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Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.

How the Fourth of July Reminds Me of Jesus

The Fourth of July holiday—commemorating the beginning of the American revolution against the motherland, England—is a central part of the United States’ origin story. Odds are that even if you don’t live in the USA, your home country has an origin story, too.

This year, I am learning that the birth of my country bears a lot of similarities to the origin of the global Church—the gospel story. How so? Let’s take a look at the gospel as it’s presented in Hebrews:

There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office. But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. (Hebrews 7:23-25, NLT)

 

Once and Forever

Although now it is celebrated with parades, fireworks, and a day off work for most Americans, the very first Fourth of July was really the beginning of eight years of bloody conflict. The revolution brought all-out war to American shores, and the Fourth of July marked the “point of no return” when the colonists crossed the line from mere grumbling to high treason. They were going to war with their king; they were preparing for battle.

In the same way, Hebrews describes Jesus’ actions as “once and forever.” His death on the cross was the point of no return. There was no plan B, and no way to escape. Just like the acceptance of a revolutionary document, Jesus’ actions were public, final, and powerful.

 

Interceding on My Behalf

I love the Bible’s use of the word “intercede.” It always reminds me of a courtroom, with a passionate lawyer pleading the case of the defendant. But of course, in a courtroom there must also be a plaintiff—an accusing party.

For the American revolution, there was a clear enemy in mind. England was accusing the colonists of subverting rightful authority. The colonists laid out their “case” in the Declaration of Independence, detailing grievances from the king across the sea. The “courtroom” was set.

We also have an accuser, friends. Revelation 12:10 describes a future in which “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down”. To imagine the Enemy continually accusing me before God is terrifying. I am a sinful person who falls every day. What could I say in my defense?

But there is the good news! Jesus says it all for me. He lives forever to intercede on my behalf.

 

Victory!

The result of the American Revolution was a happy one for the colonists: they gained independence from England. Their victory would have been nearly impossible to predict, for the opposing force was more powerful, experienced, and better-equipped than they were.

Our victory in Christ came through a similar way. The Enemy we face is mighty, experienced, and better-equipped. It seems that he would easily overthrow us—except for the help of one man, Jesus Christ.

And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22)

Jesus clears our guilt away, pays our debt, and clothes us with righteousness! We aren’t just free—we are adopted as heirs and can approach God’s throne with confidence. Now that is an amazing, revolutionary victory!

 

Living in the Light of Victory

The Fourth of July isn’t only a time for celebration; it is a time for sobering up. Each year, Americans are reminded of a conflict that left thousands of families torn apart and a fledgling nation that sang of justice while continuing to oppress others—African Americans, Native Americans, and more—for decades to come. The America we know today is not sanctified—not even close. No human effort could hope to truly create a perfect, holy nation.

When we remember the true human condition, evident in history and in our own souls, it is easy to feel hopeless. The very next verses in Hebrews (10:23-25) are an encouragement for these times: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Sometimes this life wears on me—I feel tired, anxious, and defeated. I am ashamed of my own pride, anger, and fear that get in the way of living a pure life. In times like these, the author of Hebrews encourages us to cling to the church—motivating one another to good works, meeting together, encouraging one another.

Finally, we should recognize that we are forgetful, and sometimes the best thing we can do is sit down and recall God’s mercies in our life.

The Fourth of July is a great holiday, but it celebrates an imperfect and costly event in history. No man-made effort, however revolutionary, can truly establish a nation of justice and liberty. Thankfully, we have an all-powerful victor on our side, who has won the victory once and forever. Just like Americans remember the Fourth of July every year, we as Christians also need to be continually reminded of Christ’s victory in order to celebrate and live in it.

Mercy Begets Mercy

Day 13 | Today’s passage: James 2:12-13 | Historical context of James

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

I love reading and writing.
Because words affect me so deeply, I know how much they can heal or hurt. So I used to be very judgmental toward people who were careless—and thus, hurtful—with their words.

This changed when God led me to realize that linguistic proficiency was a strength He had bestowed me with; it didn’t come as naturally to others. At the same time, He showed me that there were areas of weaknesses in my life that were strengths in the lives of others.

