From Ray Mayhew’s Book, And Joy Begins to Flower
It was Tehran, January 1964, long before the revolution, and my first exposure to Middle Eastern culture. I loved it. I can still vividly remember the fascination of new sights and sounds, calls to prayer, intriguing tastes and smells and the 24-hour cacophony of a city that never seemed to sleep.
It was the heyday of the Shah, pictures of the royal family festooned the streets, modernization was underway—but they still hung bottles on the trees. I can remember the first time I saw them, large bottles full of an olive-coloured liquid, hanging on the trees beside the main roads. It was some time before I discovered what they contained. Petrol! They were not Molotov cocktails, but an updated version of urban almsgiving. They were for motorists who ran out of petrol. All religions are full of what you ought and must do (“oughtage and mustery”!) to get rid of guilt, and modem Iran was no exception. For some, hanging bottles of petrol on the trees was an attempt to tip the heavenly scales of justice in their direction.
There are three common enemies that oppose any serious advance in personal spirituality. The human spirit is frequently battling with condemnation, wounding, and pollution. Other enemies could be identified but these are to the spirit what the common cold is to the body. In this chapter we deal with public enemy number one—condemnation.
Guilt and shame often plague us and blight our spontaneity and joy. David Watson related the incident when Arthur Conan Doyle sent twelve telegrams to leading public figures with the same cryptic message in each: “Flee, for all is discovered.” Within twenty-four hours all twelve had left the country! Real or imagined skeletons in the cupboard abound—and threaten to fall out on us. Guilt has an indelible quality—it does not rub off.
When I first met John he was still holding down his job, but fighting a losing battle with alcohol. As his drink problem became worse, the effect on his family and career was heartbreaking. We prayed with him, asking the Lord to show us the roots of his problem. I will never forget the morning when John wept bitterly as he shared with us an incident that had happened over thirty years previously. It had shattered his self-respect and continued to imprison him in despair, even after he had become a Christian. Whether the guilt is true or false, it equally impedes the spirit in its quest for wholeness and liberation.
To remove guilt is to take ground from under the Enemy’s feet and secure tenure for the Holy Spirit. A deeper understanding of the biblical words “justification” and “condemnation” will help us. Justification provides a clean slate and a fresh start as God casts our sins behind His back, never to remember them again. Hallelujah! But there is even more to come; it is not just that I am acquitted and declared “not guilty” – there is a settlement in my favour. Paul speaks of the righteousness of Jesus as being now “reckoned” (logizomai) to my account. The Greeks used the word in the commercial sense of “crediting”. In justification God “reckons” the “rightness” of Jesus to my account—I now have a credit balance to live on! (Rom. 4:4–6, 23–25)
Last week I went to the bank wondering if there was enough in our current account to cash a cheque. To my amazement and delight money had been transferred to my account that I knew nothing about. I asked the cashier twice if it was really mine and she assured me that no mistake had been made. I went home walking on air! In the spirit we feel the same way when we grasp that in Jesus we live in a credit balance. Justification is like being stuck under a waterfall of grace—it just keeps on pouring over us in blessing and refreshment. It is an “access card” into a grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:2).
Unlike justification, condemnation was not a word used in criminal law, but civil law. In the Greek papyri it referred to land on which there was some legal embarrassment, a mortgage, a ground rent or a restrictive covenant. Before we purchased our house, our solicitor did a legal search to ensure that the “dead hand of the past” was in no way pressing on the tenure of the present. Concluding that there were no legal drawbacks or loopholes, he did the conveyancing and we exchanged contracts. In the same way, because of the Cross, the “dead hand of the past” is unable to press in upon the tenure of the present. The ground has been secured, there are no legal restrictions upon us—”there is therefore now no condemnation”. J. Oswald Sanders used the following illustration:
During the Delhi Durbar which followed the Coronation of King Edward VII, the Maharajah of Dabhu had a plot of land outside Delhi allotted to him. When he went away, he paid a large sum into the local treasury in order that the piece of land might be free from the burden of taxes forever. “I the King, have rested here,” he said, “Therefore the land shall be free of burdens forever. ” And today those who are near Delhi who have no money may freely claim their place in that spot which another paid for. They may enjoy without restriction the gift which their king made to them. Our Lord Jesus too “pitched His tent” here (John 1:14) and all . . . blessings . . . have been paid for by Him. We may now enjoy them without restriction, for “there is therefore now no disability (no condemnation) to those who are in Christ Jesus.
