Saturday, April 26, 2008

No guilt, just grace

One of Mel Gibson's better movies after his looks began to fade was What Women Want. It's about a sexist advertising executive who, through a strange turn of events, discovers he can hear what women are thinking. Surprise -- everyone of the female persuasion thinks he's a complete idiot. The plot finds him working up a pitch for a Nike ad campaign geared toward women athletes. It plays off of the "glass ceiling" concept, how women have to be so competitive in the work place and play games, especially with other women, etc. The ad portends that in the fitness world, it should be different; that this is the one area where a woman can escape all those exhausting, complicated personas and just be herself -- leading to the clever tag line, "Nike -- no games, just sports."

(I wonder how much Nike paid for the product endorsement in that movie!)

Nike -- no games, just sports. Clever. I like it. Here's a better one: God -- no guilt, just grace.

Man, Tammy, that is about the hokiest thing I've ever seen in this blog.

Guilt. This wonderful emotion came up in conversation today in my covenant group. The group is comprised of four women who are married with children, busier than all get out, focused on what most women focus on -- taking care of everyone at the neglect of themselves. Someone commented about feeling guilty for not coming to church on Sunday, even though she had attended a Saturday night worship service elsewhere (because her children had been invited by some neighbor kids).

Give me a break!

Why do we automatically play the guilt card instead of the grace card? (And really, God's grace isn't even necessary in this particular example, but still ... I maintain, no guilt, just grace.)

Let's return again to my scattered knowledge of the Old Testament. Among all the requirements God mandated of the children of Israel, that they might make a stab at holiness and righteousness, there was ... the guilt offering. (Disclaimer: the following is an oversimplification of a complicated subject.)

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the Lord, then he shall bring to the Lord as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks, with your valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a trespass offering. And he shall make restitution for the harm that he has done in regard to the holy thing, and shall add one-fifth to it and give it to the priest. So the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him." -- Leviticus 5:14-16

The offering named above (the trespass offering) is also known as the guilt offering. The guilt offering appears to differ from the sin offering in that it applies to the desecration or damage to holy things. The procedure above covers the "offensive action" and also the requirement of restitution, necessary because the offensive action was committed against something holy.

It was not acceptable to say, "But I didn't know..." Ignorance did not acquit you. Verses 17-19 from this same chapter make that very clear: If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering; he has certainly trespassed against the Lord.

Last year, I participated in a study of the Pentateuch (first five books). It's impossible to complete an exhaustive study of the Pentateuch in a seven month course (although the course was very exhausting.) The study featured "highlights" from the first five books. I came away from this study thinking, "Holy smokes, who could possibly keep all those rules and regulations? What hope does mankind have of living righteously and in a holy manner with so many guilt offerings and sin offerings and fellowship offerings and burnt offerings and wave offerings, etc., to keep up with?"

I came to understand from my teaching leader that it was more important to realize what God was willing to put in place so that mankind could make an attempt at holiness; at being in fellowship with Him.

Now, I find myself staring at the reality of no guilt, just grace and thinking, "Thank you Lord!" Grace, receiving that which I do not deserve through no effort of my own. Grace, God's giving of himself to mankind. Grace, God's answer to the problem that has plagued our relationship with our Heavenly Father from the very beginning -- the propensity toward sin.

Whenever I broach the topic of "no guilt, just grace" with the women in recovery, I typically use the passage from John's gospel that tells of the woman caught in the act of adultery whom is brought to Jesus to be stoned. After clearing the room of all of the woman's accusers by challenging them, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," he enters into the following dialogue:

10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
(John 8:10-11)

Remember that there is one person present who is without sin. One who is qualified and justified to throw that stone -- Jesus. But he chooses not to. "Neither do I condemn you." Instead, he forgives and gently admonishes her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." Even this instruction is not meant to shame her, but to encourage her. "I have better things for you than this. This life is harming you. It's time to move on."

We are not meant to live in guilt. In fact, through Jesus Christ and the confession of our sins, we are entirely set free from it.

No guilt, just grace.

Just enough grace ... for today.

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