An unidentified woman who listens to the podcast writes in, “Pastor John, I had an abortion. That is the one and only thing I knew I would never, ever do. But I did it. I cannot begin to detail here the grief and damage it has caused me, and I know I deserve every bit of it. I feel as though I will always be a low-class Christian because of what I’ve done. I was a believer when I committed this sin. I did not do it to avoid ‘disruption’ in my life, but because I had no confidence that I could offer any quality of life to a child at the time. In my twisted mind, I felt I was doing the child better by preventing him or her from having to suffer in a broken family or a foster home. I understand that way of thinking is absurd. I just didn’t understand that at the time. I grew up in a family that was split before I was born, and I feared that my child would have that kind of life. I just couldn’t handle the thought of this. Now, I feel this is something I should always be punished for. I haven’t been back to church in the years since this happened. I know I don’t belong. I don’t deserve to go. I know I can be forgiven, but does God even want to forgive me for this? Does he want me and still have the plans for me that he did before, or are those plans gone? I’m disgusted with myself. I just hope that there’s still hope for me, which I know that even wanting that is selfish and unwarranted at this point.”
When I hear this question filled with self-recrimination, doubt, fear, and guilt, I want very much to introduce this woman (I wish I knew her name, so I could call her by name) to what I have for many years called gutsy guilt.
Owning Our Sin
I based that term “gutsy guilt” on Micah 7:8–9. It says, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.”
“There is a universe of difference between ‘should be punished for’ and ‘will be punished for.’”
Micah owns his sin. He owns his guilt. He’s in darkness, sitting there under the Lord, and the Lord is disciplining him. He’s under God’s judgment. He knows this because of his sin. He says, “I sit in darkness. . . . I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned.” He’s not making any excuses. He’s not pretending this is from the devil. He knows this is from the Lord, and it’s awful.
He owns his sin. He owns his guilt. Then he says that “I will sit in this darkness under the Lord’s displeasure until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.” Not against me — for me. He continues, “He will bring me out to the light. I shall look upon his vindication.” That’s amazing. This is incredibly gutsy. He says, “I am under the Lord’s dark judgment, and I still trust him to be my God and vindicate me. So rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise.”
That’s the only way I know how to survive as a saved sinner — real guilt, real sorrow, real pain, real darkness under God’s discipline, and real gutsy faith. Gutsy faith that the very God who is disciplining me and displeased with me is on my side and will vindicate me. That’s the basic truth I’d love to build into her life.
With that as a background, what I’d like to do (what I think might be helpful) is to just take six or seven of her statements about herself and make a comment about them.
“Gutsy gospel disgust is not paralyzed. It gives up on self and walks into the power of grace.”
1. “I feel this is something I should always be punished for.” Yes, it is. Abortion, and every other sin, is something we should always be punished for. There is a universe of difference between “should be punished for” and “will be punished for.”
Gutsy gospel guilt says, “I am guilty. I should be punished now and forever.” That is the very meaning of sin and justice. Gutsy gospel guilt continues, “But I will not be punished. I will not be punished because Jesus bore my punishment for me, and I have forsaken all my self-reliance. I throw myself wholly on his mercy.”
I think of Isaiah 53:5, which says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Or Galatians 3:13, which states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”
Yes, you should always be punished for your abortion. Own that guilt. Then be gutsy and embrace the gospel that Christ bore our sins in his body, on the cross. Now, in him, God is for me, not against me. I should be punished, and I won’t punished. That’s my response to that first comment.
2. “I know I don’t belong at church. I don’t deserve to go.” If the only people who belong at church are those who deserve to be with God’s people in his presence, worshiping and growing in him, then nobody would belong in church. Nobody would go to church.
When Paul described the members of the church in Corinth, he listed their sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 like this: “sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” He continues, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The only people who belong in church are sinners who are washed and justified by faith. No, you don’t deserve to go to church. That’s why you should go, because church is the one institution in the universe designed for people who don’t deserve to be there. That’s the meaning. That’s the meaning of gospel churches.
3. “I’m disgusted with myself.” That’s fine. To look back on abortion and not be disgusted would be a sign of sickness. To see it with disgust is a sign of health. Unless there is gutsy disgust, you’ll collapse.
Gutsy gospel disgust is not paralyzed. It gives up on self and walks into the power of grace. All of us are disgusting, and we should not run from it, but through it, into God’s grace.
4. “I just hope that there’s still hope for me.” Good, because there is hope for you. Paul points out in Romans 15:4 that everything in the Scriptures is written so that sinners might have hope. Hope is the one thing you can always be sure pleases the Lord.
I love Psalm 147:11, which says, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” He loves people. He delights in people who turn away from themselves in hoping in the strength of the horse, of the legs of a man, and hope in him.
“If you want forgiveness because you want God, that’s not selfish.”
5. “Hoping that there is hope is selfish.” It would be selfish if you just wanted to use God to get a relieved conscience. But if you want forgiveness because you want God, that’s not selfish. That’s what you were made for. It honors God, not you. It honors God. God is glorified when you want to be satisfied in God.
6. “Hoping that there’s hope is unwarranted.” No, that’s false. That’s just false. Hope is not unwarranted. It is infinitely warranted not by your goodness, but by the blood of Jesus. If you stand before God and hope to get into his presence with joy forever, and he says, “What warrant can you have for hoping that I would receive you?” then the answer is “The blood and righteousness of your Son. My savior is my only warrant.”
That’s true. There is no warrant for hope in us; there is infinite warrant in the blood of Jesus. That’s a false statement that your hope is unwarranted. It is not unwarranted.
7. “Does God want me and have good plans for me? The answer is in the last chapter of the Bible, as though God wanted it to be the last thing ringing in our ears. The last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, states, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).
If you’re thirsty for God, he invites you. He wants you. When you come to him, he has plans for you. Your life will not be wasted if you come to him. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).