As guilt is removed, ground is taken from under the Enemy’s feet and tenure is secured for the Holy Spirit in our lives. Be that as it may, many believers are still not free from the pangs of guilt or the pain of the past. The following are biblical insights that have repeatedly come to my rescue.
Forgiveness & Freedom
On the basis of the Scriptures we know mentally and theologically that we are forgiven – but emotionally and spiritually many of us remain in bondage. The guilt and shame of something done long ago continue to trouble us even though we have repeatedly asked for forgiveness. We are forgiven but not free.
I have discovered that if a sin continues to bother me for over a month, I will not get free by myself—freedom is usually realized by praying with someone else. James exhorts us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we might be healed (James 5:16). He does not tell us to pray for one another that we might be forgiven, but that we might experience healing and freedom. For many of us the dimension of liberation contained in the biblical promises of forgiveness is never realized because we have privatized our concepts of confession. Bonhoeffer said that when we confess our sins to our brother or sister we bring them into the light. Because Christ is always in the light, we are in reality bringing them to Him, where they evaporate in His presence (1 John 1:7). As someone said, “Sin leaves the body via the mouth!”
In Eastern Orthodox churches the penitent does not kneel before a seated priest as in the Latin churches. The priest stands to one side and repeats the words, “Christ is here before you, invisibly present, I am but a witness.” His words “Let God forgive thee” (not “I forgive thee”), combined with the role of a brother alongside, come closer to capturing the Scriptural thought of liberating one another in the body.
I thank God for the many times brothers and sisters have helped me into freedom. The price in humility and openness is high, but the spiritual pay-off in inner release is well worth it.
Conviction & Condemnation
On the basis of my own research I would estimate that eighty percent of what most Christians interpret as the conviction of the Holy Spirit is actually the condemnation of the Enemy. Unless we are clear about the difference between the two, we will never be free.
On three occasions in the Bible we read of the mysterious access Satan has into God’s presence (Job 1:6; Zech. 3:1; Rev. 12:10). Although the incidents are separated by hundreds of years in time, his tactics do not change; all three places record the same activity—the accusation of God’s people. “For the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev. 12:10). A personal word: I am one of those unfortunate souls who wake up very slowly in the morning. For the first few minutes I “feel” my way around the bedroom before surfacing. Yet even in those waking moments I can feel accused, condemned and far from the Lord, even though I am not yet compos mentis to the point where I could sin—even if I tried! Such is the work of the Enemy, and it must be resisted in the name of Jesus.
During a public meeting I discovered to my horror a stain on my trousers extending from the hip to the knee. As the meeting had been in progress for forty-five minutes and I had been on the platform for the whole of the time you can imagine my reaction. As I pondered whether I should get up out of my chair and leave, I shifted my position only to discover the “stain” moved. To my relief I realized I was sitting under a red spotlight that was throwing a dark shadow on my leg. Whew! The Enemy is very good at throwing shadows and whispering his favorite words, “unclean”, “stained”, and “guilty”. Such accusation must be boldly repudiated in Jesus” name.
The conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of the Enemy differ dramatically. The Holy Spirit is always very specific, pointing out exactly what you have done to grieve Him. In the words of A. W. Tozer: “God does not lisp”, you know exactly what He is saying. Child psychologists warn us that vague statements of reproach heaped on our children have the potential to seriously damage their development. Words like, “you are a failure”, “you are stupid”, “you are evil” should never be used. In like manner our Father tells us when and where we have failed but never heaps failure on us. Non-specific guilt is never from the Holy Spirit.
