Thursday, August 27, 2009

Conscience Cleanser

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

                        Hebrews 9.14

I Did It! I Did It! I Did It!

Every now and then I find myself with friends who swap parochial school horror stories. They begin with a line like “Sister Mary Theresa was so strict…” and escalate into “Can You Top This?” Somewhere in the process, they say, “Tim, you probably have no idea what we’re talking about.” That's my cue to tell them about Miss Johns, my first and second grade teacher at Chicago Christian Academy, a tiny school I attended prior to entering public school. Miss Johns wasn’t a nun, but she came as close as a lay teacher could get.

One day after recess, the janitor reported one of her boys flushed wads of tissue down the toilet. Miss Johns demanded the culprit identify himself. When none stepped forward, she said, “If you did this, you must confess your sin. The Bible says, ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die.’” Wheels began turning in every boy’s mind: Maybe I did it and don’t know it. She modified her threat. “If don’t admit it, you’re lying. You know what happens to liars? ‘All liars shall have their place in the lake of fire that never goes out!’” If we committed the crime or not, just in case, all hands flew into the air. “I did it!” “I did it!” “I did it!” Miss Johns lined us up for paddling, explaining she had to swat all of us to be sure the guilty one got punished. When she came to me, one of the girls volunteered, “Miss Johns, Timothy didn’t go to the bathroom.” In my panic about going to Hell, that fact completely escaped me. The teacher spun me around and asked if this was true. I nodded. “Saying you did it isn’t true, is it, Timothy?” No. “What’s the word for people who don’t tell the truth?” They’re liars. “And what happens to liars?” They go to Hell, I said. So I got spanked for lying, too.

Clean Through and Through

We all stumble into situations where assuming guilt for something we couldn’t possibly have done exerts pressure on our consciences—just in case. Perhaps if we’d done this, that wouldn’t have happened. Perhaps we’re unknowingly wrong. Perhaps we mean to do harm and pretend we don’t. Such thoughts paralyze us with fear and disable us from responding honestly to situations. They predispose us to guilt rather than confidence. Worst of all, taking blame for things beyond our control or responsibility results in self-deception. And—God bless Miss Johns—that’s really wrong. False admission of guilt may spring from honest motives. But it’s still false, a lie we tell others and ourselves. In Hebrews 9, we find an amazing message about how and why Christ frees us from guilt.

The chapter offers a revealing contrast between Judaism’s animal offerings and Christ’s sacrifice. Its chief point comes down to vastly different results each achieves. Verse 9 says, “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.” Animal sacrifices focused on making us outwardly acceptable to God as a means to reach Him in worship. But, according to verse 10, the blood of Christ surpasses appearances, cleansing “our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Because many faith traditions leverage guilt as a control mechanism, it takes great effort to grasp the concept of Christ’s blood as a conscience cleanser. Too often we’re taught to feel guilty for Jesus’s crucifixion and told to apologize over and over for His death. To be sure, our sinfulness necessitated His sacrifice. Yet once we claim redemption through His blood, Hebrews says we’re clean through and through—inside and out. It’s a mistake to believe Jesus’s death burdens us with guilt. He shed His blood to cleanse our consciences so we’re free to serve, rather than merely worship, God. A clean conscience makes for a fearless Christian. Absence of guilt becomes presence of grace. Purity of heart purifies intentions. Outward appearances reflect inner realities. Our love for God and others flows without reservation. Worship and service become all of a piece.

Cancel the Trip

In John 3.16, Jesus defines His role as our conduit for faith: “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He didn’t die so we could travel roads of guilt and shame. Hebrews refers to such guilt trips as “acts that lead to death.” Christ died to remove the weight of guilt completely and lift us to new life here and unending life to come. In Acts 24.15-16, Paul says, “I have the same hope in God… that there will be resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Maintaining a clear conscience sustains our hope in God. But it’s also imperative we keep our consciences clean from the pollution of false guilt.

