Measuring Our Guilt Down to the Ounce?
Podcast: Axe to the Root
Topics: Christian Life, Theology
“He took on Himself all the guilt of the world.”
– Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, John Murray
Subscribe to the PodcastiTunes Google Spotify RSS Feed
Welcome to Episode 70 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes you and I will try to bring correction to a very significant failure of moral character in American Christianity: namely, the question of guilt. Even more precisely, how much guilt have we incurred, and how much guilt should we, as Christians, be willing to assume, if we are to bring our nation to repentance and our churches to revival. We will look at the Biblical principles for accepting responsibility, and for the Biblical principles of repentance.
And when we do that, we may find out that with churches at every corner, and with seminaries in every city, and sermons on the radio and TV in every state and county, we have strayed far away from the Biblical view on these things.
Before I get to the point, let me share a story. Roll back to 1992, when I had to be present, unwillingly, at a pre-trial inquiry. I was graduating from the Bulgarian Naval Academy in Varna, and I was assigned to an anti-submarine ship as commanding officer of Battle Station 1 (or Battle Post 1), which, under the designation of the Warsaw Pact (still used by Bulgaria in 1992), meant the navigation room and all the navigational equipment of the ship. Just within a month after I reported for duty, an accident happened on our ship: during maintenance, a depth charge was left loose and it rolled overboard. That happened while the ship was berthed, so the depth charge fell in the shallow water of the harbor, where there were more than three dozen other ships berthed as well, not to mention ground and underwater communication lines, ammunition stores nearby, vehicles parked, boats, etc.
By regulations, drum depth charges are stored without their detonators (those are screwed on and adjusted to specific depth just a few minutes before their actual use in combat or training), so there wasn’t any immediate danger. And yet, the matter was serious, even if for the miniature probability of explosion. A depth charge of that type is about the largest single explosive you will find on a ship; all the others (missiles, torpedoes, artillery charges) have to be delivered to the enemy over long distances, so their size is usually limited. A drum depth charge is just rolled off the stern, or shot at a very short distance with a mortar-type canon (it looks like a giant hammer when it flies in the air, due to a special “handle” attached to it), so it doesn’t have the same limitations on weight and size as those for the other weapons. It is so powerful that when the ship drops it in the water and it explodes after several minutes, the hit wave is felt on the ship itself like a giant hammer hitting it, even if the ship is quarter of a mile away. (Imagine what it is for the submarine.) After all, it is a depth charge; it is supposed to go deep and create a hit wave in the highly resistant environment of water under pressure. Imagine what it is if it explodes in the shallow waters of a harbor. Actually, just go to YouTube and search for depth charge explosion. Anyway, back to the story.
Depth charges were under Battle Station (or Battle Post) 3, which included mines, torpedoes, and depth charges (anything meant to explode underwater, unlike artillery and missiles which exploded above the water), and the commanding officer of Battle Station 3 was a friend of mine who had graduated from the same Naval Academy 5 or 6 years prior. At the time of the incident, however, my friend wasn’t on the ship. The mishandling of the depth charge was committed by one of his sergeants responsible for the maintenance, and a couple of seamen with him. So the common perception was that in that pre-trial inquiry, my friend would be off the hook, and the blame would be thrown on the sergeant. The people that would be indicted, if the case went to trial, would be his direct subordinates.
The panel of the inquiry (one deputy military prosecutor and two ship commanders of the same base) called first for my friend to testify. I guess, since he was perceived to be clear of guilt, they wanted his testimony at the beginning. Besides, he was an officer of perfect reputation: he had a high work ethic, and his technical knowledge of his specific field was at a very high level. As both a commanding officer and a trusted technical expert on depth charges and their maintenance, he was expected to lay down the foundation for everyone’s understanding of what such maintenance involved, and whether there could be any guilt assumed, or at least criminal negligence ascribed.