Punctuality, for example, is something I have trouble with. God highlighted to me that just as I would desire others to show understanding toward me when I showed up late, so too should I extend that same kind of grace to others who struggle with language.

We all have a tendency to judge others, not just for their weaknesses, but also when they fall short of God’s commands. And this is made worse when favoritism is involved (2:8-11). But James tells us to “speak and act” mercifully toward others (v. 12), because we are all “going to be judged by the law” (v. 12)—the law of Christ which provides freedom from sin through the gospel (also seen in 1:25).

Though we know that as believers, there is no condemnation for us because of what Jesus has done for us (Romans 8:1-2), this does not mean that we will not be judged, or in other words, called to give an account to God for our deeds and words one day (2 Corinthians 5:10).

So, we would do well to treat others with mercy if we desire to be judged by Him mercifully, “for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), He also cautions us that if we treat others unmercifully, God will also treat us the same way. James echoes this in verse 13.

James goes on to say that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (v. 13), because God delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). Since our Father is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), we fulfill this desire of His heart when we are merciful toward others in wisdom and cheerfulness (Romans 12:8).

We are our Father’s children when we cherish the same things He cherishes, acting toward others in the same way that He would.

—Raphael Zhang, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. What areas do you tend to judge others most harshly about? What might help you to be more merciful to others in these areas?

2. Do you see the law of Christ/law of liberty as something that gives you freedom? What might help you further grow in enjoying God’s law, as He lovingly planned for you to do?

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


Raphael enjoys reading and writing, and experiences them as means of connecting with the Word too beautiful for words. He believes there’s no such thing as having too many books. Having been led by Jehovah-Rapha to journey out of brokenness toward wholeness, he is passionate about bringing God’s healing to others, so that the brokenhearted can become wholehearted in loving God and people with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. He’s also crazy about cheeses, but his greatest love is still Jesus.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Step Outside Your Box

Title: Step Outside Your Box
Materials: Illustration
Artwork by: Lara Sim
Description: Are you boxed up in a situation that you can’t seem to get out of? Sometimes, taking the first step out of our comfort zone to tackle issues can be a difficult choice to make. But when we call out to God in the midst of all our troubles, He reveals to us the freedom we can receive by trusting. Will you obey Him to take that first step?

 

Are you trapped in perfectionism?

Many of us are trapped in the habit of comparing ourselves to others. If she’s not prettier than me, she has a more exciting job as compared to me or has more friends than I do. Instead of trying to be the perfect person, focus your eyes on the Perfect God that we have. He wants to free us from being stuck in the middle of all of these doubts and negativity we surround ourselves with.

 

Are you trapped in fear?

Is fear a monster in your life, waiting to pounce and eat you whole? Are you unable to be vulnerable before others for fear of being judged? Do you find yourself always needing the approval of man? The easiest thing to do in such situations is to hide ourselves in the box. However, after hiding for too long, we can become trapped. He calls us into His loving arms—a safe place where there’s no need to hide before Him.

 

Are you trapped in anxiety and worry?

Are you worried about your future? Will I be able to find a good job? Will I be married one day? These thoughts can consume us from time to time, leaving us in despair or panic. However, when we allow these anxieties and worries to grip us, it prevents us from being able to move forward in life. Although we may still be afraid, we can trust in the One who is in full control of every situation.

 

Are you trapped in materialism?

Do you find great satisfaction when you shop for material things? Do you find it hard to be generous in giving to others? Even after buying all that you want, you know deep inside you that these will never satisfy. Take heart, you are not alone in such troubles. Perhaps it’s time to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) and know for yourself the true satisfaction we can have in Christ alone.

 

Are you trapped in work pressures?

Another meeting? More deadlines? Got to get this done by today? Does this sound like you? Oftentimes, we are trapped under the overwhelming amount of work and are unable to escape. Some of us respond by being more driven by the fact that we are recognised for our ability to achieve the daily requirements, while the rest of us succumb to the stress of work. Either way, we fail to recognise that God calls us to rely on His strength daily and our calling to be a living testimony at work and beyond.