Guilt is such a terrible thing; getting something you know you most certainly did not deserve could leave you feeling terrible at times (for those with a conscience though).
I once heard of an incident that occurred in South Africa some time ago. After Nelson Mandela was elected President, a body was set up to investigate crimes that were committed against the blacks during the apartheid era. Amongst the perpetrators was a white South African who was known to be very brutal. He went into the homes of many blacks and dragged their children off to be killed. His wickedness was renowned. While his hearing was going on, families of his victims were allowed to witness the hearing and some of them gave evidence. Just before the judge was about to give some sort of ruling, the mother of one of his victims asked if she could say something and was allowed, what she said left the entire court in tears; she asked if the guy would like to come to her home for lunch. And when people eventually regained their composure, they noticed the accused was no longer standing in the dock; he had collapsed and fainted! Why? He could not believe that he could be forgiven for such crimes!
In more ways than one, we resemble this guy not in terms of the kind of crimes we have committed but in terms of sinning repeatedly against God. While we were still deep in sin, God sent His only son to die for us so that our sins would be forgiven. And we unfortunately find ourselves struggling to accept this forgiveness because we know we certainly didn’t deserve it. Human nature!
In our bid to lessen our guilt, we invent some self-help doctrines as the reason we have been forgiven. The lady in the above story chose to forgive the man. He did not earn this forgiveness and thus it would have been a bit silly of him to perform acts of piety to keep this forgiveness. It would also have been quite silly if he decided to keep doing evil because he has been forgiven. Unfortunately quite a number of us Christians find ourselves doing this, we believe we must keep doing stuff to keep this forgiveness. This has given rise to many legalistic self-help doctrines, which unfortunately have become the face of today’s Christianity. Unscrupulous preachers prey on this distortion and use them to manipulate their congregants. This has left quite a number of them wounded and broken spiritually.
With so many of these self help doctrine running rife, the true message of the cross has become obscured. All we have now are doctrines like: 10 ways to receive the anointing (You already have the anointing!), 5 keys to prosperity, how to experience financial breakthroughs, how to receive your healing, how to hear God’s voice (even though Jesus says in scripture that His sheep hear His voice), an even more bizarre one made popular by the word of faith preachers; how to receive faith and this list goes on. Our quest for self-justification makes us believe these doctrines and the more we do them the more we feel good enough to warrant God’s love. If for instance, we are told that one of the ways to receive the anointing is to embark on a 40 day fast and we do it, we begin to feel that God has taken that act into account and we have therefore become very good candidates for the anointing. My personal favourite is the doctrine of sowing seeds and giving tithes and offerings as the way to receive blessings from God. We engage in these acts so religiously and feel justified that that’s the reason we have been blessed.
While we were still sinners, God loved us enough to send his son to die for our sins. Now that we have accepted His son, His love for us still has not changed. Yes, we did not deserve it but we already have it. Let us embrace this love and stop trying to earn it. The more we try to work for it, the more Christianity becomes a legalistic chore and stops being a way of life. Of course we have not been forgiven so that we can continue to sin as we like, we have been forgiven so that we could look forward to a new life which has been fashioned after God’s nature.