Joy Killer: Guilt
One man said of his neighbor who was a notorious grouch: “The spreads good cheer wherever he DOESN’T go.”
May Tuohy, a seventy-year-old known for her general grouchiness, called the police about her neighbor who was sunbathing in the nude. “I don’t see anything,” said the police officer, looking out her window. “Of course not,” said the woman. “You have to stand on this chair.”
I’m sure you daily deal with some “Eli’s” and some “May’s” of your own. Some people are just partypoopers. They are killjoys. They take your elation and delight in sucking the energy and happiness right out of it. They are joy killers.
And it’s not just people, there are also circumstances and other things in your life which, if you are not careful, will also kill your joy. For instance, here are some ways you can tell if you’re having a “joy killing day.”
These are the top ten ways to tell if you’re having a bad day.
Number 10 - Your horn sticks on the freeway behind 32 Hell's Angels
Number 9 - You call suicide prevention and they put you on hold.
Number 8 - Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.
Number 7 - Your 4-year-old tells you that it's almost impossible to flush a grapefruit down the toilet.
Number 6 - It costs more to fill up your car than it did to buy it.
Number 5 - You wake up to the soothing sound of running water...and remember that you just bought a waterbed.
Number 4 - You compliment the boss' wife on her unusual perfume and she isn't wearing any.
Number 3 - Your doctor tells you that you are allergic to chocolate chip cookies.
Number 2 - You discover that your 12-year-old's idea of humor is putting crazy glue in your Preparation H.
Number 1 - Everyone is laughing but you.
Well there’s one thing these joy-killing people and joy-killing circumstances have in common: They can’t really touch the kind of joy we’ve been talking about in this series on joy. The reason is because these joykillers only affect your temporary, circumstantial happiness, not your deep down spiritual joy.
But that’s not to say that your deep-down spiritual joy doesn’t have some enemies. In truth, it does. Your spiritual joy and confidence faces some enemies as well. I want to talk to you about a few of these “joy-killers” over the next few weeks. Let’s start with one that will always take you down. If you struggle with this joy-killer, chances are there aren’t too many moments in your life when you have a great deal of confidence in God. Which “joykiller” am I speaking of? It’s the joy killer we know as ‘GUILT.”
Now guilt will do some crazy things to you. In the first place, anyone who claims to be a Christian, but struggles with guilt will never have much assurance of their salvation. If they have a tender heart, in fact, you will often find them at the altar. It isn’t usually some great new commitment that they are making to Christ. No, it is their constant guilt that they just can’t seem to get rid of.
And guilt may manifest itself in other ways. For instance, anger. I often talk to one partner in a marriage who will tell me something like this: “I don’t know what’s gotten in to my husband. All we do is fuss. I can’t even look at him without him flying off the handle.” When I hear that, I often begin to suspect that another woman has entered the picture. His anger at his wife is simply a matter of guilt. He feels so bad about what he is doing that he has to invent a wrong on her part so that he can be angry at her.
And then, a person who is struggling with guilt may even act out. It is no secret that the sexually abused often become, themselves, sexually promiscuous. Now I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for this, but I believe one of them has to do with trying to assuage their guilt.
Now I know that guilt will destroy joy because I have observed what it did to one of the most joyful men in the Bible. Read through the Psalms and you will find the height of praise and worship. It was David the Psalmist who danced so mightily with joy before the Lord when they brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem that he embarrassed his wife. When she confronted him about it, do you remember what he said. In essence he said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” He was a joyfilled man.
But, there were times when his joy left him. One of those times was when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. The overwhelming guilt of his sin ate at him. He said in Psalm 32: my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your dhand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Guilt had come and killed his joy and I am sure that there were days that David wondered if he’d ever be happy again. But I have good news this morning, his joy did return. How? Well, he took care of his guilt. No, he didn’t pay thousands of dollars to a psychologist to seek to deny his guilt. He actually got rid of his guilt, and then he penned our text for today to tell us how he did that. Read Psalm 51 with me: (READ TEXT)
David tells us here how we can get rid of guilt. It is through real repentance. In fact he describes here the three steps that are involved in this process of repentance. The first step is this.
