I spoke with a friend yesterday who is dealing with a mountain of guilt over his son getting into trouble. The thing that happened to him could have happened to anybody. You make one mistake and you land in jail. How many times have we or our children made mistakes that could have had the same consequences, but we had a near miss, or God spared us for no reason we can discern. Some get caught; some don’t. Some have to pay; some don’t. Some pay more than they deserve; others pay nothing. Life is not fair. But one thing is true: Jesus paid it all.
I grew up singing this hymn:
Jesus paid it all;
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed it white as snow.
White as snow — that’s what we all are. If we see ourselves as any different, we are listening to a lie.
Yet guilt is not entirely bad; it plays an important role in our lives. It alerts us to something wrong. It’s guilt that has ultimately driven us all to Christ. We wouldn’t know Jesus if it were not for the guilt that made us desire His forgiveness. Jesus is not just a nice guy to know; He saves us from our sin. He is the reason we can know God.
But, just as guilt got us to Christ, to a certain extent, it keeps us there. Not that we wallow in it, but that it is a constant reminder of the fact that we need a savior every day — that we are no different from the ones who got caught. We should all be in jail. Guilt reminds us of that. It keeps us from pridefully thinking we are better than anyone. Guilt keeps us in the game; it helps us connect with others because it is one thing we all have in common: we are all guilty. Saved or not, we are all guilty.
But we are also pardoned. We are forgiven. We have been declared white as snow.
Wait a minute. How can we be both at the same time? We can be both at the same time because life is not linear, as in a timeline; it is cyclical. It’s not that we were sinful, and once we are saved we are not. No, we grow in circles. We keep coming back to the same place, only deeper in. We blow it; we confess; we are forgiven; we are washed clean. How often does this happen? As often as we are aware of it. How long does it take? As long as it takes to think it.
And that cyclical process is what keeps us righteous in God’s eyes, yet humble. Not a self-righteousness based on good deeds, but a grace-filled righteousness based on Christ’s finished work on the cross. We walk by faith in His grace. We are constantly reminded of who we are (the sinful body Paul says we carry around [2 Corinthians 4:10]) and why we need a savior, just as we are constantly reminded of who we are in Christ and how He has washed us white as snow. This is why holy people are humble people. If holy people are haughty people, then somebody is being fooled. Someone didn’t circle back around fast enough to the grace they need every day.