“You know better.”
Sometimes I say this when my kids do something totally bizarre. “What are you doing coloring your earlobes with a marker? You know better.”
Sometimes I say this when I rebuke them. “We don’t snatch toys from each other. You know better.”
This phrase is instructive; I want to remind my children to exhibit the maturity that I know they’ve learned.
But sadly, more often than not, my tone is condescending and these words are accompanied by a groan of exasperation. If I wrote down the things I’ve said in those moments then the text would be punctuated by angry emoticons.
In those frustration-filled moments what I really mean when I say, “You know better” is that at this moment there is no grace available for you. Instead of marveling together with them at the grace of God which we all need, I dole out some guilt for their young consciences to shoulder.
Some of my guilt-heaping is driven by my pet sin of blame-shifting. I don’t want to accept responsibility for neglecting to graciously lead my children out of trouble.
One such situation was yesterday, when I sent my three-year-old to the bathroom by herself instead of helping her. The intensity of her wiggly potty dance told me that she would probably have an accident if someone didn’t put her on the potty immediately. Seconds later when she announced from the bathroom that she didn’t make it to the potty on time, can you guess what I said?
By God’s grace, I did not say to her, “You know better.”
Instead of chiding my daughter, I said to myself. I knew better.
“It’s better,” I thought, “to blame myself rather than blame her. What kind of a mother am I?”
But instead of this shame liberating me to serve her with gladness for the rest of the afternoon, my mind kept wandering back to that moment. Instead of being compelled by God’s love to build up my young children who are in constant need of my assurance and direction, I was preoccupied with wallowing in self-pity.
I was emotionally disconnected from them and paralyzed by guilt: “What kind of mother is this selfish? I know better!”
But just because I “know better” doesn’t mean I live better and love my neighbor better.
This is why I need grace.
If I plaster my soul with the false comfort that “I know better” to confirm that I really am perfect (I just forgot to love my neighbor), then I am not rejoicing in the gospel of grace. I have no need for grace; I just need to be reminded to be the best me that I know I am.
But the gospel speaks of Jesus, who is the only one who truly loved his neighbor. We, however, are totally depraved; apart from God’s common grace we don’t even “know better.”
Through faith in God’s grace shown to me on the cross, I see that my sin is atoned for with Christ’s precious blood.
As someone who wants to rejoice in the blood of Christ that covers all my sins, I have a few questions to ask myself:
- Why do I try to wrestle back from Christ some of the shame he endured for my sake?
- Why do I want to take back the burden of my guilt that Jesus bore on the cross just so I can chase a shadow of self-righteous dignity?
- Why do I prefer to pout over my pet sin of blame-shifting instead of walk in the newness of life I have in Christ?
- Do I really mean to say that my sin is beyond the reach of God’s transforming grace?
- Do I really dare to suggest that the work of Christ on the cross is not sufficient to cover my foibles, follies, and failures as a mother?
- Do I really dare to hand back to God his declarative sentence — “This sinner is JUSTIFIED!” — so that I can wander a bit longer in Mommy Purgatory?
Sure of My Surety
My assurance is not based on how I “know better” and how I think I would do better if given the chance. No amount of self-deprecating or good intentions can atone for my sin before a holy God.
No, I am represented by a Surety, someone who has willingly taken the full legal responsibility for my insurmountable sin debt with God. Jesus is my "guarantor" (Hebrews 7:22). And my Surety now stands before the throne of God — his bleeding sacrifice for my sins pleads for God’s grace (Hebrews 12:24). In Him I am certain of full forgiveness today, and certain of more grace tomorrow.
Arise, My Soul, Arise
The self-righteous refrain of “How could I have been so foolish!” is a poor conduit of grace in our lives. And it offers me nothing for tomorrow but compounded guilt.
But the soul-freeing news of the gospel that says Jesus loved us perfectly on the cross and redeems our failures . . . this news is of another kind. This is good news.
Now with faith-filled joy we can rejoice in God, “How could I have been so foolish! See the grace he has shown me in his Son!”
Jesus’ blood forgives us of our insurmountable sin mortgage, and releases us from the chains of our delusional self-righteousness. We are free to walk in God’s love and love our neighbors with the strength that he supplies.
We can sing with Charles Wesley, “Arise, my soul, arise; shake off your guilty fears and rise!”
And when we rise we rise to God, approaching his throne with confidence to claim the grace that is now guaranteed us in Christ. Then by God’s grace we can extend grace to our children.