DIV 1 - AWARENESS BRINGS CONVICTION
Have you noticed how most people don’t really feel that badly about their sin? That is, they don’t feel very badly until they get caught. Senators and Congressmen can sext their constituents on their cellphones with a certain impunity of conscience until they are called on the carpet by the news media. Then the tears begin.
This is quite different from genuine biblical conviction, and, make no mistake about it: Repentance that brings joy requires real conviction. That conviction begins with an awareness of sin. In 51:3 David says, For I acknowledge my transgresions and my sin is always before me. This again reminds us of Ps 32. Eugene Peterson renders 32:3-4 like this, When I kept it all inside my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up. David is aware of his sin and he knows it’s bad. He has willfully rebelled (that’s what the word “transgression” means, by the way: Willful rebellion). He knew it was sin to lust after Bathsheba. He knew it was willful rejection of God to summon her to his bedchamber and have sex with her. He knew it was premeditated murder to try to cover up his infidelity with the murder of her husband. He was aware of his sin and lay like a heavy burden on his heart. Then he finally confesses it to God and he says, my sin is ALWAYS before me. Conviction begins with an awareness of sin.
And then, that awareness of sin must lead to an awareness of self. If I am to truly repent and return to legitimate joy, I have to be honest about who I am. David does that in 51:5. He says, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Now David gets honest about who he is because he knows that’s what God desires. In fact, in v6 he goes on to say, Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts. He admits that dead-level honesty is what God wants, but he goes on to admit something even more amazing.
You see, not only is dead-level honesty what God wants, it is what only God can give. He says, Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts and in the hidden part YOU WILL MAKE ME TO KNOW wisdom. This deep honesty that is required for repentance is something that God makes us know. Hey listen! God’s got to do something in you to enable you to feel His conviction. He has to reveal you to you. There must be an awareness of self and sin.
And then, godly conviction flows from an awareness that, in this sinful condition, I am absolutely offensive to God. He says in v4, Against You and You only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight. I never realized it till I read some commentaries on this Psalm: David had committed two sins for which the Mosaic law provided no forgiveness. What was the penalty to be exacted on the one who committed murder or adultery? It was death. There were no sacrifices he could offer to take away his guilt. One commentator wrote:
With Micah he could have asked the solemn question: “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” No! By such offerings God cannot be appeased. David might have said: “If I build him an house, a magnificent temple; if I plead my hitherto circumspect life and all my good deeds in his service, will these not compensate for my lapse, and restore me to his favor?” No! “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”
And David knew that for such a transgression, he would be judged. In fact, he says in v4, Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. He could feel the weight of His sin and he anticipated the punishment that could be his.
But David knew something else about this great and awesome God. He knew that Yahweh was a God of mercy. That’s why he begins in v1, Have mercy on me O God. Someone wrote: (There) is a fierce, almost desperate clinging to God’s mercy. David begins this way. And lest we miss the force of this important beginning, he elaborates his opening by two other words that also highlight this important aspect of God’s character: “unfailing love” and “compassion.” Mercy denotes God’s loving assistance to the pitiful. Unfailing love points to the continuing operation of this mercy. Compassion teaches that God feels for our infirmities. In fact, the word, lovingkindness or compassion is related to the word, “womb,” suggesting the feelings of a mother toward an unborn child. This lovingkindness implies a personal involvement on God’s part to a relationship that goes beyond the rule of law.
Listen! David didn’t have a leg to stand on. All the sacrifices in the world could not atone for murder and adultery. He had to depend on God’s personal involvement to this relationship that went beyond the rule of law. That’s why he cried out for God to forgive him because of His tender mercies. And, how did he come to such a conviction? He became aware of his sin, his self, God’s judgment and God’s great mercy.
By the way, if you ever truly get right with God, you have to become aware of the same thing. It is the absence of God-caused conviction which leads so many to a false profession of faith. People pray the sinner’s prayer without really understanding what it means to be a sinner! Conversion without conviction is deception. At some level, God has to move into the picture and bring real, genuine conviction over sin, and there must, in turn, be a real willingness to repent of that sin. I cannot stress enough that this is a work of God in conviction.