My friend’s testimony surprised all of us, however. He did indeed give us in short the framework to understand how that maintenance worked and how it was supposed to be done. At some point, however, he switched to the responsibility of the commanding officer and the technical specialist – both combined in his person and position – to train their crew to perform that maintenance. He went into a great detail as to how many hours of training they should do, what specific kinds of training with both the weapons and their maintenance, what sort of auxiliary technical training and study hours, how many hours of direct teaching by the commanding officer or the technical expert himself, etc., etc. While laying out all these regulations and requirements, he also started comparing them to his own work so far. At first, I couldn’t figure out why he was giving all this information; neither did the panel; they told him he didn’t have to. But my friend insisted. At some point it dawned on me that he was actually throwing the blame on himself. He repeatedly emphasized how his training of his crew fell short of what could be assumed to be good practice or common sense, even if it was within the limits of Navy regulations. He mentioned multiple examples of perfect work and good work ethic shown by the sergeant in question. He showed how he himself had failed to emphasize some central concepts and actions during maintenance so that his people could build the necessary habits and skills. By the end of his testimony, he had used the witness stand to present a picture which incriminated himself and cleared his subordinates of any wrongdoing, or even of negligence. His crew did the best they could according to their best knowledge. And if their best knowledge came short, it was his fault as their superior.
I don’t think I had ever seen anything like that before, and neither have I seen anything like that since. And I was not the only one astonished. The panel was visibly perplexed. I am sure that prosecutor wanted to take the case to court. (How else would he justify his money?) But if he did, he couldn’t ignore the first and foundational testimony in the inquiry. And what if he pressed charges against my friend? There was a still a chance he could win the case against my friend, but that would mean that he would destroy the career of an officer who was regarded as a good asset. And the rest of the panel, being commanding officers themselves, were not willing at all to indict one of them who had put himself in the harm’s way in what was obviously an attempt to protect his subordinates. Communist – or former Communist – militaries are not and have never been the epitome of ethics, but even in that environment there was still some awareness of honor. And what my friend did was considered “honorable,” even if most of the people present would choose a different course in his situation. (Just as a disclaimer, I consider a culture of honor and shame to be a pagan culture, as opposed to the Biblical culture which is a culture of ethics. But that for a future episode.)
The rest of the inquiry was quite short; I don’t think the panel themselves were comfortable digging into it too much. A few days later, as most of us expected, the panel made the decision to not indict anyone. A few reprimands were issued, a few recommendations were submitted to the commanding officers involved, and the case was dismissed. When I talked to my friend about it, he shrugged and said he never really expected to be indicted. But there was still some probability that his testimony would be used against him, so why did he do it? He wasn’t perfectly sure why; he just knew that it was the right thing to do, to take the blame for his subordinates. He also wanted to make sure that he could look them in the eyes after all this was over; to abandon them in such an important moment would mean they couldn’t trust him in the future, and therefore he couldn’t trust them either. So his motivations were not really clear even to himself; he just vague felt this was the right way to go. To all of us who were there, it was also vaguely obvious it was an honorable act, although we didn’t know why.
My friend was not a Christian, and I was less than two years old in the faith. I didn’t know anything about Covenant Theology, and I didn’t know anything about the judicial aspect of the faith, or of intercession, or anything else whatsoever. Only many years later, reminiscing on the experience, I realized that in what happened in that room that day, God gave me an earthly picture of Christ’s redemption. But we’ll look at Christ’s example later.
