Freedom from Guilt to Joy (June 10, 2018)
Freedom from Guilt to Joy
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
We’ve all had those moments. You are on your way to an important meeting, an important event, or maybe your first day of something new; when, suddenly, you realize you aren’t wearing any pants! And for the longest time you are worried, fretting, and struggling to find ways to cover up. Of course, you realize that I am talking about those nervous dreams we all have. Dreams that come in the nights before some important occasion. Dreams that keep you tossing and turning all night as you worry about messing up, doing something wrong, or having your weaknesses exposed. For me, it often happens before a special worship service, or when I know my dad will be in the congregation. Or maybe I have to lead a devotion in front of all the pastors in the district! It’s nerve racking. I worry about which flaws and weaknesses they might see. And you might be thinking, “Well, Pastor, at least you have your robe to cover up with in those dreams.” But no! For some reason my robe is always missing in those dreams. I forgot it in the car, or it’s in the laundry, or something else.
I think it’s really interesting that our anxiety and our worries, often reveal themselves in dreams in which we are exposed. It’s like there is some subliminal connection between anxiety or shame and being exposed. And actually, there is a connection. It goes all the way back to the first sin where Adam and Eve first felt the embarrassment of guilt after giving in to sin. And when they were faced with a very important visitor – the Lord God as he was walking in the garden – that guilt went into overdrive. Their new spiritual shame manifested itself in physical shame as Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen 3:10). There is truly a connection between spiritual shame and physical shame; spiritual guilt and physical hiding. We have Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden. Moses hid from God when he came face to face with him at the burning bush. Isaiah fell down on his face when he stood in the throne room of the Almighty God. Since that time the Bible says that all people have been born spiritually naked. And it actually speaks in a language of being clothed for the judgment of the Lord. “Look, I come like a thief!” Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed” (Rev 16:15).
That’s why, in this section of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he reminds and encourages them that we are awaiting a new body, which won’t be clothed with sin, and won’t be exposed. You see, while we are in this body, there is always going to be a struggle going on. It’s a struggle between the Sinful Flesh and the New Creation. While we are here on earth, the Sinful Flesh is always going to be dragging us down into sin. The sinful nature is going to find our weaknesses and exploit them. Yet, since there is a New Creation at work within us as well, we feel the guilt and the shame of our wrongdoings. It’s an endless cycle of giving into temptation, and feeling guilty for doing the wrongs that we know are wrong. In fact, the apostle Paul, who wrote this letter to the Corinthians, laid out the struggles of his heart in his letter to the Romans. “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…. In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rm 7:18-19, 22-24).
He cries out for rescue because he knows that there is going to be a day of judgment coming. He knows that one day he will have to stand before a holy and righteous judge and give an account. He knows that no matter what he tries to hide behind to cover up his shameful sins, the Lord Almighty knows it all. You and I know that that day is coming as well. And so just like those anxious dreams, you may live your life nervously trying to hide the guilt of sin which just doesn’t want to be covered! That’s why Paul says, “While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor 5:4). We groan and are burdened because of the Sinful Nature that we just can’t get rid of in this life. The Bible also talks about all of creation groaning because once sin entered the world, things just haven’t been the same. Sin infects every part of creation bringing out the worst and putting it on display for all to see. And to make matters worse, Satan points out our wrongdoings, draws attention to them, and just doesn’t let us forget them – exposing the guilt of our sinfulness.
What kinds of things have you done recently that have exposed your spiritual nakedness – that have revealed the spiritual shame that lies within? Was it allowing distractions to take center stage in your day when you know that there are more important things that need to get done? Was it dodging blame or pushing it onto someone else when you know that you are just as guilty? Was it speaking badly of someone else and exposing their faults because it makes you forget your own faults? All of these things expose the sin which lurks within. All of these are part of the struggle we have while in this earthly tent of a body.
Thankfully, God has freed us from the guilt of our sins. And in doing so he also covers us with his righteousness. In his death it was Christ who took on all of our sins. All of your sin and all of your guilt was taken from your shoulders and placed onto Christ. The Bible even says that he became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). God even hid his face from Christ on the cross because he became sin. Just as Adam and Eve, Moses, Isaiah and others hid from the Lord because they knew that sinful human beings cannot look at God and live, so God hid his face from Christ. And after Christ had paid the full punishment for all sins in the flesh, he died. So we are completely freed from that guilt, and are covered with the righteousness that comes from God.
Since our sinfulness has died with Christ, we also rise with Christ and are a new creation! For the Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17). You no longer have to hide in fear and shame because God has made you new! In this newness, God has promised that he will help you overcome what is sinful and shameful. And he has also promised that after this earthly tent is destroyed, we will have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven (2 Cor 5:1). A heavenly body which has no shameful sin in it – no spiritual nakedness! He’s guaranteed this promise by giving us his Spirit as a deposit – a down payment of what is to come! And if he gives us this deposit of the Spirit which allows us to be free from sin here in this life, we can be assured that he will completely remove all guilt and sin in heaven.
So, while we are waiting for our resurrection to a renewed and perfect body, what do we do with our “earthly tent” of a body? First of all, we have to realize, that although this body we live in now will always have sinful tendencies, we are never at a loss when we live our lives by faith in Christ. “We are confident” (2 Cor 5:8), Paul says. We are confident because our heavenly goal is certain. Although we would prefer to be away from this earthly body and at home with the Lord, we are confident and look forward to the body that we will one day have – one which is not burdened with guilt or exposed in shame. But even here and now, clothed with Christ’s righteousness and driven by his Spirit, we can live a God pleasing life! “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (2 Cor 5:9). We can please God in this body. Even here and now you can serve your Lord with gladness producing fruits of faith which are pleasing in God’s sight! You have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. And in that righteousness, you are fit to serve your God and meet him face to face!
That’s really what true joy in life is. Not just happiness; true joy. Did you know that there is a difference between happiness and joy? The English word “happiness” actually comes from the word “happenings.” Our happiness is often determined by what happens to us. So when you do well on a test, when you get married or start a family, when you are able to enjoy a great trip, you are happy because of what happened. But life is not always roses and sunshine. There are times in life when we may not feel all that happy because of what is happening in our lives. But just because your happiness is diminished, doesn’t mean your joy is taken away. No, your joy is based on your eternal home with God. And because Christ has clothed you with his righteousness, earned your place in heaven, and given you the Spirit as a guarantee, your joy is never in jeopardy! “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). We are confident in that eternal home that we don’t enjoy yet, but it’s already ours. Your joy is founded in Christ, and no one can take that away from you.
In our lives, each one of us has been like the prodigal son at one time or another. The son in that parable already had an inheritance. It was safe in his father’s keeping. But that wasn’t good enough for him. He was impatient and wanted to indulge his senses here and now! It wasn’t long before he ended up unsatisfied, hungry, and probably almost naked. In the same was we march straight away from God at times thinking we know better. But when the son came to his senses and went home, confessing his sin, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your [child]” (Lk 15:21), how did he find his father? Angry and upset? No. The son was welcomed with open arms, no questions asked, forgiven! And he was clothed! “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” (Lk 15:22). No matter how many times you march away from God, he will always be there waiting, searching for you. And he will welcome you home in forgiveness and love, clothing you with his righteousness.