In 1741, condemned criminals, just before their execution, would hear a message stressing the power and judgment of God and of their imminent encounter with him. In what many thought to be a shocking move, Jonathan Edwards applied this form of preaching to the people of Enfield. He was, in effect, comparing them to condemned murderers. The sermon really is a masterpiece, but that is not the source of its power, or at least not the only source. We can know this because, a few weeks before preaching at Enfield to the accompaniment of the screams of convicted sinners and the joyful weeping of new converts, Edwards had preached virtually the same sermon (we have his manuscript and can see how few amendments were made) to his own church in Northampton. But his flock responded only, as far as we know, by shaking his hand and saying "fine word, pastor" as they went home to lunch
Now what was the difference in those two events? Well in one, people were caused, by the power of the Holy Spirit to become aware of their own sinfulness and the coming judgment. In the other, they never got it. You see, before you can truly be saved, you have to be lost, and you have to know it. You must be aware of your sinfulness.
And the application goes beyond the unsaved. Even a “good” Christian who forgets his sinfulness will be naive about his vulnerability. When I understand that I have a sinful nature and come to appreciate just how ungodly I am in my flesh, I will be careful not to put myself into the position that I might be tempted. On the other hand, if I think, “I can handle it,” I am not on guard and Satan, who knows right where my weaknesses are, will be able to bring me down.
And then a Christian who forgets God’s justice, will be cavalier about his sin. What I mean is this: When a believer fails to recognize the great justice and sovereignty of God, he is willing to go on in his sin without repentance. He will say things like, “Yeah, I know God doesn’t want me to move in with my girlfriend before we’re married, but we are planning to get married.” She’ll say, “I know lie to my husband, but he’d be hurt if I told him the truth.” There is a general indifference to the fact that God is the one against whom we sin, and also the one who will bring His chastening to the life of the believer who attempts to flaunt their disobedience in the face of His grace. When I forget about God’s justice, I get really comfortable in my rebellion.
On the opposite end of the question, though, is the Christian who forgets about God’s mercy This believer will be defeated by his failure. This pitiful follower somehow forgets that he does not receive God’s favor because of his own works, and he certainly will not keep it that way. He rides a mountain of desperation, feeling the weight of his sin, but unable to deal with the guilt of it. Satan, his archenemy, does his best to accentuate his guilt and lie about God’s unwillingness to forgive.
So what category are you in? Have you forgotten about your sinfulness? Have you forgotten about God’s justice? Have you forgotten about God’s mercy? You will never truly repent until the conviction of God comes upon you and that conviction comes to those who are aware of their sinfulness and of God’s great mercy. But once they have become aware and are genuinely convicted, then:
D2 CONVICTION BRINGS REPENTANCE
David uses at least 4 different terms in this Psalm to signify his desire to repent and be cleansed of his sin. The first one is “blot out” my transgressions. There were ancient Bible manuscripts called palimpsests. They were pieces of papyrus or other material that had something already written on it. If that text was no longer needed, since the writing material was very expensive and hard to get, the writing of the unnecessary text would be rubbed out, the sheet turned sideways, and new words written on the old parchment. When David says, “blot out” my transgressions, he is asking God to go to His book on which David’s sins were written, rub them out, turn the page of his life on its side and start writing anew.
Two other terms were “wash” me and “cleanse” me, both found in v2. They meant to purge or completely clean. The word comes from the same word which the term “sin” comes from and it literally means “to de-sin.” David tells the Lord, “O God, de-sin me.”
Then he tells the Lord that he wants Him to “purge me with hyssop.” Hyssop was a small plant often found growing in the crevices of walls. Because of its shape and structure, it was used as a small brush and, in the temple ceremony, was used to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the altar.
David knew this, and, when he asked to be “purged with hyssop,” he was saying, “cleanse me by the blood.”
David knew that it wasn’t just enough to “feel bad” about what he had done. Plenty of people feel guilty and condemned, but they never do anything about how they feel. Now, understand, I’m not saying that they need to do something to “clean themselves up.” That is certainly not what David was saying. In many ways, there was nothing David could do to “make up” for his terrible sin. Bathsheba had already been violated. Uriah, the Hittite, was dead. He could not “unring” the bell of his great sin. Self-reform was useless. What he needed was a repentance that would permenantly blot out, wash and cleanse his sin by the blood of the lamb. He needed a repentance that led to a full change of heart that could only be brought through the power of God.