I can’t say this experience had a formative influence on my view of guilt and responsibility; I would say it was rather one of many factors. But over the years I developed the feeling that a Christian is not supposed to measure down his guilt to the ounce; to the contrary, he should be willing to assume more responsibility rather than less; and therefore, a Christian should not shy from assuming more guilt that he has directly incurred with his actions. I say feeling, because it was rather vague; I couldn’t really provide any theological or exegetical case if I was asked. Like my friend, I just felt it was the right thing and the honorable thing to do. Perhaps there was also some pragmatic consideration, same as what my friend had when he said, “I didn’t really expect for them to indict me.” I guess if you asked me why I would be repenting for sins I haven’t committed, my answer would be that if I was in error, I would be on the safe side of that error: better repent for more sins than needed than for fewer. After all, assuming more guilt won’t make me more accused in God’s court, but assuming less guilt may make me liable in God’s court. Another factor was that in the Charismatic circles I was moving in my first years of the faith, we spent lots of time praying and intercedingfor both individuals and for the nation as a whole. And intercession by its very definition requires that you identify with the person or the group you intercede for. (That’s why Jesus had to be born in a human body.) This identifying inevitably faces you with the necessity to identify with their sins as well and repent for them. (And I will show later that there is actually deep Biblical theology behind this, contrary to the knee-jerk responses of some modern so-called “Reformed.”) Another factor is also that I was reading more and growing more in the knowledge of Covenant Theology, and I was beginning to understand the judicial aspect of the faith, and with it, the judicial applications of guilt, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. But in all this, remember, it was an unbeliever who first demonstrated to me the Christian way of dealing with guilt and responsibility. Even if he didn’t know that that’s what he was demonstrating.
Until I met the reality in the American churches, where the mentality is exactly the opposite.
My first encounter with the views on guilt and responsibility in the American churches was back in 2003 when I had a conversation over dinner with two of my elders. I was a member of a Presbyterian church at the time. The church was explicitly Christian Reconstructionist by its very articles of faith and by its mission statement; not just broadly “Reformed,” which these days simply means, in reality, “Pietist and Spiritually Dead, but Theologically Correct on the Narrow Topic of Salvation.” (That’s what 99% of the so-called “Reformed” churches in this nation are.) Officially, the church had a comprehensive covenantal view of reality. Until that conversation, I perceived my elders had the views they professed in the church’s constitution. The conversation shattered that perception. We talked about many different topics of politics, justice, social action, etc., and by the end I knew that while my elders had a mental knowledge of Reformed theology and even Christian Reconstruction, their applied ideology was no different that the run-of-the-mill neo-conservative socialism of the surrounding culture. To make a long story short, we got to the issue of some immoral things done by the United States in their foreign policy – perhaps not as bad as what Germany or Japan or the Soviet Union or the United Kingdom have done, but still deserving some sort of acknowledgment and repentance or apology – and I discovered that I my elders’ view, no president should apologize for America, and America should not apologize for any of her actions, even if they were admittedly wicked. I was rather shocked; until that time, I thought such aversion to admitting guilt and responsibility was a character trait limited to the socialists (former Communists) in Eastern Europe who flatly refused to issue any kind of apology or repentance for the crimes of the Communist regimes. I would certainly not imagine that a Christian would be so averse to apology and repentance, let alone Reformed elders?
It was then when I heard for the first time the phrase “false guilt.” They couldn’t be held responsible for someone else’s actions, let alone their government’s actions; that would be “false guilt.” (On the other hand, they believed that killing non-combatants in war – like at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – was justified because they are solidarily responsible for the crimes of their governments. That is, one standard for Americans, another for everyone else.) So, it would be “false guilt,” and “false guilt” was something very bad. Thus, more than anything else, they wanted to be careful not to assume “false guilt.” So every assumption of guilt – individual or corporate – had to be strained as precisely as possible, examined to minutest detail, so that they were sure that every ounce of guilt that was ascribe to them was really theirs. Again, these were “Reformed” elders, exhibiting mentality that in Eastern Europe is associated with Communists and socialists.