The conviction of the Spirit has a gentle strength about it. Father corrects us with His arm around us. The prodigal, smelling of the pigsty, is embraced and drawn into Father’s heart and home. Conversely, the Enemy always uses the whip to drive us into darkness and isolation.
Repentance & Remorse
True repentance always issues in an inner release of joy. There is joy both in heaven and in our hearts when a sinner repents. But if my repentance is nothing more than a self-righteous remorse it will never liberate my spirit. “I can never forgive myself” smacks more of remorse than repentance. To withhold from myself forgiveness offered by God is rank arrogance and pride, and to think “I’m really better than that” is as dangerous as the sin itself. We need to repent of such “repentance”.
Biblical repentance has at least six sides to it:
- Turning :: The root of the Hebrew word repent is shub, to turn. The believers at Thessalonica evidenced their repentance by “turning from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9).
- Changing :: The Greek word repent is metanoeo, meaning a change of mind. The repentant person has changed his mind and now seeks to please God rather than himself.
- Sorrowing :: The puritan George Swinnock said, “He grieves truly that weeps without a witness”. The publican in our Lord’s parable illustrated it beautifully. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13 NIV). We can be sorry without repenting but we cannot repent without being sorry. In certain theological traditions the “gift of tears” or the “way of tears” is linked to repentance. We might not agree with St. Symeon who thought that sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven without tears, but we would endorse their value, not only as a sign of sincerity but as a means of inner release.
- Confessing (1 John 1:9) :: I’m reminded of the boy who wanted to swim in the river, but, because of the cold, his mother refused. An hour later he returned with his hair wet.
“Have you been swimming in the river?” questioned Mother with some irritation.
“No,” came the immediate reply, “I fell in.”
“Then how come your clothes are dry?” Mother responded.
“I had a feeling I was going to fall in so I took them off,” came the innocent reply!
Since Adam blamed Eve in the garden, real confession comes hard to most of us—and if our repentance is deficient, guilt will continue as a nemesis in our lives, blighting our joy and spontaneity in the Lord.
- Forsaking :: The Rabbis said, “The true penitent is he who has the same opportunity to commit the same sin in the same circumstances—and doesn’t.” It was well said by Solomon that “he who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13). We may of course be in bondage and unable to free ourselves. In chapters 3, 4 and 6 the way to freedom is dealt with in some depth. However at this stage it is our willingness to forsake the sin that is in view. Thomas Goodwin put it well when he said, “There cannot be a true sorrow of heart for a sin that is past, but presently there doth arise a purpose not to sin in the future”.
- Restoring :: Zacchaeus said, “If I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:23). Jesus” instant and joyful response was, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Restoration is not always possible and neither are we expected to make good everything in the past. However, our willingness to do so may be tested by the Lord as He highlights something specific that He wants us to put right—the payment of a debt, the restoration of a relationship, the confession of a crime.
A friend of mine found the Lord while working on the shop floor at Rolls Royce. Spontaneously he decided to return everything he had “lifted” since working there. Over a period of several days, carburetors, distributors, wrenches, leather, and even a broom, were returned to the amazement of both managers and workmates! Obedience to such prompting by the Holy Spirit brings great inner release—as well as rich opportunities to witness to the wonder of God’s forgiveness.
Temptation & Sin
Familiar truths tend to lose their bite. Despite the frequency with which it has been said that temptation is not sin, I continue to counsel people who devastatingly entangle themselves in this area. It is usually the sincere and committed who struggle the most. Pleasing the Lord is primary in their lives and therefore when thoughts of anger, doubt or lust arise in their hearts they are deeply pained—feeling the very presence of thought to be sin. I have counseled Christians so deeply troubled in this area that they had become suicidal.