Those who question our faith in Christ steer us toward guilt. Many do so out of genuine love and concern. When anyone uses guilt to force us down their path of faith, we cancel the trip. True believers don’t focus on external appearances. They look to Calvary. The cleansing power of Christ’s blood transcends surface spot removal; it permeates our minds, dissolving stains of guilt and doubt. His death bought much more than conformity to acceptable standards. It purchased guilt-free consciences so we can go beyond reaching God to serving Him.

Too many of us are guilty of accepting false guilt. Christ’s blood is a conscience cleanser that frees us to serve God and others guilt-free.

(Tomorrow: Let’s Agree)

Postscript: 10,000!

With total praise and thanksgiving to God, I'm amazed and humbled to report "Straight-Friendly" received its 10,000th visitor at 6:59 CDT today. When this journey began early last summer, I never imagined it would reach this point. God is so good to us. And I'm so grateful to each of you who've played such a vital role in helping S-F cross this threshold. May God reward each of you for your kindness and encouragement. May we continue to hold one another up in faith and love.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Blessings of joy and peace to you all!



Fran said...

Oh Tim... wow!

First of all, that story about your early school experience.

Second - how we all do all assume much more than we must.

There is truly no accounting for grace, because our healing is not dependent on our acts but rather our intention.

God is ever waiting to welcome us back, like the father in the prodigal son story.

The problem with all that guilt and trying to "do" more for God is that it puts all the focus on us and not on God where it belongs.

Tim said...

"The problem with all that guilt and trying to "do" more for God is that it puts all the focus on us and not on God where it belongs."

Fran, thanks so much for this. I struggled for a conclusive statement, finally accepted I'd done the best I could do, and published anyway. You've hit the nail on the head.

Guilt is a true sign we're tripping over our own doubt and fear instead of trusting God's love and acceptance. In the spirit of Miss Johns (ahem), what does the Bible/Jesus say? "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8.36)

Carrying false guilt is our choice, our problem. Us us us! Not Him Him Him...

Thanks again for helping crystallize this truth!

Blessings always,

genevieve said...

Tim, one of the things I hope to change is the perception by TGLB folks that God hates them. Many are constantly blamed for who they are and that it is a choice. TGLB people are blamed for the economy, terrorism, disease and lawlessnes. There's so much self hatred and unworthiness.

God can break this false guilt cycle and fill the person with frgiveness, love, and gratitude.

Tim said...

You're so right, Genevieve. And when we allow ourselves to get drawn into the "blame game"--even if we set out trying to defend ourselves against it--we lend credibility to the accusations.

We are forgiven. We are heirs to Christ's sacrifice for redemption and new life. His blood cleanses us from guilt.

We have to know that.

Thanks so much, Genevieve. Your comments always bring me great inspiration and enlightenment.

Peace and joy always,

Luke said...

This false guilt blog really hit home with me. Not because I have false guilt over something, at least not that I am aware of now. It hit home because of my mother. She and my father both thought my being gay was their fault. They took on this false guilt because they were deeply convinced that they had done something to make me gay. It has taken a very long time some 9 years to get to the point that they don't feel guilty anymore. It is hard to admit that you have nothing to be guilty about for some people. No matter if you did or not God has forgiven you because of Jesus' sacrifice. My parents wouldn't accept that or that they had done nothing wrong to begin with. It tortured them for a long time. I think many parents of GLBT people should read this blog espeically Christians. I think it would open their eyes to let go of guilt and in this case false guilt. Good job my friend. :)

Tim said...

Your comment hit me like a ton of bricks, Luke. I know my parents also suffer tremendous false guilt. I don't think a day goes by when they don't scrape through the past looking for the one thing they failed to do to spare the hardships they've faced by having a gay son. Even parents who accept their child's sexuality recognize their (i.e., the child's and parents') probably would have been less complicated if...

We need to pray for our parents and family members. As I often tell young GLBT people, when we come out of the closet, we bring everyone we know with us. And we've had years to prepare for our coming out; they haven't. Thus, we often find peace and freedom from guilt much quicker than they.

Your comment touches me deeply. Thank you.