I was disappointed, of course, and, as you may reckon, this conversation served me as an eye-opener to the really low standards for elders in the “Reformed” churches in America. At the time, however, I imagined this aversion to assuming guilt and apology may have been limited to some people. But it wasn’t. I encountered it again. For some time, I was moving in the circles of the Federal Vision theology – don’t ask me why, I was young and stupid, and it took me a while to see through the corruption and hypocrisy and sometimes sheer lunacy of the leaders of that movement. One of the first signs something was not right was when they started spreading a new view on abortion: namely, that abortion was not a Christian concern, it was just the covenant-breakers killing off their offspring. Why should Christians be worried about the death of the non-elect? (You know, because you can be sure those murdered babies are all non-elect, I reckon.) At one Q&A session, when this issue was raised, I asked if, given that a nation under the same government is considered a covenantal – that is, “federal” – entity, Christians, as members of that covenantal entity would be solidarily responsible for the murders of infants in that nation, under that government. I was given a mixture of cheap wittiness and meaninglessness (which is the literary standard for all Federal Vision theologians), which, boiled down, meant, “No, Christians are not accountable for the murders of infants in the culture. After all, we are not the ones doing the murders.” So much for the “federal” part of Federal Vision. Again, there was this aversion to admitting guilt. It’s somebody else’s fault.
Then the scandals about Doug Wilson’s plagiarism happened. I was not awfully surprised, to be honest. Plagiarism has been a common phenomenon in Reformed circles in the last 100 years. Francis Schaeffer was the greatest culprit; he prodigiously borrowed ideas and even direct paragraphs from original Reformed authors of his time – including Van Til and Rushdoony and North and Bahnsen – and sold them as his own thoughts without giving as much as a line of acknowledgment to the original authors. On a smaller scale, I have caught theologians like R.C. Sproul or John Robbins do the same. Wilson, after all, is not even a theologian; he is rather a salesman. So his plagiarism was not that much of a surprise to me.
What was surprising, however, is the way the whole scandal was treated. One particular case was quite close to me, because it involved Pastor Randy Booth, whom I personally know. He was listed as a co-author of a book, (I think the title was A Justice Primer). Randy is a man of some standing in his Federal Vision circles, but he is certainly not a man of Wilson’s influence. Wilson is way more powerful and influential. (And power and influence mean everything in the institutional churches.) Under the principles of conduct I described above, and my friend demonstrated, I would expect that Douglas Wilson would have taken the blame for the plagiarized sections – the greater guy should carry the burden for the lesser guy. Besides, I somehow can’t imagine that Wilson didn’t even know about the plagiarism ahead of time. But instead of Wilson taking the blame – even if it was just to protect Randy’s name – both Wilson and Canon Press threw the blame completely on Randy Booth. Now, even if that was true, even if Randy Booth acted completely independently of Wilson and Wilson didn’t have any control over the process – which is very highly improbable – it would still be more ethical and honorable for Wilson to take the blame.
So again, there was this aversion to acknowledging guilt. Again, in what is supposed to be a “Reformed” church leader.
Do the examples end there? Not at all. The same spirit of denying guilt or measuring guilt down to the ounce is everywhere, in everything around us, and that especially in the American churches. And especially in the churches who are professedly Reformed. I will give one more example of it, very pertinent to our situation today, and very pertinent to our efforts at Christian Reconstruction of our society.
In October 2016, Joel McDurmon published one of the most strategic books on American history produced by a Christian Reconstructionist author: The Problem of Slavery in Christian America. It is strategic, because it takes Christian Reconstruction to a field that has not been treated before: the church’s complicity in the national sin of slavery. Christian Reconstructionist authors have treated the general topic of slavery before (Gary North has a really long chapter on it in his commentary on the case laws in Exodus 21-40). They have also treated the specific case of chattel slavery in America. But Joel’s contribution is that he applied to it the principle of 1 Pet. 4:17, “it is time for judgment to begin with the Household of God.” Joel’s book is also unique in its covenantal, ethical/judicial approach to the subject. So far all the books on American slavery have been written on the principles of identity politics: either eulogizing Lincoln and ignoring the sins of the North, or eulogizing Robert E. Lee, Dabney etc., and downplaying the evils of slavery. Joel refused to identify with either the North or the South; he identified with the Kingdom of God, and exposed the wickedness of both political sides, but also the wickedness of the institutional churches. The book didn’t come in a vacuum, however. It was the product of the work of several of us to develop Christian Reconstruction in the direction of applied righteousness and justice to the immediate issues of our day; and racism and racial justice are part of that larger context of applied justice.
