Guilt, Grace, Gratitude

BY TIMOTHY CHO

What does it mean to “be a man?” In a postmodern world of relativity, the term “man” can take on many forms and definitions. In light of this, we must be particularly careful not to give in to this relativity but, rather, find the absolute definition of a man. That absolute ought to come from an absolute truth that speaks of the nature of man: The Word. From it, we see three basic, yet fundamental truths: Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude, or, as the early Protestant confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, puts clearly: “how great my sins and miseries are; how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.”

This is not meant to be a specific point-by-point breakdown of everything a man will go through. When a person has heart disease, we do not put band-aids on his chest to treat it. No, we perform a radical surgery that gets to the root of the issue. Thus, it is the same for our human condition. We can cover up our individual sins as much as we want, but if the heart is not radically changed, it is to no effect.

Guilt. Why guilt? We must first realize that man is fallen, broken, shattered, and wicked to the heart (Jer. 17:9). What does this tell us? It tells us that we men are fundamentally broken. We are not sinners because we sin: rather, we sin because we are sinners. It is not enough to recognize these individual sins in our lives that we struggle with. Just like the imagery of a patient with heart disease, we are merely putting band-aids on the external symptoms rather than realizing what is the underlying cause of it all. By not recognizing and admitting that by our nature we are radically broken, we are not being real with ourselves. Instead, we are pushing the responsibility on circumstance and external factors rather than the reality of the internal fractures in our own hearts. The reason we can’t be real with others, with family, with God, is that our pride would rather ignore or disguise the true issue underlying it all. That is why, yes, we do need to know our condition as radically (Latin, ‘to the root’) broken individuals.

Grace. By realizing our guilt from our radically broken nature, we begin to understand how glorious the grace of Christ truly is. Someone wise explained it to me as follows:

The stars are out during the day, but we can’t see them. Why can’t we see them? It’s not because they aren’t shining brightly enough – it’s because there’s too much brightness surrounding them in the day sky. But when darkness falls at night, the stars magnify and illuminate, not because they have gotten brighter themselves, but because of the backdrop of darkness around them.

In the same way, the grace of Christ becomes clearer when set it against the backdrop of our depravity. We understand how unmerited and free (by definition) that grace truly is! We realize that not only was there a separation between us and God, but there was enmity in our hearts that burrowed deeper as the holiness of God infinitely grew. We see the absolute length Christ went to bridge the ever-growing void to reconcile men to God. These truths – Guilt and Grace – aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, they flow one to the other, like two links in a chain. The more we recognize the depth of our guilt, the more the grace of Christ is magnified before us!

From our recognition of the deep guilt and the sovereign and beautiful grace that covered it all, now we can understand Gratitude. When we realize how much Christ has done for us and how we do not deserve Him, we cannot help but experience sheer gratitude! We cannot help but be absolutely changed from within (not just externally) and turn to Christ, finally free to enjoy Him fully, since now “we love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NASB).

Think about it this way: If I were to walk into a midterm 30 minutes late one day and tell the professor, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ve got to forgive me. I was crossing Bancroft to get to campus when a huge truck drove right through the intersection and ran me over. That’s why I’m late!”

“That’s impossible,” the professor would naturally respond. “There is absolutely no way that you could have had an encounter with something as large as a truck and be standing before me completely unchanged!”

Now, brothers, there is One who is infinitely bigger than a truck, and how can we claim to have had an encounter with Him if we are not forever changed in our hearts by it? (variation of P. Washer)

That is radical Gospel-driven Gratitude. Recognize the freedom, brothers, that this brings about in our hearts. Guilt and Grace help explain a necessary distinction in the Bible: Law and Gospel. For though the Law once told us Do this and live, now we know that through Christ the Gospel tells us, I have already done this for you. Now live. Likewise, whereas Guilt helps us see that we, in our broken condition, cannot do anything righteous and free from sin, Grace reveals to us that all of this has already been done on our behalf through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Once you understand the depths of your Guilt, and the expanse of His Grace, you will live in Gratitude to Him. You know that all has been done by Him on your behalf and that you are already justified (declared righteous) before God: he sees Christ’s righteousness rather than your lack, and you are freed to follow His righteousness for the first time. The Christian walk is a long journey of brokenness, trials, and discipline, because the God who worked in you to justify you also works in you until the end, slowly purifying, sanctifying you from your tendencies of the flesh. Yet you press on because you know that you are assured of your salvation, that God is working in you, and therefore, you sweat, you cry, you bleed, knowing that you are being trained in righteousness. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see that good works are the natural outflow of having been saved by grace through faith rather than the inflow of what we do to earn salvation: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). The Gratitude we feel stems from His Grace, which covered the Guilt of hopelessly broken individuals: it is by recognizing that Christ has already saved us that we walk in the good works that God has already prepared for us to walk in. We are now Gospel-driven rather than obligation-driven.

Thus, I encourage you all, brothers, to examine and test yourselves in light of Scripture (2 Cor. 13:5). Look into the Word as a polished mirror by which you can see all of your blemishes, scars, brokenness, etc. Realize that all the things commanded in the Word cannot be done on our own – but realize that all of this has already been done by Christ vicariously and that righteousness is imputed to you and me, and that through His death on the cross, we died with Him, and through His resurrection, we are made a new creation that is freed from the bondage of sin to do good! It is wondrous news because it is The Good News, the Gospel, and that news ought to be something we as men wake up to, live by, and fall asleep to every day of our lives, all for the glory of God alone! That, my brothers, is what it means to be a true man.

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