If anyone ever asks me to do some psychological experiment, I am not going there. Those researchers do all sorts of things to twist you up, like they did with the jelly beans.
It all started when the researchers gave each person this long description of the experiment written in really small print. So, most folks didn’t read it all the way through. Then they started the experiment. They gave you a choice of two types of jellybeans, ones that tasted like fruit, and ones that tasted like vomit. And what do you think people chose? The fruit flavored ones of course. But then the researchers came in and said. “Okay, as you know from reading all that small print, the participant after you are going to have to eat the jelly beans you didn’t.” Ouch. These poor folks thought they had inflicted nasty tasting jelly beans on some poor stranger. Now another group of folks didn’t get told this. They said the participants after them could eat whatever jelly beans they liked.
Then the next part of the experiment began. Every participant got five dollars. Now they could keep as much of the money as they wanted, or they could also choose to give some to a partner. And guess who the partner was? Yes, it was the person who had supposedly had to eat the nasty flavored jellybeans. Now guess which group gave away the most money to their partner. Not only did the folks who thought they’d forced vomit flavor jellybeans on their partner give more, they gave three times more!
Now what was the point of all the jellybean trickery? The researchers wanted to prove. Guilt can motivate good. When you’ve felt you’ve done something bad to someone, you try to find a way to fix it. Why? You want to relieve your guilt. And that’s a good thing.
But here’s the problem, what works with little things like jelly beans, doesn’t generally work well in life. In fact, guilt messes up your life in all sorts of ways. It sucks up your time. According to research people experience about five hours each week feeling guilty. And all that guilt hijacks your life. When you’re feeling guilty, your ability to concentrate, produce and create all go down. And guilt literally weighs you down. People who feel guilty think they weigh more than they actually do.
And it doesn’t stop there. Guilt makes you beat yourself up, and deprive yourself of things that give you joy. Why? You think. Why should I feel joy when I’ve been so bad? It even limits your relationships. Why? Well, when you feel guilty, you can avoid talking to the person you think you’ve hurt. When my wife and I got married, we had to limit our invite list. And I felt guilty for a whole year afterwards about a guy and his wife that we couldn’t invite. I intentionally avoided any contact with him. Then I finally got the guts to reach out and tell him how bad I felt. Guess what I found out? He wasn’t bothered by the non-invite at all. That’s the other problem, our guilt alarms often go off when they shouldn’t. You feel guilty for hurting someone, when you actually haven’t hurt them at all.
Guilt in small doses might do you some good. But overall, guilt takes away the very life God wants you to live. It drains away your energy. It deprives you of joy. It fills you with anxiety. But how do you get free of it? In the words you’re about to hear, God shows you the way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.
Guilt can weigh you down. It can take away the very life God created you to live. And in these words, God shows you the path to freedom. How do you become free from guilt? You realize the grace of God doesn’t just give you forgiveness, it gives you righteousness too. It makes you right as nothing else can.
Too often, when folks think about what Jesus did, they think that all that Jesus did was bring you forgiveness. But in Jesus, God did more than that. God brought you innocence.
That’s why John talks about Jesus here as your advocate. Last week, I talked about one dimension of this word, how advocate often meant champion. Why? It’s because in certain cultures, if you got brought up on charges, you could win your innocence by having a champion fight on your behalf. And if your champion won, then you won. And John is saying here that in Jesus, God became your champion. So when Jesus won, you won. That means, that when it comes to whatever wrong or guilt in your life, your champion has the last word. His victory has now become your victory.
But the word carries more than just that image. John also wants you to picture a courtroom, in which you are the one brought up on charges. Why?
John knows what goes on inside people when they mess up. Sure they carry regret over the harm their failings caused others or themselves. But that regret often becomes toxic. Within you, a sort of prosecuting voice can rise up to declare your guilt, to tell you what an awful person you are. Now this voice doesn’t do anything that leads you to change or become better. No, this voice just makes you feel miserable, and believe that your misery is your just due. And many folks even mistake this voice for the voice of God. In fact, that’s what the voice hopes you’ll do.
But this prosecutor isn’t God. It’s actually God’s enemy, out to destroy those created in God’s image, in other words, us. In fact, Satan means just that. Satan literally means the prosecutor.
So in this image, when that prosecuting voice shows up in your life, who else shows up? Jesus, your advocate shows up. Now in ancient times, an advocate just didn’t mean some lawyer who you paid to get you off. No, an advocate meant an honored and respected member of the community who spoke on your behalf. And not only that, this advocate could also be your judge.
So what does Jesus the righteous, this advocate/judge, say? Jesus says to the prosecutor. You can’t bring this person back into court. Whatever mistakes this person has made, I have already covered them. In me, in my righteousness, they have been made right now and forever. They are innocent, and not because of mercy but because of justice.