Several other issues needed to be raised in that context. The listeners to Axe to the Root will remember that we covered the issue of racism as an anti-covenantal ideology, also of the specific problem of institutional racism of theinjustice system in the US, and I also talked about the ethical issue of white privilege. There were other issues as well, raised by other authors; one of them the thorny, but important issues of reparations to the black community. After all, no matter how indignant we get on the issue of reparations, it is still true that black families were unlawfully and immorally exploited in the slavery, and were paid no restitution for their time as slaves. On top of it, they were then unlawfully and immorally segregated and oppressed for several generations, and that oppression and segregation was maintained by official laws. This deprived them of the opportunity to accumulate and pass on wealth their children. In comparison, the white community profited from the slave labor, and then from the segregation, and was able to pass on wealth. No matter what our personal emotions tell us when we hear the word “reparations,” our sense of justice should tell us that these are crimes in the Law of God, and we will either have to find a solution, or we will be judged as a nation.
Then Joe Salant did a podcast on this issue where he laid most of it. Keep in mind, these issues should not sound radical to Christian Reconstructionists; after all, we are the ones who look at the Law of God and evaluate everything based on issues of righteousness and justice. And yet, believe it or not, there still were Christians – and even Reformed elders – who took offense at what Joe Salant said, and harshly criticized him. And what was their problem with his words?
That he was forcing false guilt on them. They didndunuting. Someone else is to blame for slavery and segregation and for their consequences today. Someone else is to blame for the institutional racism of our injustice system. So, if Joe wanted to be accepted by them, he needs to measure their guilt down to the ounce. And they should only be responsible for precisely what their personal guilt is. Not an ounce more. And these are Reformed elders.
No need to continue; you get the picture. And you probably get why I would be so disappointed. Many years ago, I witnessed an unbeliever who had only a vague feeling of what was good and moral and honorable, take the blame for other people and put his career on the line, when he didn’t have to do it. And for the last 20 years I have been witnessing Reformed Christians – and even elders! – constantly fighting against the boogeyman of “false guilt,” going to great lengths to make sure that whatever guilt and responsibility are ascribed to them are precisely measured to the last ounce. This is us, Reformed Christians, who so love to repeat to the whole world what wretched sinners we are and how there is nothing good in us, but, boy, let someone tell us we have certain real guilt and responsibility to deal with, we suddenly forget our pious postures and defend our innocence like it’s our life.
I am not saying this to shame Reformed Christians, nor to shame anyone in particular. But I am personally ashamed. We should all be ashamed that those who call on the name of the Lord have left the pagans have a better understanding of Biblical ethics and especially the ethics of intercession, which is central to the Gospel. We should be all ashamed that after 2,000 years of church councils and synods, theological treatises, Biblical commentaries, creeds and confessions, reformations and revivals, seminaries and gospel crusades, Jesus’s words in Luke 16:8 still hold true: “The children of this world are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” We are still the stupid ones; we have still not understood the most basic concepts of the very Gospel we are preaching, while the pagans to whom we are preaching it have understood them and practice them. (On a side note, that may be the reason why Hollywood is making movies with more Biblical worldview in them than most of the sermons we hear from our pulpits today. We are still the stupid ones.)
What is the Biblical view of acknowledging guilt and responsibility? What is the Biblical view of “false guilt”? Is the man of God supposed to fight for every ounce of guilt and responsibility, and precisely measure them to decide which one is his and which one is not? Is there any Biblical foundation for such aversion to being ascribed guilt or to being called for repentance for the corporate sins of a nation or another covenantal group? Is there any morality in giving absolution to men of power and influence and higher social status while throwing the blame on their inferiors or subordinates?
The answer to all these is, “No.” Not only doesn’t the Bible justify such behavior, it specifically declares that a truly spiritual man not only takes as his own the guilt of other people, but also that this is the very nature of redemption, intercession (which is the essence of priesthood), and, thus, of the very Gospel itself that we are preaching. If righteous men refuse to acknowledge other people’s guilt and responsibility as their own, the Kingdom of God can’t even grow. And, therefore, our aversion to guilt and incessant fear of the boogeyman of “false guilt” have played a major role in the loos of influence by the church. Let’s see the Biblical evidence.
