How do I react when I make a mistake, when I don’t do what I want to do and I do what I don’t want to do (Rom. 7:19-20), when I sin?
Hopefully, the immediate or near immediate reaction is remorse and repentance. Often that is the case. Often another human emotional response is guilt. Guilt can be good to an extent, if it leads to repentance and change.
If I’ve repented and changed, guilt no longer has a place. But what if it won’t let go? It could mean that there’s more the Holy Spirit is trying to show me. Or I could just be holding into the guilt because of shame or habit or some other reason. That’s no good.
It can be hard to let go of guilt, especially if my sin affects or harms others. If I lash out in anger at someone, I can ask God to forgive me, and He does. But I also have to ask that person to forgive me and then deal with the consequences of my actions. If it’s been a habitual problem, it can be even more difficult to lay down the guilt.
Recently, I was discussing with a local priest this issue of guilt robbing us of grace. How does a repeat offender (aka all humans), keep coming back and asking for more grace? His answer floored me.
He basically reminded me that, as a human, I’m never worthy of the grace and mercy that I need. I have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But he also reminded me of the good news – I can never exhaust God’s grace and mercy. His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23).
He gave, what was for me, life-changing advice: “Stop asking for God’s grace, and start cooperating with it.”
Stop asking for grace, and start cooperating with it. That one sentence changed my entire perspective. Why would I ask for something that’s already been given? The grace of God is a gift that was already given two millennia ago. It is free. It is for you and for me.
So what does it mean to cooperate with grace? I don’t know that I have a complete answer.
It seems that this cooperation begins with repentance. Then laying down guilt at the foot of the Cross and walking in a new freedom. It means laying that guilt down every time we’re tempted to pick it up again. It means finding ways to change and grow stronger in spirit to better resist the next temptation which tries to come between us and God. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and root out anything that exalts itself against Him.
That is what it means to me, but I’m more interested in what you think. How do you cooperate with God’s grace?