Ever feel guilty for doing something and then realize that you are already forgiven? And then you feel guilty for not remembering that truth before? We are creatures of guilt. We are so familiar with guilt that we don’t recognize it as it creeps into our hearts and destroys our days. It feels so right because it fit so well in our lives for so long.
But guilt and shame can distract you from the joy of grace. They come when we forget that we are no longer under law, but they also come when we chastise ourselves under grace. Many of us were taught to think of ourselves as stupid or weak or foolish. Remembering the message of grace in a world (or in a church) that does not support that message can be hard work.
Some people who have had limbs amputated struggle with what is called, “phantom pain.” Phantom pain is more than a memory that can simply be blocked out with effort. Phantom pain, pain in a hand that is no longer there, for example, can be very real. Something like 80% of amputees report some kind of phantom pain. It hurts. No one knows exactly what is happening, but almost all theories center on the continued functioning of nerves that used to extend to the absent limb.
Well, I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but you and I have nerves that are very used to experiencing shame and guilt. In fact, most of us would worry about ourselves if we didn’t feel guilty for doing something wrong. And we kind of want to have a reminder or a nudge when we do something wrong, don’t we? But then, when we do feel guilty, we fall back into the self-condemnation and the oppression we experienced under the law.
So let me suggest a new tactic. I think the nudge from the Holy Spirit is good. There are things that we do that are hurtful to ourselves and others. We don’t want to do them. If we do them, we want to be nudged. But we don’t have to feel shame and guilt. That is something different.
If we could interpret the nudge from the Spirit as a blessing, as something good, then we could win. Instead of the pain of shame, we could feel the attention of the Lord and the influence of His Spirit. That’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, we could go so far as to rejoice at our renewed awareness of His presence.
The next time the Holy Spirit nudges you with the mindfulness of your wrong action, just say, “Thanks!” Believe that His only purpose is to help you and His only motive toward you is love. There is no condemnation in His nudge, no shame, and you carry no guilt. But He simply is telling you that this is not going to be profitable and He loves you enough to make His presence known.
Now, I know that someone will say that people will just sin more then so they can feel good about their interaction with the Spirit. Listen: that’s dumb. No one who wants to walk with Jesus will sin more so that they get more attention from Him. What will happen is that the distraction that comes with the earthly consequences of sin and the false guilt will end and their hearts will be even more at peace in their relationship with Him.
You see, we no longer need guilt to guide us. We have love. God’s love for us is active and involved. He speaks to us and leads us. That is a very good thing.