In Exodus 32, Moses returned from the mountain with the tables of Lawand found his own brother Aaron leading Israel into adultery and idolatry. His initial reaction was holy anger. He broke the tables, then burned the golden calf, ground it to powder, put it in water and forced Israel to drink it. In all this, Moses was holy and righteous and just. He had just been before God, fasting for 40 days, full with the Holy Spirit. After he had dealt with the sin in the camp, he stood before God, and, what do you think, did he ascertain his personal righteousness and freedom of guilt before God? Exactly the opposite. He declared to God that God would either have to forgive their sin, or He would have to punish Moses with them: “But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Ex. 32:32). Can you imagine that? The man just showed the most righteous behavior one can show when confronted by public sin, shows himself not only perfectly innocent of the crime but also of any toleration of it, and the next thing he does is put h imself in the harm’s way for other people! Couldn’t he be like our modern Reformed elders, declaring to God, “Datnotmuhfault, I didndunuting!”? He could. But he was of a different spirit than our modern Reformed elders. Of the Holy Spirit, to be precise.
Should we look at Daniel’s example, in Daniel 9? Look at what Daniel says in verses 4-6:
I prayed to the LORDmy God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.”
Daniel confessed that. Yes, Daniel. Yes, confessed. Yes, he spoke in first person, as if he was one of these people who had committed all these sins. But he wasn’t. Daniel wasn’t even born when all these sins were committed. Those were sins of previous generations, accumulated over the years by the people of Israel, resulting in the judgment of the captivity. As far as personal guilt was involved, Daniel wasn’t responsible. He didndunuting. And yet, he acknowledged as his own guilt that wasn’t his, because he was a covenant member of the same nation that committed those sins. Why? Because that’s the very nature of standing in the gap: you can’t stand in the gap, you can’t intercede for your nation unless you admit the sins of the nation as your own, and be ready and willing to take the responsibility for them.
Examples of such intercession are common in the Old Testament – actually, more common that most of us realize – but I won’t have all the time to mention them all. In fact, some of them are listed in that hall of fame in Hebrews 11. what is more important, however, is that we have two very important New Testament examples; and these examples should be sufficient for us to know what the Biblical ethics concerning guilt and responsibility is.
The first example is Paul. Not that Paul was unique: all the apostles, in one way or another, put their lives on the line and sufefred punishments for someone else: for Christ. Peter, according to the church legend, found his death in exactly such a way: He was leaving Rome to flee the persecutions, when he saw a vision of Christ going in the opposute direction, towards Rome. Puzzled, Peter asked, “Quo vadis, Domine? Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus replied, “To Rome, to die with my children whom you have left there.” Ashamed, Peter returned to the city and assumed his place as the chief victim, matching his position of the chief of the apostles, being hanged upside down. While we can’t know if the legend is true, we do see the mentality of the early church: that the greater a man is in terms of his influence and authority and privilege (having been with Jesus), the more he should be willing to willngly accept guilt and responsibility and even suffer for them. Even where he has the chance of avoiding the suffering; let alone where there is no suffering involved.
But Paul’s example is much more important to us given that we have it from Paul’s personal testimony, recorded in the Bible. In Romans 9:3 Paul pronounces one of the most amazing statements in the Bible, one that still makes me, having studied that statement and the context in detail, to shake my head in disbelief: did Paul really say that? His words are, “For I wish that I myself were accursed,separatedfrom Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” So incredible is this statement that Paul finds it necessary to start the passage with the words, “I speak the truth, I am not lying,” as if to swear to those who won’t believe him. And they have a good reason not to believe him. Being willing to be persecuted and killed by the enemies; that’s something big. But to be willing to even be separated from Christ and accursed, to save his enemies – now this is what is called intercession of the highest order. Paul was highly privileged: he was saved in the most miraculous and spectacular manner the Bible describes; and then he was given the most honorable position in the church, to be her most gifted theologian and her most prolific missionary, to yield power and influence even Peter didn’t yield, and to have the Holy Spirit in such a gigantic measure as to be caught up to the third heaven and shown things no living man had seen. And yet, Paul was willing to trade all this privilege, and more than that, he was willing to trade his salvation, accepting eternal damnation for his people, if only they could be saved.
