Sunday School. It’s honestly one of the most rewarding experiences I have. Not that I often get to sit and learn in a more traditional setting in Sunday School anymore, but teaching it gives me ample opportunity to hear from God and still learn. Currently, I teach the majority of Sundays at our churh, Monfort Heights UMC in Cincinnati, and I have the priviledge of teaching the Youth Sunday School. Yesterday was one of those days of learning for me.
Our church is currently going through Mark Batterson’s book Wild Goose Chase and just finished the week looking at “the cage of guilt.” Because the sermons are based on each chapter of the book, we’ve been working through the same topics as a Sunday School class each week. Now, I’ll be really honest, I had a busy week and didn’t get the chapter read, or even skimmed. I still haven’t read the chapter, BUT, I know a thing or two about guilt. So as a class we started to talk about guilt and what that does in our lives, but we needed the class to be about more than just how we feel when guilt strikes. So we turned to the Bible.
We read about David and Bathsheba, and how David was rebuked by Nathan but really didn’t understand the rebuke. It wasn’t until after Nathan explained his parable to David that David truly felt the guilt of his actions, both with Bathsheba and then with Uriah. David’s declaration in regards to Nathan’s parable is that the man who committed the crime must die. David pronounced his own death. But God. God stepped into the picture through Nathan and declared that David would not die. However, there was still a punishment for David’s actions, that punishment was dealt out on the son born to Bathsheba and David: the son would die and war would come to David’s house.
At the end of Nathan’s rebuke, after David has realized the depth of his sin, David confesses his sin. Nathan declares that “The Lord also has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 11:14) which also indicates that the spiritual punishment for this action has been removed for David. The point we came to as a Sunday School group is that for every action there are two aspects, responsibility and punishment. Even for “good” actions. We must still claim responsibility and accept the consequences, good or bad.
If you spend a full day at work, you must accept the responsibility for your actions, and if there was no reason for a punishment of any sort then all you receive is the good consequence of a day’s wage. However, if you get in your car after work and drive home and you hit another car, then you also must accept the responsibility for your actions and the punishment that comes along with that. The issue of responsibility and punishment goes both ways. Responsibility can either look like pride (in the good sense) or guilt; consequences can either look like reward or punishment.
On some level though, if the consequence for your action is removed from the equation, then the responsibility for the action is also removed. If you spend a full day working and yet don’t get paid (and the employer isn’t cheating you) then you weren’t actually hired, and weren’t actually responsible for your deeds. You just volunteered, congratulations. And on the other hand, if you are driving home after work and hit another car because that person was drunk and swerved into your lane, regardless of what happens and as long as you were following the law, there is no punishment, and therefore no responsibility laid on you for the accident. It wasn’t your fault.
Here’s the learning point: one of the students in that class made the statement in regards to David not dying for his crime: “it’s hard to accept not having a punishment when you were actually at fault.” I was floored. That’s exactly what Christianity is. Christ took our punishment for us, there is no longer any condemnation in Christ Jesus, because the price and fulfillment of our punishment has been paid. Therefore, when we are able to live into the acceptance of that reality, there should no longer be any guilt. Guilt will drive us to do terrible things, and guilt surely is one of the things the Holy Spirit wants to deliver us from.
We didn’t just talk about David, Bathsheba, Uriah, and Nathan; but we’ll cover that next time.
Your Majesty, help us to realize that Your actions are final. Help us to live into the acceptance of Your mercy and the sacrifice of Your Son on our behalf. Free us from whatever guilt we are suffering with and being oppressed by. Free us Lord, by the Cross and by the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.