It’s hard to say, “I’m guilty”

There’s a story I once heard Pastor David Jeremiah share.  I cannot testify to the truth of it, but it sure makes a great point.

Frederick II was an 18th century King of Prussia.  He went on an inspection of a Belgium prison.  Everyone was screaming, “I am innocent”, except one man whom the king saw out of the corner of his eye. This man stood out because he seemed oblivious to all that was going on around him.  Frederick was intrigued by this man so he walked over to the man and said, “Why are you here?”  The man replied, “For armed robbery, your majesty.”  “Did you do it?” the king asked?  “Oh, yes sir” said the man, “and I deserve to be here”.  At that, King Frederick II summoned a guard and said, “Release this guilty man at once. I will not have him kept in prison where he will corrupt all these fine, innocent people around him.”  Do you think the freed prisoner went back to robbing?  I like to think he realized the blessing of forgiveness and changed his ways.

It is difficult to admit guilt.  The biggest hindrance to salvation for me personally was the idea that I was a good person.  While I knew I had flaws and faults, I still felt like my good outweighed my bad.  Using my own scales, I would proclaim my own innocence.  I did not see my need for a savior.  It was not until I finally realized that no matter how good I tried to be, or even how good I was, I was still guilty in the eyes of a perfect God, that I admitted my guilt to myself and then to Him.  And then I, like the prisoner, received my pardon.  How I knew for sure that I was forgiven is that I wanted to please the One who freed me.  My desires became secondary to His desires for me.  I gave my life to Him.  He called me to be a pastor.

I do not think anyone in any church understands the sacrifice and submission becoming a pastor demands.  On top of that, the congregation can scarce comprehend the conviction and vulnerability it takes to stand before them and tell them that they must admit their own guilt.  I believe God sees it as the ultimate expression of love – that one even risks being mistaken for being judgmental.  Can you not see how easy is it to stand before them telling them of God’s love for them without telling them the whole truth, that that they must admit their guilt and turn from their sin?  And a pastor who can tell them such a thing from his or her own experience is blessed to know that of which they speak.

Charles Spurgeon says of a pastor, “You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him (or her) among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling. It is wisest to show double kindness where you have been severely handled by one who thought it his (or her) duty to do so, for he (or she) is probably an honest man (or woman) and worth winning… Turn your deaf ear to what you judge to be their harsh criticism, and endeavor to preach better…”  Preach better until they say, “I am guilty”.  Only then can they hear Jesus say, “You are forgiven and free.”

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