A guilt free life is something everyone longs for. Few people really find it. As followers of Jesus, the guilt free life is something he offers. His sacrifice on the cross takes all of our mess and trades it for Jesus’ own righteousness. Jesus’ work means that his followers are no longer guilty. We don’t need to feel ashamed. But we don’t live like it.
I know the sting of guilt. I’m sure you do too. I feel guilty when I do the wrong thing. This is OK. I’m not perfect and my feeling of guilt drive me to come to Jesus. I know Jesus has taken care of it. I’m still his child. I’m still a work in progress but I know he will finish the job (Phil. 1:6).
But I also feel guilty about other things. As I follow Jesus I feel guilty about not praying as much as I should. I feel guilty when it comes to evangelism. It feels like what I’m doing isn’t enough. Can you relate?
This guilt isn’t about doing bad but doing good. In reality, my prayer life is fairly healthy. I share my faith when appropriate and I help others do likewise. My faith in Jesus affects my everyday life. So, if Jesus offers a guilt free life, why do we feel guilty?
The Story Around Us.
One of the most common narratives of our culture is around rewarding behaviours. When we do good things we are told how good we are. We get congratulated. We receive rewards equal to the outcome. As a dad I tell my children they are good when their behaviour is good.
The opposite is also true. We are penalised when we do bad things. When the police pull us over for speeding we expect to be fined. The same is true with parenting. Bad behaviour has negative consequences.
Neither of these are necessarily wrong. As parents we have a responsibility to teach children the difference between right and wrong. It is simply the story of the world around us. It says people who act rightly get good things and people who act wrongly get bad things. The subtlety behind this narrative is that in order to feel good you have to earn it.
But when this attitude is applied to the spiritual life, it is toxic. Is it any wonder we feel guilty as we follow Jesus? We look at others and see them praying more or reading the Bible more. When we hear stories of God dramatically changing people’s circumstances, we assume they are ‘holier’ than us. By listening to the story around us we trade God’s grace for working for his favour.
One of the most famous stories Jesus told is The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Toward the end of the story the son makes the decision to return home and beg his father to employ him. The son doesn’t deserve this. He has shamed his family and effectively wished his father was dead. The story around us says he should be rejected by his father. But in Jesus’ story the father doesn’t just employ him but restores him back to being his son. The son has done nothing to earn this.
This is the story Jesus invites us into. It is not one of earning God’s favour but recognising his generosity. The guilt free life Jesus offers is to stop striving to earn God’s grace. We don’t need to do more for God but simply trust in the certainty of our relationship with him.
Jesus offers us a guilt free life. He has done everything for us to receive God’s grace. The problem is that we struggle to fully believe it. We listen to the narrative we have always known which tells us we need to earn things. Following Jesus means living in his story. It is hard because it is contrary to what we are surrounded by. But by embracing it we can truly have a guilt free life.