hell is trying to convince the person that she is done for. That what they did has caused God to withdraw the sacrifice and condemn them to eternal damnation. If they can call their own failures into the light, they lose their power. These people are in transition. Calling a “special needs class” a “retard class” would make you a monster. Calling a recovery group, of any kind, a group for “self-pity” or “brokenness wallowing” makes you a mouthpiece for the accuser.
The scripture within the context of the rest of the Bible is a literal God-send to the one who is working through his or her sin and trying to find Jesus in the chaos.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…” What is evil? (Use the cross reference scriptures to trace the contextual meaning.) It is turning justice to “bitter fruit” and “casting righteousness down to earth” (Amos 5:7; 6:12). “Bitter fruit” is “poison” (Deut 29:18). “Casting righteousness down to earth” is trying to turn it into something “man-made”.
Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit…-Deuteronomy 29:18 ESV
Who is a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit?? (All I’m doing is using the cross reference scriptures.)
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…– Hebrews 12:15 ESV
Do you see it yet? I’ll continue….
What does it mean to “fail to obtain the grace of God”?
You fail to believe that “it is finished” and you fail to rest (Hebrews 4:1). You receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1).
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.-Galatians 5;4 ESV
“…who put darkenss for light and light for darkness…” This part is talking about your eyes, or your “lamps” (Matthew 6:22… keep following the cross reference scriptures. That’s where I’m getting this.). It is taking something that is good and making it bad (Matthew 20: 15). It’s taking a gift and turning it into something to withhold to someone weaker than you. Like grace. That’s what we’re talking about here. Deutoronomy 15:9 (another cross reference scripture) talks about praising God for the release and then sneering at the one next to you who needs what you have and not sharing with him. Yeah… we’re still talking about grace.
You make someone’s agony your justice and shove your receipt for grace in their face. “…bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
Beware Isaiah 5:20.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!– Isaiah 5:20 ESV
Get it right and stop hurting people while they’re trying to heal.
You never really know what’s going on. Like sheep following the sheep in front of them, some have never even met the Shepherd.
“The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.” -Matthew 23:2-3 MSG
When denominations become corporations, leadership becomes a career. So come the politics of spit-and-polish veneer.
I heard a story a few months ago. The president of a denomination has a secret that could destroy his credibility, but only in a world where a person’s credibility is based on his ability to be a perfect example of the rules he sets forth. It wouldn’t have destroyed his credibility with me and probably not with you, either. We would have found hope in the rawness of life, knowing that everybody makes mistakes. He could have entered the world of grace instead of avoiding it by hiding under a blanket of technicalities. Good leadership is honest about their mistakes. Bad leadership makes people think it’s possible to be perfect.
“You can’t be a leader if you’re divorced unless you can prove that you had no fault, but you can never remarry, unless you can prove you were tricked.” Or, there about. All bylaws of loopholes and small print. The smart people can study the contract and find a way out of needing forgiveness. But, in the Kingdom world, they’re only finding a way to not need Jesus.
If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it. -Romans 4:14-15 MSG
As a result of the rules of the corporation denomination, men publicly hang the character of their ex-wives, just so they can keep their jobs. Women tell all of their ex-husband’s secrets and none of their own, just so they can still teach Sunday school.
“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.” -Matthew 23:13-14 MSG
This system has been set up to not ever be able to admit your fault. There is no grace there.
The wife of the denomination president had grounds to divorce him, but didn’t want to hurt his career. She got a legal separation instead. That way he could keep his job and nobody would ever have to know the secrets that could destroy the facade. He was able to later retire with no one the wiser. The inside was broken while the appearance remained in tact.
What about all those under him who feel abnormal and wrecked because they didn’t have the power to hide? What about the women with alter call carpet embedded into their knees? They’re begging God to take away their stains because they’ve been taught that you can’t have stains. What about the men who are no longer allowed to do what they know God has called them to do? They think they have to live out the rest of their lives with the chains of sin still wrapped around them.
I met a preacher who got his papers taken away because he made a mistake. His passion is still preaching. There’s a hollow ache in his disposition. But he’s only allowed to hammer nails.
“Still like Jesus,” I tell him, though I know my kindness can’t reach him.
What about him?
“Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?” -Matthew 23:24 MSG
“Writing a life’s story that’s wrong from start to finish.” It’s wrong from start to finish because you are not the Author. You can write all you want, but He is the One who’s published.
Nitpicked lives are slaves to their sin. Being a slave to sin is more than obeying the impulse. It’s believing it has the power, so much so that you devote yourself to avoidance more than you release yourself to God.
He writes your life story and He’s already said that He made the destroyer. Nothing the destroyer can form will be able to destroy you. No matter how bad your situation looks, it does not have the power to destroy you.
If anyone attacks you, don’t for a moment suppose that I sent them, and if any should attack, nothing will come of it. I create the blacksmith who fires up his forge and makes a weapon designed to kill. I also create the destroyer—but no weapon that can hurt you has ever been forged. -Isaiah 54:15-17 MSG
The way into God’s Kingdom is through Jesus and it’s only by grace. Grace is for sinners. It’s not a safety net. It’s a gate.
Be open and honest about your failures. Let God’s grace wash over you. It completely transforms you. It lights you on fire and sends you blazing. That’s where the power comes from. It’s not from you and your ability, it’s from grace. God’s children need to see it. The people need to see that there is hope for them, too.
Nobody goes through life without knowing they’ve been saved from something that had every right to destroy them. Don’t set yourself up as someone who is so far away from that, that it steals the hope of grace from everyone else. Use the moment of someone’s failure to rejoice about the vibrant display of mercy, grace, and restoration that God is about to show. That’s when you can really see Him. It’s the rainbow after the storm. It’s in the eyes of someone who believes with everything in them that God has a plan for this, too.
You never really know what’s going on. Don’t be the sheep who follows the sheep in front of you, but has never met the Shepherd. No matter what people want you to think, everybody has some damage that only Jesus can justify.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”-Matthew 11:28-30 MSG