Do you remember when you were a kid and you did something wrong? Remember the guilt and agony you might have felt about having done said event? Remember the punishment that your parents reigned down on you as soon as they found out what you had done?
Well I remember when I was learning to play golf I would want to practice all the time. I wanted to work on and perfect my swing so I could hit the ball further than anybody else, so i could pinpoint a ball onto the green from over a hundred yards, and so I could sink a 30 yard put without even trying. I would have done anything. However, when it rained outside it made it really hard to practice. I remember there was one day where I was so antsy and wanting to get some swinging practice in, so I pulled out my 9 iron in the house and began working on my swing. Now I was partially thinking so I didn’t actually hit any balls in the house. However, after about the fourth swing I knock the ceiling lamp and busted the cover.
“What had I just done?” “Oh goodness, oh goodness, what am I going to do?” Contrary to popular belief I was not supposed to be playing with a golf club inside the house, and not only had I done that but I had actually broken something. Well needless to say I got into a lot of trouble and saw a lot of my room for the next few weeks and very little of my golf clubs.
However, it is this guilt that I want to focus on. This guilt drove everything I did for that time between when I broke the lamp and when my mother got back.
Guilt plays a large role in the way we act in our lives. However, Paul is trying to tell us that it should not play a role in who we are in Christ Jesus. We do things and often immediately feel regretful for what we have done. Often it doesn’t matter if our actions affect anybody. We still feel this small level of guilt about what we have done.
Paul has seven chapters of lead up to what we read in chapter 8. Once we have read the first seven chapters we pretty much know what Paul’s understanding of sin is. In this last half of chapter seven we are brought in to Paul’s all to real struggle of the vices of sin. However, he also lets us into the concept of guilt as it is related to sin. In verse 24 of chapter 7 Paul cries out, “I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?”
Paul’s outcry is one I believe that we can relate to as well. We have all felt that guilty burden hanging over something we have done in the past. Paul says it quite quaintly in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore because of this falling we all feel the guilt that we have wronged God. These feelings that Paul expresses are feelings that we often have and that we deal with on a daily basis.
Much like when I broke the lamp my guilt wasn’t that I did something bad towards God, but rather I had wronged my parents in breaking the lamp and playing golf in the house. Guilt can be a driving force to keep us from confronting those whom we have wronged. Whether it is in our households, our workplaces, or with God.
However, as we dive into our main scripture we begin to understand that guilt cannot be a driving force in out lives. Rather we must be willing to be set free from our wrongdoings and we must understand that there is no condemnation for what we have done.
Paul starts with that line when he opens up chapter 8 saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…” (8:1-3). According to Paul we are set free from sin and death through the actions of Jesus.
Freedom is a topic that we are all familiar with after this weekend. We just finished celebrating the anniversary of the freedom of our nation. Freedom from the shackles of tyranny. However, we also celebrate everyday our freedom from sin. God has given us this freedom and we are forgiven no matter what we have done.
It is in the famous book, made play, made motion picture Les Miserables. Jean Valjean, the main character, who has just been released from prison after a 19 sentence for having stolen bread and then trying to escape prison. When Jean Valjean is wandering the countryside trying to find shelter he encounters a Bishop and is offered refuge. However, instead of taking the refuge he steals the precious silver from the Bishop and flees. When the police drag him back to the Bishop the Bishop notes that he forgot the candlesticks. The Bishop then dismisses the police and turns to Valjean and tells him that he is to use the silver to become an honest man and he notes that he has bought his soul from evil and given it to God.
Jean Valjean has become associated with his misgivings. He is denied entrance to inn and jobs because of his criminal status. However, the Bishop is telling him that his past is not what is important. With God there is no condemnation and all things are new. This story shows us exactly what Paul is talking about in these opening verses in chapter 8. Paul says that we are set free and therefore, we experience freedom from sin and death. Our binding to the guilt and the force associated with sin is broken.
These verses in Romans 8 essentially lay out part of Paul’s theology on grace. Grace, to me, is one of the most amazing concepts ever noted by our early church and carried out by our church today. Our own United Methodist Doctrine is heavy laden with concepts of grace, and it was a very important concept for John and Charles Wesley as they rode around the countryside preaching and teaching.
Grace is that unmerited and undeserved love that God pours out over everyone. This is God’s love for all of God’s children. Max Lucado in his book entitled Grace puts it so eloquently when he says, “Grace is God as heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart – poisoned as it is with pride and pain – and replacing it with his own.” (Grace, Max Lucado p. 10) God takes all of our past trials, and hurt, and pain and places in its place this love that beats within all of us. This love is through his Son Jesus Christ.
It can be so hard to do the work that God has called us to do if all we can focus on is what we have done wrong in our lives and all the sins we bear. As we go forth we cannot allow our guilt to wear us down. We must remember that God is always looking at the person we can become with him. Not the person we were in our past. Paul says that “there is no condemnation.” Since there is no condemnation we should not worry ourselves with what we did in our past. We must instead focus on what God has set before us.
I heard a speaker once who said, “I have done so many terrible and awful things in my past, but the day I turned my life to God I felt like none of that mattered anymore. I was called down a different path and called to lay aside my past and take up my future with God.”
God has created a plan and called us all to enact and play out a part in this plan. I am sure you can all imagine how hard it can be to do a job with a blanket of guilt hanging over your head. We to must be ready to recognize the way in which God wipes us clean and forgives us for what we have done and be ready to go out and carry out the mission we were created for.
Think about your life. Are you holding on guiltily to aspects of your past? Maybe wrongdoings or misgivings that you just cant let go of. It may be difficult, but we need to let go of them. Understand that God is not here to condemn, but rather sent his Son to save us.
As we close I want to wrap up with a prayer, but I want us to do it in this way. I am going to pray as we all think about those things that we continue to hold onto. I will leave a time open for silent prayer where I want you to lift those to God silently. As we begin I want you to take your hands and clench them together as hard as you can to symbolize what we are holding onto. When we wrap up the prayer and I say Amen I want you to open up your hands and release it all to God and let it go.
Having given those things to God we must allow Jesus to continue to take control of our lives and guide us on our journeys. AMEN!