It is guilt that keeps us from worshiping God in freedom and celebration.
Guilt is so heavy. It is smothering. And it leads us to all sorts of places. We find it awkward to confess our sins to other people, for fear of judgmental behaviors. We are afraid of losing things we hold dear, because losing relationships, because of our own personal sin, is too great a price to pay for our own various struggles.
Private, secret sin is so personal. And so destructive. And so heavy.
And it leads us to some strange form of penance. It leads us to become vigorous in our own traditions in our own churches. We become almost vitriolic in those traditions. We make a stand for those traditions, and declare, solemnly, that we are right. Guilt pushes us to hold fast to what has always been there, and has always made us comfortable.
Yet, when we respond to guilt like this, we have given guilt more power than it is due. We give it the power to determine what, in our lives, will become an idol. Many of us have never been taught the true release found in Jesus. We think, instead, that true release is found in a human system that seems comfortable and right. Guilt binds us to those traditions, and we become enslaved by them because of our personal guilt.
I’ve done that. You’ve done that. I know people, right now, who are doing it. They are so bound to the traditions of their church that they have sacrificed their own personal integrity to uphold a system that is inherently flawed. Instead of running to Jesus, they are running to the idol they can see, can attend, and can critique.
The freedom Jesus offers, though, is complete. We can walk away from our addictions, from our sins, from our secrets. Only this freedom can release us from guilt. It releases us from guilt. It supersedes all traditions. It overwhelms all human systems. It exposes our own idolatry.
The book of Hebrews teaches this much better than I can, though. Today’s reading, from Hebrews 8 through Hebrews 10, exposes the flaws of tradition, and the maintenance required when we try to burden our own sin, instead of releasing it.
There were sacrificial requirements for sin, in the Old Testament, that Hebrews completely exposes as unable to cleanse people from guilt. Here they are:
Sacrifices were ineffective.
… it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4; NIV84)
Sacrifices were endlessly repetitious.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (10:1)
Sacrifices could not permanently relieve the burden of guilt and sin.
… indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings — external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (9:9, 10)
Sacrifices were forever tainted by the sin of the priests who offered them.
But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year,and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. (9:7)
It’s not a small step to take, to find that these things could never cleanse the heart.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. (9:13)
In other words, these sacrifices only made a person think they felt better about their sin and their guilt. It never took it away.
Our great tragedy, though, is not necessarily understanding these things. Our great tragedy is finding ourselves back in the same situation as the Israelites.
We don’t sacrifice bulls and goats and such. Obviously, we don’t. But we do sacrifice a lot of other things.
We “sacrifice” our gifts and talents. We “sacrifice” our time. We “sacrifice” our money. We “sacrifice” our resources.
We don’t give them. We “sacrifice” them. We place them on the altar, and by doing so, we start thinking that we feel better about our sin and guilt, because we start to think that our “sacrifices” our so needed.
But we still live with the tremendous load of guilt. “Getting involved,” or “being recruited” to work in some church program cannot relieve our guilt, regardless of how hard we work, or how talented we are. Nothing we can offer, of value, can replace the grace of Jesus.
As sobering and hurtful as that sounds, our gifts and resources and talents and money and time are not needed. When we start thinking we are needed, we start thinking that we have something that can compete with the full atonement and release and forgiveness Jesus gives us.
Yes. I said that. The full atonement and sacrifice of Jesus can never be replicated, even in our petty “sacrifices.” God may call us to a certain place, to give our time and resources, but he does so because it will transform us, not because we are needed. God has given millions of people the same talents he has given you and me. We aren’t unique.
This is full and complete absolution of guilt and sin:
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (10:15-17)
God has penetrated all rituals, programs, and sacrifices that could only make us feel better, and has, himself, written his law upon our hearts. And he remembers our sins no more.
That is freedom. That frees us worship. To serve. To bless. To praise. To pray. To share. To offer. To give. To live. To love. To endure. To teach.
Because we have nothing — not one thing — to fear. And we have nothing that could ever compete with this.
This is my 75th straight post, in 75 straight days, while reading and blogging through the New Testament. God is continuing to do something supernatural in me. If you want to check out the other posts, click here. Thanks for reading these meager wonderings.