The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 21. Guilt by Thought
Mt 5:28 I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Deut 15:9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.
Next: We move on now to consider the specific ways we can get it wrong. That sounds a rather negative future but if there are things that we inadvertently have come to accept as normal in our lives, things that are contrary to the will of God, they will limit our relationship with Him and hinder Him coming to us. When Isaiah declared, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,” (Isa 40:3-5), he was declaring in picture form the need in a time of dryness to make preparations for God to be able to come to prepared hearts. The language of straightening the way, making it level, and filling in holes, was common language used in preparation when a king and his retinue might be coming.
Direction: In this second Part we will start by observing what we think, because that is where belief is. But then thinking is linked with our physical bodies and that is about desire. But that also involves emotions, and they can so easily be out of kilter with God. These can also be stirred by sight, by what we let our eyes see and the thoughts, feelings and desires that follow. That is where these next six studies will go. But when we talk about ‘sight’ or ‘seeing’ it can also mean how we perceive or view aspects of life, but when we are thinking about how we fall short of God’s intents for us, it can take us back to how we think or, to link analogies, how we can be blind to these things. And that is where the remaining studies will go. So that is our plan for the days immediately ahead. These things are not to load us with guilt but to give us goals to aim for.
The Starting Point – Unbelief: Sin starts in the mind. The apostle Paul said we were to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2) Speaking about our old life he said, “You let the world… tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief.” (Eph 2:2,3 Message version) I like that version because it emphasizes that unbelief is a way of polluting our thinking, so let’s ask some basic questions about who we believe we are? Do we truly believe we are / children of God, / totally and utterly saved by the finished work of Christ on the Cross, / and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit? If we have any hiccup over any one of these three bits, as I’ve divided them out, we have an unbelief problem. It was unbelief that meant those who called themselves Jews but failed to believe were cut off (Rom 11:20). It was unbelief that stopped Israel initially entering the Promised Land (Heb 3:19) and the writer to the Hebrews warns us against it for belief leads to disobedience (Heb 4:11) i.e. wrong thinking leads to wrong doing. As we said, it starts in the mind. Indeed the battle for your life is the battle for your mind.
Beyond the Outside: In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus emphasized that it didn’t start with the outward behaviour but in the heart, in the mind. Adultery, he said, starts in the mind. We’ll go on to look at desires more fully in a later study, but for now let’s focus on the thought that guilt starts by wrong things happening between our ears – in our mind. Later on he said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life,” (Mt 6:25) and where do you worry? In your mind! Now worries in themselves are not sin, but they do in fact show there is a need, and you need help! This is why Paul taught, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) So the battle for your ongoing life to have peace, is a battle of the mind. Unbelief says, “I can handle it,” but the godly wise say, “I have a problem and I need God’s help with it.”
Wrong Thinking: The battle in the Garden of Eden was a battle for Eve’s mind and once she capitulated to Satan’s wrong reasoning, she sinned and led Adam to sin. In our starter verses the verse from the Law in Deuteronomy reveals wrong thinking which, if we give way to it, says the Lord, means you will be “found guilty of sin.” (Deut 15:9) In that example the Lord warned Israel against devious and self-centred thinking in the way they followed the Law in respect of avoiding caring for the poor. Jesus criticized the Pharisees of his day because with crooked thinking they excused themselves from helping their parents by appearing spiritual (see Mt 15:3-9). When Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jer 17:9) the ‘Easy to Read’ Bible version nails it with, “Nothing can hide its evil as well as the human mind.” The heart refers to the inner workings of the intellect and will, how we choose to think.
Making Excuses: When we’re afraid of having to do or say something, it’s in the mind that we start making excuses, seeking to justify our actions or lack of them. Jesus challenged the church at Thyatira that had obviously reasoned in their minds it was all right to tolerate Jezebel and go along with sexual immorality and eating idol-worshiping-tainted-food (Rev 2:20) and declared, “I am he who searches hearts and minds.” (Rev 2:23) That echoes the psalmist who wrote, “I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.” (Psa 139:2 Message version). God knows what goes on in our minds even if we hide it from others. Let’s not kid ourselves – He knows. So let’s deal with unbelief and build faith as we read His word, let’s not get into devious thinking to avoid what we know is the right path. Failure and guilt start in the mind. Let’s check ourselves out and make sure we’re not letting that happen. Amen? Amen!