“Goin’ to church twice in one weekend? Gees, you must be feelin’ guilty!” I have no idea what he thought church was — the kind where you go and confess to a priest, or the kind where you pray the Sinner’s Prayer.
What bothered me was his perception of church as people who struggle with guilt. Is that the message people hear from us? Not a message of hope for the world? Not a Saviour who resolves the injustice and sets all things right? What happened to the good news of a selfless ruler who gave his life for his people and now calls us to care for each other the way he cares for us?
We need to announce good news! People are not saved by a revelation of their guilt; they’re saved by a revelation of Jesus. Trying to win people by proclaiming their personal guilt is misguided. Regeneration happens when the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to people. Our task is to partner with him in revealing Jesus in his world.
Not convinced we should focus on proclaiming Jesus instead of guilt? Still thinking that someone must feel guilty to ask for salvation? Then consider Paul’s conversion. Did Paul have a sudden revelation of his own guilt that caused him to cry for salvation? No: he had a revelation of Jesus! Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and it was the revelation of Jesus that changed his life.
Believe me, Paul wasn’t having a guilt crisis. The way he tells it later, he was feeling quite smug:
Philippians 3:5-6 (NIV)
… 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
What changed him was not a revelation of his guilt, but a revelation of Jesus:
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord …
Later, after meeting Jesus, Paul could look back and see how misguided he was in persecuting Jesus’ followers. He became aware of his guilt as a consequence of meeting Jesus. He could then describe himself as “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16). But it wasn’t sin that saved him. It wasn’t a revelation of his guilt. It was a revelation of Jesus.
Can I appeal to you to drop the message of guilt as a means of manipulating people into the kingdom of God? That’s not what Jesus did. It’s not what his apostles did in Acts. After discovering our Saviour, we become acutely aware of how much we needed him. But guilt is not our message for the world; Jesus is.
When Jesus announced the good news of the kingdom of God, he wanted people to recognize the one whom God had anointed to be king. Jesus is the servant king who restores justice to the earth: that’s the message people need to hear us proclaim.