[Dr.] Leon Bender became frustrated when he took a South Seas cruise and observed that the crew was more diligent about hand-washing than the staff at his own hospital. Frequent hand-washing by doctors and nurses is one of the best ways to prevent patient infections, and studies estimate that thousands of patients die every year from preventable bacterial infections.
Bender and his colleagues tried a variety of techniques to encourage hand-washing, but the staff's compliance with regulations was stuck around 80 percent. Medical standards required a minimum of 90 percent and [his hospital] was due for an inspection from the accrediting board. They had to do better.
One day, a committee of 20 doctors and administrators were taken by surprise when, after lunch, the hospital's epidemiologist asked them to press their hands into an agar plate, a sterile Petri dish containing a growth medium. The agar plates were sent to the lab to be cultured and photographed.
The photos revealed what wasn't visible to the naked eye: The doctor's hands were covered with gobs of bacteria. Imagine being one of those doctors and realizing that your own hands—the same hands that would examine a patient later in the day, not to mention the same hands that you just used to eat a turkey wrap—were harboring an army of microorganisms. It was revolting. One of the filthiest images in the portfolio was made into a screensaver for the hospital's network of
computers ensuring that everyone on staff could share in the horror.
Suddenly, hand-hygiene compliance rose to nearly 100 percent and stayed there.
Now what if those doctors had observed these gross pictures, and simply kept on doing what they were doing? Would their habits have changed? Would their hands be clean? Absolutely not!
You see, real repentance comes only from godly conviction. In fact, real repentance requires godly conviction. The reason that David keeps repeating his request for God to “blot out” his sin and “wash” him, I believe, is that he keenly feels the weight of his guilt. His conviction brings repentance.
But also, real repentance requires real confession . Now we have to be careful here. We have a lot of people claiming to confess their sins and may even be convinced that they are doing so when they are not. When I was the youth pastor here, I remember that when I first came, there were a few folks in the group which I was pretty discouraged about. They didn’t just sneak around and sin, they flaunted it. I still remember one of them coming to my office one day, under the guise of confessing his sin to his youth pastor. It was really more of a bragging session. Even though, as I recall, I prayed with him to rededicate his life, I had the distinct impression when he left that even though he had rehearsed his sin, he had not repented of them. He had conversed about his sin, but he had not confessed them.
You say, “Well, how do you know that, Rusty? How do you know that he really wasn’t confessing his sin?” Well, because what he did doesn’t meet the definition of confession. You see, when the Bible describes confession, it does not mean to simply describe your wrong doing to God. The Greek actually speaks of agreeing with God about your sin. That’s different. When I agree with God, I agree that I have sinned. When I agree with God, I agree that, as a sinner, I deserve His judgment. When I agree with God, I also agree that I need to change what I am doing. When I agree with God, I agree that I will do whatever it takes in order to stop doing what I have been doing. That’s confession. It’s agreeing with God and real repentance requires real confession.
But, here’s the good part: real repentance will bring new confidence. Travel with me to the woods of Raleigh in June. Go down a back, rock covered road to a Cabin in the woods at about 8:30 p.m. See in that cabin some tables and around those tables are teenagers who came to Camp Lapihio covered in the guilt of their sin. But now they are sitting and talking to God. They are confessing and they are repenting and when it’s all over, just stand and bask in the JOY. What brought that joy to their lives? Well, during the week, God has made them aware of their sin. They’ve been convicted. Out of that conviction has come repentance, and out of that repentance has come joy.
The song says:
O to see my name written in the wounds
For through His suffering I am free
Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live
Bought through His selfless love
This the power of the cross
Christ became sin for us
What a love, what a cost
We stand forgiven at the cross.
Guilt is the number one joykiller, and do you know what the number one joy killer, guilt, needs? It needs to meet the number one guilt-killer. That’s the cross of Christ. Here’s what that looks like.