41. Faith hindered by guilt

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 41.  Faith hindered by guilt

Matt 15:28    Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”

In the previous meditation we started to consider our role as bringers of God’s goodness in acts of faith, into this war torn world, devastated by Satan and by Sin and we suggested that ‘faith opens the way for things to change’, and we noted the case of the paralysed man and in so doing, noted Jesus forgiving him. This led us to start pondering on the stance that many good evangelicals take of bringing judgment and condemnation on sinners which, inadvertently hinders or stops faith flowing.

But if it is true about how we so often think about others, it is also true about ourselves. I had not intended to go in this direction with these last two meditations and yet I sense a real need to be addressed. Put most simply fear and guilt hinder or quench faith. We have considered this Canaanite woman before in a recent meditation but we need to think about her again. We read, A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” (Mt 15:22)  Three things stand out to me about her: First, she is desperate (the way she cries out indicates that), second she appeals to Jesus’ mercy (she presumably has heard about his ministry and knows he can do this – if he wants to), and third, there is no sign of repentance or even guilt in her cry.

Now I say this last thing because many years of experience teaches me that people – and especially children – do not ‘just’ get demon possessed. For actual possession to take place there has to be severe occult or even satanic activity in the life of either this child or her family. In those times and in that place, it may well have started with idol worship which went deeper and deeper into the occult or satanic things. There is a cause of this, a bad cause but what is startling about this whole affair is that neither the mother nor Jesus refer to it. For her it may be that she is so shredded by the horror of the manifestations in her daughter that she is now desperate. Link that with what she has heard about Jesus and she now comes crying out to Jesus for help. As we noted before Jesus didn’t initially respond to her and when he did he appeared to be prevaricating, yet she persists and so, “Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very moment.”

Now I am sure that there are Christians who have history – something that was not good. Yes, it is in the past and you have tried to forget it and indeed you cover it up by being a ‘good Christian’ and yet in the deep background there is this nagging that “I cannot be a man/woman of faith and so all these studies about faith are all very well, but that can’t be me.”  This account of this woman says that it is not so. She acted in faith, she responded to a desperate situation by crying out to Jesus because ‘something’ inside her said he was who the rumours said he was – the one who could deliver her daughter – and that is all.   She didn’t go pouring out her guilt and the folly of worshipping idols or whatever else it was. Yes, she knew it had been wrong but the big thing now was to get her daughter delivered – and Jesus did it without rubbing her nose in the past.

I find Jesus encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria similar. In that case Jesus did face her with the truth of her situation: The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” (Jn 4:14) but he doesn’t pursue it or tell her to go and get her life sorted out. It almost seems as if he only said it to reveal to her that he was at least a prophet, which she immediately picks up on.

We also noted in the previous meditation the account of Zacchaeus who was almost certainly a nasty crooked, cheating chief tax collector and how does Jesus challenge this crook? “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” (Lk 19:5,6) The next thing we read is, “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,” (v.8) yet Jesus had not challenged him about his crooked dealings. It was just, in the face of Jesus’ loving acceptance, Zacchaeus recognized he didn’t like his life and what he did and he wanted to change it, to which came Jesus’ response, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” (v.9)  Why the reference to Abraham? Because he was known to be the first real man of faith.  Faith!!!  Zacchaeus has just expressed faith, NOT in response to chiding rebuke but in response to loving acceptance.

Am I saying that loving acceptance is always the way? Yes, and no. Yes it is, but sometimes (probably far fewer times than we think) it is right to challenge directly, like Jesus did with the rich young man (Mt 19:16-22) or with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-14). Yet even with those two Jesus did not go picking over ethical failures. Jesus focused on a relationship with God – or the absence of it – and sought to remedy that.

I think the difference is that we so often want to use a person’s past sin to leverage them into a place of guilt which we hope will turn into conviction and subsequently repentance and then salvation, but as I say, the testimony of the Gospels is that Jesus majored on God’s love and the possibilities of knowing God. Don’t let your past guilt hinder receiving His power to change today, not by your efforts but by His grace.

I may have told this story before but it bears repeating. Quite a lot of years ago I encountered a man who was clearly being spoken to by the Lord. We talked about the Lord and he argued himself into a corner where the only thing to do was to surrender to God and be born again. We became good friends but he had a problem – he smoked. For sometime this persisted until the day I baptized him. I then went on a ministry trip abroad. Now I had never told him to quit smoking and later on he asked me why I hadn’t. My reply was, “Well as a believer I knew the indwelling holy Spirit would convict you of it, and then you would deal with it.” To cut a long story short he had a power encounter with the Lord in his House Group the week after his baptism and never wanted to smoke again. Before he came to the Lord he didn’t have the power to stop. When he met the Lord in power, the Lord took all desire to smoke away. His absence of relationship with Jesus was the big issue; smoking was just a sub-issue. When he met Jesus, that could be dealt with. The Lord knows when we are ready to face past issues with him and he loves you while he’s waiting for the time to be right. It doesn’t make you a second class citizen that there are yet things he wants to deal with – we ALL have those!  You CAN be a faith person while you are waiting; it not we are all doomed!!!!

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