But when talking about privilege, Paul’s privilege was nothing compared to the top privileged person in the Bible, the giant of all privileges, Jesus Christ. Who can be more privileged than Him? Born of God, not of a mortal, fallen man. Crowned with glory and power from before the world was. The Arch-Angel of God’s revelation under the Old Covenant. The Imprint (literally, the Character, in Heb. 1:3) of God’s being. One with the Father, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. The Beginning and the End. The metaphysical principle of cohesion of all things in the universe, from the smallest atom to the galaxies (Col. 1:17).
Amd in addition to it, He had no personal guilt of His own. It was by privilege: He was born outside the line of Adam. And it was also by merit: He was tempted and passed the temptation without succumbing to it. Above all power by privilege; above all accusation and guilt and liability by both privilege and merit. And what did He do with that absolutely privileged position?
He took on Himself all the guilt of the world. And that taking on of all the guilt of the world became the absolute foundation for the glorious Gospel we today preach. Or pretend to preach, while acting contrary to it. Jesus traded all His privilege,all His merit, for guilt and liability. And punishment. Paul’s desire to be separated from Christ was real, but still only conjectural: He would never be separated from Christ just on the account of that desire. Christ willing took to be separated from God in order to save the world, and He got exactly that. False guilt? He took it all. False accusations? He took them all. False liability? He took it all. An unjust sentence, and torture, and no due process? He suffered them all.
And it was this trading of privilege and merit for false guilt that won Him the victory. Because measuring our guilt down to the ounce never wins victories. Which is patrly why the American church has been so powerless in the last century. Or, as a Gypsy pastor in Bulgaria preached to his congregation several years ago, “You wanna imitate Christ? Take all the guilt and responsibility for the ills of our community. Nail the guilt to the cross; and take the responsibility to the streets, and work as if you are repaying a debt.” And he was simply a Gypsy pastor of no seminary education, and no Reformed legacy from previous generations. And he knew better than our Reformed leaders.
To summarize, our obsession today with not accepting false guilt is not a Biblical attitude. If anything, the very Gospel of Christ starts with the Author of our salvation accepting on Himself all the false guilt in the world. If we are to imitate Him, we should do the same. Unlike Him, we won’t have to die for it, neither will we have to be separated from god for it; thus, there is no reason to kick so ferociously against it. We will only be required to pay for it, in this life, with hard work, to restore and reconstruct the world on Biblical foundation. It may not have been our fault, but it wasn’t Jesus’s fault either. When it comes to the evils of our day, we should accept them as our responsibility. And also the evils of generations past, including slavery. Yes, it is our guilt. And it is our responsibility to restore and reconstruct; including finding a way to pay those reparations in one way or another. Until we learn to not shy from guilt, until we learn to stand in the gap and use our privilege as Christians and Americans to bring redemption, we won’t see any victory.
The book I will assign for reading this week is Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray. Keep in mind as you are reading: the book is not comprehensive for what we just talked about. But it is a tremendous start into what our psychology should be, when we set out to imitate Christ. And so far we have been disastrously inept in this regard. It is time to overcome the children of this age in terms of wisdom and judgment.
And in your prayers and your giving, remember Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission organization committed to building the intellectual foundation for the future Christian civilization in Eastern Europe. As much as we as Reformed Christians are such moral failures today, the future of mankind is inevitably Christian, and our kids will surpass us in knowledge and wisdom and judgment. Help us leave the right books for them when they grow up. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to the newsletter, pray, and donate. And God may God bless y’all.