All of us believe that Jesus was without sin. Few of us really believe that He experienced the whole range of temptations we struggle with: doubt, anger, lust, impatience, coveting, and jealousy. Yet the Scriptures testify that He experienced them all—yet without sinning. (Heb. 4:15). He thought them and felt their tug, but He never yielded. The Enemy may buzz our minds and our bodies may feel the appetites of the flesh, but unless we make a decision to savour the temptation and engage the clutch of the will, we have not sinned.
Those who suffer a bombardment of unclean and evil thoughts will need deliverance from spirits of lust and anger (see chapter 4). However, some prompt evasive action will help those for whom the bondage is less severe:
- As soon as you are consciously aware of what you are thinking, immediately focus on something else. It does not even need to be “spiritual” – tennis, algebra, or an omelet will do fine!
- Resist the desire to “pray about it” as that will simply focus your attention on it again. God sees your decision to “change your mind” (metanoeo, repent) and if any cleansing is necessary, it happens automatically.
- As we walk in the light, nimbly sidestepping the patches of mud the Enemy throws on our path, the blood of Jesus cleanses us. In his first epistle John uses the present continuous tense “goes on cleansing” (1 John 1:7). Jesus faithfully washes our feet whenever He sees it necessary and bathes our embattled minds and emotions in His shalom.
True or False?
False guilt is as damaging to the human spirit as true guilt True guilt is the result of attitudes or actions for which we are personally responsible—it will evaporate as we apply the solvent of the blood of Jesus. False guilt will not. It stubbornly persists and brings a morbid heaviness to the spirit. Identifying the type of false guilt we are struggling with will enable us to apply God’s truth, which is always potent to set us free:
- Demonic Guilt :: In the same way as we can be troubled by a spirit of fear or a spirit of lust, we can also be harassed by an evil spirit of guilt. Satan is very experienced in the area of guilt—he was the first of God’s creation to experience it. Accusation is foremost in his evil arsenal. Prayer by those with spiritual authority will break the chains of the evil one. Deliverance from evil spirits is the subject of chapter three.
- Expiatory Guilt :: The word is quite a mouthful, but simply means “paying the penalty for another”. It is a very common experience in counseling to discover someone carrying the guilt resulting from the action of someone else, for example, the girl who feels responsible for her parents” divorce, the boy who perceives the death of his sister to be some how linked with his own behaviour, the adopted child who struggles with guilt and rejection, the parents of a prodigal who feel personally responsible for the behaviour of their son.
In addition to realizing afresh that expiation is not their task but that of the Lamb of God, such people frequently need healing from the wounds of the past. Their spirit needs the ointment of the One who “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). Chapter 3 deals more fully with this.
- Hereditary Guilt :: Dr. Winship’s case study of two well known American families illustrates this well:
The father of Jonathan Edwards was a minister and his mother was the daughter of a clergyman. Among their descendants were fourteen presidents of colleges, more than one hundred college professors, more than one hundred clergymen, missionaries and theology professors, and about sixty authors. There is scarcely any great American industry that has not had one of his family among its chief promoters. Such is the product of one American Christian family, brought up under the most favourable conditions. The contrast is the Jukes family, which could not be made to study and would not work, and is said to have cost the state of New York a million dollars. Their entire record is one of pauperism and crime, insanity and imbecility. Among their twelve hundred known descendants, three hundred and ten were professional paupers, four hundred and forty were physically wrecked by their own wickedness, sixty were habitual “thieves, one hundred and thirty were convicted criminals, fifty-five were victims of impurity, only twenty learned a trade (and ten of those learned it in a state prison), and this notorious family produced seven murderers.
The mechanics of Exodus 20:5, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation”, are only partially understood. In counseling it is distressingly obvious that the sins of the fathers have been visited on the children, but how they have is less clear. Demonic pollution of the bloodlines? A reaping of what has been sown? A transfer of subconscious memories? Jung has pointed out that each person has, over and above the personal contents of his subconscious, also a share in the subconscious of his family, his race and all humanity. Our light on such mechanisms is limited but freedom is possible as we affirm that Jesus has become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13) and that we are now cut off from the old and grafted into the new. We must specifically pray against any legacy of cursing that is still residual in the family. It is always exciting to see the transformation in people as they receive ministry and emerge into freedom.
