What is it about guilt that makes us retreat inward? Everyone who has ever walked this earth has experienced guilt at some point. Whether disobeying a rule set by someone older, or that brief rush of “Oh no…” as you pass by a police officer’s car on the highway driving quite a bit over the speed limit (Mom, if you read this, this has never happened to me…), we all know that feeling of not wanting someone to address the fact that we broke a rule. Because we are taught from a young age that there are certain consequences for our actions, guiltiness makes us retreat inwards. It causes us to want to be secretive and guarded, emotionally constrained some hidden chains. We may continue pursuing whatever it is that we ultimately know is wrong, so long that we don’t get caught. Over time, we may learn how to suppress the truth that the guiltiness expresses in our hearts. There may be some situations where we frankly can’t seem to let go of whatever it is we are holding on to. The guiltiness we experience evidences an understanding of the unfulfillment of some standard, yet we can’t let go, so we suppress what we feel, and cover it with a latch and lock.
But what happens when we are exposed?
There’s a story written in John 7:53-8:11 of a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Ripped from the room where she had been found, she was dragged by religious leaders before Jesus at the temple. Attempting to put Jesus to the test, they questioned as to whether that woman was to be stoned as the Law of Moses commanded. Now these religious leaders were not so much worried about the woman’s guiltiness. This is shown by their foolish use of the scripture from Leviticus 20:10, and Deuteronomy 22:22. Both scriptures actually command that both the man and woman caught in adultery were to be stoned. Jesus, knowing the selfish intentions of their hearts, began using his finger to write in the sand. The woman, standing before the public eye, is experiencing her worst nightmare, her exposure before her community in the temple. The religious leaders stand, thinking that they will finally cause Jesus to say something that will discredit him in front of the people, elevating themselves over this arising Teacher that the people flock to.
As both the woman, and the religious leaders are standing there waiting for Jesus’ response, the question arises in the mind of all, what is it that he’s writing? In his book Learning Evangelism From Jesus, Jerram Barrs comments that “the passage that most obviously comes to mind is the account of the tablets of the law being inscribed by the finger of God” (pg. 27), a connection that adds to the magnitude of Jesus’ actions. As he finished his writings, he stood up and said “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
The religious leaders, hearing the words of Jesus, begin to drop their stones and walk away. Confronted with the truth of God’s Word, they can say nothing. Recognizing their guiltiness before the Law of God, they have no right or power to condemn the woman, or counter Jesus’ statement. “We must realize that…” says Barrs, “whatever it is that Jesus is writing — the effect is to cause each man present to remember his own most serious sins, the most morally embarrassing moments of his life. It is as if each one of them is standing half-naked and exposed (just like this poor woman) before the judgement seat of God and crowds of onlookers. There are no excuses, no prevarication — just the clear knowledge of each one’s guilt. The evident meaning of the text is that each man present is confronted with God’s law, and with his own failure to keep the law” (pg. 27).
Once all the religious leaders left, only Jesus and the woman remained. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
This woman experienced a freedom she had never felt before. Finally exposed of her deepest darkest guiltiness, she was met with compassion and love by Jesus, rather than the condemnation and disgust she was met with from the religious leaders. Jesus desired to perfectly imitate the Father, and He did so for this woman. The Father’s love is made evident through His response to the exposure of our guiltiness.
If Jesus was just a teacher, and not God, then His words here are vanity. Anyone can say, “I don’t condemn you.” However, if God Himself is to look at you with eyes of compassion, and tell you that even though He knows your deepest darkest addictions, struggles, and imperfections, He loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross to free you from the chains of guiltiness, that is a truth that will define your life. You will no longer find your identity in your guiltiness, but rather in the freedom God has called you to: to sin no more, to follow Him as the Good Shepherd, to trust in Him as The Provider, to love and serve, and adore Him as King.
Christians: I know I am guilty daily of this, but it is not our duty to condemn believers or non believers. Jesus calls us to consider our own sin, rather than the sin of others. We are called to call our brothers & sisters in Christ to repentance when they are walking in sin, and must do so. But first, we must take a good long look at our own lives, and recall the compassion and mercy God has shown us. As for addressing the lives of non-believers, we Christians, by no means, are called to criticize or condemn non-believers. However, we are called to live out the love of Christ, to imitate the love of the Father, just as Christ imitated the love of the Father. We cannot do this alone. Pray, ask for His help! It starts with deeply understanding and accepting the gospel! Though we are guilty before the Law of God, our guilt has been removed by the blood of Christ! We are free, unshackled, no longer enslaved to the guiltiness sin brings. It’s when we live out of response to this truth, that we long to share this freedom with others. And believe me, people take notice and will find themselves curious!
Non-Christians: If you’re experiencing guilt, ponder where it comes from. If you don’t believe in God, what’s the purpose of guilt? What standard have you set for which your experience of guilt is derived from? The Bible speaks about God writing his law on the hearts of all (Romans 2:15). This explains why we experience a pull towards ethics and morality. There is an innate understanding that we will be judged by our actions, our own conscience reveals this to us. If you do believe in a god that you have to say certain prayers towards, or meet certain requirements, ponder the truth claim that the Bible makes that you can never satisfy the law by yourself. Doesn’t your conscience agree that you cannot fulfill the law? Isn’t that why you have to continually meet requirements to seek to justify yourself until the next time you fail to meet the law? The Bible makes the truth claim that the law and requirements have been perfectly met by Jesus, and that He stands as Mediator between God and man, covering His followers with His perfection. The Bible clearly states that we don’t have to focus on satisfying the law on our own, Christ did on our behalf!
Consider this passage in closing… “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).
God deeply loves you, and has something beautiful to speak to you, and He shows us that through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. It’s only in Christ that you can experience the freedom from laboring over perfecting some law or standard you set for yourself. Exposed, and yet deeply loved and set free, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen