The following is a lightly edited transcript.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
What I want to do is just highlight the fact that at the end of the year everybody has regrets. We have thanksgiving for sure, but we have regrets. Some are big and some are small. We’re sinners. We don’t like sinning, so we regret sinning. Therefore, everybody has regrets.
Notice there are two kinds of regret: the killing kind and the saving kind. You feel broken, sad, bad. You repent — you turn — you find forgiveness, you move on without it dragging you down. Whereas worldly grief produces death.
There is a kind of regret though, feeling bad, that is paralyzing, killing, defeating, ruining and the difference is what? Let’s look at Micah 7. This is one of my all-time favorite Old Testament passages because it is so amazingly dense with the gospel and how to manage our failures. This is the text I base the term gutsy guilt on. Gutsy guilt is looking in the mirror, seeing what you don’t like, and being bold in spite of it for the sake of righteousness.
How to Live with Gutsy Guilt
How in the world can you do that? How can you know you’re guilty, know you’re a sinner, know you’ve failed and walk into the future of 2009 with all your guns loaded and all your fibers tense for righteousness? How can you make that turn? How can you do that? That’s what this text is about.
“Gutsy guilt is looking in the mirror, seeing what you don’t like, and being bold for the sake of righteousness.”
We know there are people on tip-toed joy tonight and there are people hanging on by their fingernails to God’s strange providence’s and His grace in it all. Some families can feel cursed. Some families seem to get more than their share. Right? Don’t they? At least my experience in 28 years of pastoring is that God does not divvy up pain evenly. He doesn’t. I don’t know why. It clusters, and you can feel cursed. Well, I want to help you fight through a sense that you may have like: “My life is jinxed. Nothing goes right for me. I have blown it.” Now what do you do?
But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.
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. (Micah 7:7–9)
That is a strange and wonderful passage of Scripture. Let’s break it down into ten short pieces.
1. When I fall. He has fallen. We don’t know what the sin was. It may be Israel is speaking here corporately, and they have fallen into the hands of Babylon because of all of their idolatry. You could take it individually, or you could take it corporately. This person has stumbled into something. We’ll find out. A fall has happened.
2. Because I have sinned against him. Now we know what kind of fall he’s talking about. He sinned. He didn’t stumble innocently and fall and blame it on somebody else. He sinned. Okay so we have a fall, and it is sin.
3. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy. We know that enemies are looking on, they’re seeing the fall and the sin, and they’re gloating. They’re gloating: “You were so righteous, you were this Goody Two-shoes, you were a church goer, and you blew it.” They’re gloating. They’re looking at the Christian or the Israelite or Israel as a nation, the chosen apple of God sitting in Babylon, and they’re gloating over the condition. And the Christian, the prophet, the godly one says, “Don’t do that. Don’t rejoice over me, O my enemy.”
4. I will bear the indignation of the Lord. He’s under God’s anger. He’s God’s man, God’s people, God’s woman, and he’s bearing indignation from the Lord. He says, “I’ll bear it. I sinned. I fell. People are laughing, and I’m going to bear it because God is rightfully angry at me. I shamed his name.
5. My God will hear me. The indignation of the Lord is on him, he has sinned, people are gloating. But he prays and he’s confident God will hear. Now we’re starting to get gutsy. Without the gutsy part, you’d say, “I hope he’ll hear. I don’t think he’ll hear. I don’t think God listen to the prayer of sinners.” You’ll talk like that. But if there’s gutsy guilt, it’s: “My God will hear me.”
6. I will wait for the God of my salvation. The discipline of the Lord doesn’t come with any prescribed limits. An hour? A year? What kind of indignation, what kind of anger will I have to bear? “I will bear the indignation of the Lord. Enemy, don’t you gloat over me. I’m crying out to him. He’ll hear me and I’ll wait. Psalm 40:1–3:
“The judgment that should have fallen on me and wiped me out fell on Jesus.”
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
I always stop there and I ask: How long did he wait? It says, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” How long did he wait? It doesn’t tell you. That’s good. Joseph had to wait thirteen years. It got worse and worse and worse as he went down further and further into Egypt, into the dungeon. Where are you in your waiting?
7. When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. Under the indignation of God crying out to God, confident that he will hear, waiting for the Lord. It’s dark. The Lord is his light in the darkness. I presume that means something like the circumstances are bleak. His indignation is real, this isn’t the way he wants life to be. Things aren’t the way they should be and he has a light here. The one light in this darkness is the Lord. “When I sit in darkness the Lord will be a light to me.”
8. Until he pleads my cause. To feel the wonder of this, start at the beginning of verse nine: “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.” And I will bear his indignation how long? I will live under the cloud and darkness of his indignation how long? “Until he pleads my cause.” That’s really strange. He’s the one that’s mad at me. The darkness is coming from him. He’s got the anger that’s got me under the indignation and the darkness is from him and I’m staying here until he pleads my cause. Does that sound like anything you know? Does that sound like the gospel to you? Does that sound like the cross to you? Does that sound like the dynamics of the atonement? God had the world under the darkness of his wrath until he sends an advocate? He sends a Savior, he sends the one who vindicates his glory and covers our sin? This is amazing. This is gutsy guilt if there ever was gutsy guilt. Simultaneous awareness of God’s indignation and advocacy. Can you handle that?
Christian living is complicated. If you want simple answers to your emotional life, you won’t find it here. The emotional life of the Christian is strange. We have to learn to live in complexities that can know God is angry and know how terribly I sinned, and I also know that he is not only angry with me, but is going to plead my cause in due time. Nobody else can deliver me from his anger but God. God will. That’s gutsy. That’s really gutsy.
9. And executes judgment for me. You tremble at what the next word will be. Will it be against or for? Thank God it’s for me. Everything about justice would say now he’s going to execute judgment against me and I’m cooked. It’s over because I sinned. This guy is so gutsy about God’s grace, he’s waiting here under indignation until an advocate comes and pleads his cause and God now from the bench of the universe executes judgment and it turns out to be for me. This is the gospel. This is what came true in Jesus. Everything was pointing to Jesus here. Everything was pointing right here. This is representative of that, the judgment happened for me, it happened at Calvary. The judgment that should have fallen on me and wiped me out fell on Jesus, my Advocate.
10. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication. I won’t stay in this darkness forever. In there I’ve seen light. I’ve known and here’s my prayer: I’ve known he will advocate for my cause, I know judgment will come for me and now here it comes and I’m walking out into the light and I’m beholding his vindication and my deliverance. Now that’s the end of this text. We’re in the light. It’s all okay now, and we’ve learned how to live in gutsy guilt.
None Like Our Pardoning God
If you don’t study to live by gutsy guilt, I don’t know how you will manage your sins and be on top of it. I just don’t know how you do it. You either have to minimize your sins and say they’re not so bad or you have to sink under them and say, “I’m done for. I can’t live the Christian life, it’s just no good.” But if you get a handle on how terrible sin is, how serious God takes it and how unbelievably powerful his grace is to advocate for his people in their sin, you will be able to get through your failing life. I promise you, you will fail in 2009 just like you failed in 2008. But you don’t have to wallow in it and you don’t have to be defeated by it or destroyed by it. Let’s move to the Lord’s table by dropping to the end of the chapter:
“Be gutsy. Hold on to God’s grace.”
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old. (Micah 7:18–20)
Micah is blown away by the pardoning God. “Who is a pardoning God like Thee and who has grace so rich and free and who has grace so rich and free?” That hymnal line is based on this text. My heart fills up with love for you because God loves me so much.
I feel very profoundly taken by God and loved through all my pastoral, family, personal, citizen failings of 2008. I hope that as we come to the table now you will look back with measures of Godly regret that leads to life and Godly thanksgiving.
Don’t try to blind yourself to the regrets and surely don’t fail to say the thanks. I hope you have a framework now to manage the regrets, to deal with the real sins that you’ve committed. Maybe you’re still in some season of discipline and darkness and you don’t have to go under.
Be gutsy. Hold on to that grace. Say to the devil, “Don’t you dare rejoice over me. I’m coming out into the light. Sooner or later, God will hear my cry and I will walk out of this darkness.”