- Depressive Guilt :: There are many manifestations of clinical depression: fatigue, melancholy, anxiety, apathy and guilt, to name but a few. The psychologist Aaron Beck defines depression as “an altered state of cognition” (roughly, unusual habits of thinking) with a “cognitive triad” consisting of:
A negative view of oneself;
A Negative interpretations of one’s experience; and
A negative view of the future
John White in his book The Masks of Melancholy comments:
“A grossly exaggerated sense of guilt is a feature of many depressions and the sense of guilt is unrealistic and will disappear as the depression lifts. In this case guilt is a correlate of the depression, something that comes and goes with it. We also know that attempts to deal with the sense of guilt are in most cases totally ineffective, and will not do anything to alleviate the depression.”
As well as needing prayer, such people need medical help with the depression. If the guilt is false, as the depression lifts it will disappear.
- Neurotic Guilt :: I use the word here in its popular sense of compulsive behaviour. Those given to perfectionism and over conscientiousness often feel they have not performed well enough and therefore are subject to feelings of guilt. The guilt often centers on something trivial—that they spent slightly more than they should have at the grocery store, or that they have not adequately cleaned the house. As a young Christian my whole day would be under a cloud of guilt if I got up slightly late and did not have an adequate quiet time. Unless taught to walk in the Spirit, those who tend towards compulsions or perfectionism become more so after they become Christians as they now want to match the high standards of the New Testament! Such people need to understand that our acceptance before God is not on the basis of our performance; we are sons not slaves. We need again to discover that “there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God” and that “whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labours” (Heb. 4:9, 10).
- Developmental Guilt :: Children who grow up in an environment of guilt and fear absorb it into their spirits. The resilient may come out relatively unscathed, but the sensitive child will often face a lifelong struggle with the identical feelings of guilt and fear held by their parents or other primary people in their lives. I was involved in praying for a two-year-old child with severe eczema. His skin was cracked and bleeding, he could not wear normal clothing and the constant irritation prevented him sleeping. After we had prayed for some months without any success, the Lord indicated that we should focus our prayers on the mother—a deeply committed Christian. We discovered that she was battling with anxiety and guilt. During ministry it became clear that the tension within her had been absorbed by the child. As she broke free, her son dramatically improved and within weeks was fully healed—much to the delight of both parents and doctors! If the environment of our developmental years was one of guilt and fear, we need to know that in Jesus both release and healing are available.
- Transferred Guilt :: This differs from the above-mentioned “expiatory” guilt in that the primary emotion is that of shame. Expiatory guilt, “paying the penalty for another”, is based on a false sense of responsibility. Transferred guilt, or guilt by association, is based on a false sense of shame: we feel guilty that our father was an alcoholic, we feel implicated by the suicide of a sister, we feel ashamed that poverty characterized our childhood and that a family member was imprisoned. We are culpable for none, but feel guilty for all.
Such guilt and shame needs to be boldly repudiated or our spirits will be cowed rather than upright and strong. People need to be cut off from an unhealthy bonding to their family and enabled to realize their new identity with the people of God. Instead of being cloaked in shame, we are to put on our “garments of splendour” knowing that “your Maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is His Name” (Isa. 52:1, 54:5 NIV).
- Weak conscience :: The final area of false guilt issues from a weak conscience. An understanding of the place of conscience in the development of spirituality is crucial and will be discussed in chapter 10.
In Iran they used to hang bottles of petrol on the trees to tip the scales of heavenly justice in their favour. In the history of the church we have done equally bizarre things in endeavouring to shift the burden of guilt. The Good News is that the Lamb of God stood on the earth, and now sits on the throne, having taken away the sins of the world—yours and mine.
I am being clothed with
The clothes of a king
Who one long weekend
Undressed himself and climbed
Upon a Roman tree
That he might so naked,
by Troy Reeves