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Of Guilt and Grace

Do you think the church focuses too much on guilt and not enough on grace? Would it be better if we focused less on our rules and more on our privileges? Do Christians put heavy burdens on people in an effort to enforce a standard of behavior they want to see? In short, are we as the Christian church, driving people away by nurturing a guilt-gospel rather than a grace-gospel?

This question has been on my mind a bit lately, and I’m not going to say too much about it here, aside from the fact that I think the accusation has an element of truth, and an element of mistake.

To the degree that we, as Christians, are creating our own standards and imposing them on others, we are doing a great deal of harm. We may, sadly, use guilt as a weapon. Our traditions and preferences and perspectives are not equivalent to God’s word. When we, intentionally or unintentionally, make others feel like they don’t belong because they have a different (for example) political view, a different educational view, a different way of building their family and doing their work, we are using guilt to coerce behavior, and it drives people away. When we make the “rules” that work for us, the only way to be considered “good Christians” in our circle, we drive stakes through the very unity of the church that Christ purchased with His own blood.

I fear the the above happens in some circles. I fear we are, in fact, losing young people in our churches because those who are older are unwilling to allow them to be…well…young. We don’t let them ask questions, or even politely push back on us, expecting them to just embrace every truth we proclaim, even though it may have taken us many years to embrace them ourselves. Some Christians may be left feeling guilty that they are not “as sure” as everyone else appears to be about some of the truths which we hold so dearly. And thus, ashamed of their uncertainty, they leave the church to find a home where they can at least be honest about their doubts, if not their beliefs.

On the other hand, I’m concerned that the appetite for a guilt-free church is a very dangerous one as well. Guilt, when it is truly the trumpet of our conscience prompted by God’s word, is a most healthy, holy, and necessary instrument for our growing in grace. Guilt stings. But don’t we sometimes need that sting? I sure do. I need my attitude adjusted, my practice perfected, and my thoughts trained. God’s word does this, often mediated by a preacher, a teacher, or even the gentle words of a brother or sister in Christ. And this is the sort of guilt, or sorrow if you will, that we need more of and not less of in the church. A craving for grace, without guilt, in a sense misses the very thing that grace bought for us – a new, tender heart, that wants to avoid sin at all cost.

These are very underdeveloped thoughts. Would love to hear from readers who have some perspectives on this as well. Contact me through my contact page if you have something to share.

Photo by Marl Clevenger on Unsplash

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