When I meet an unbeliever, I need to watch and listen in order to discern what kind of unbeliever that person is. Is this someone who has simply never heard? Is this someone who has heard but didnt understand? Is this someone who has been taught a very distorted picture of Jesus Christ? In other words, is the Jesus they are rejecting the real one? Or is this someone who does know the truth but has simply chosen the world instead, or is so invested in the world (riches, pleasure, power) that they are willing to silence the voice of the Holy Spirit?
We tend to make blanket assumptions about huge groups of people. We level harsh judgments and write them off as lost, but the truth is each person is different. Yes, some are defiant and have rejected the true God, but others are genuinely ignorant. They dont know whats true, and may even have done horrible things thinking they were serving God.
The Bible says only God knows the human heart (1Sa 16:7). And today, as we listen to Peter appeal to a crowd gathered in the temple, well hear him boldly confront them with their sin, but well also hear him compassionately tell them he believes their hearts are still soft because they did what they did
What does Peter say? (Ac 3:11-26)
(vs13-15) You killed the Messiah.
(v17 But you were ignorant. You didnt understand what you were doing.
(v18) The prophets said the Messiah would suffer, and He did.
(v19) Repent and turn toward the wiping away of your sins.
(v19) And you too will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
(v20) Then some day in the future the Messiah will return and will bring the restoration, the promised Messianic kingdom to Israel (Ac 1:6).
(v21) All the prophets have promised this. Its fulfillment is absolutely certain.
(v22) The Messiah had to suffer the first time He came, but not the next. When Jesus, our Messiah, comes back to earth He will come as Israels second Moses.
(v23) No one will refuse to obey Him this time. There will be severe consequences.
(v25) As Jews, you hold a privileged position, but not an exclusive one. By being the descendants of Abraham and the prophets, you have the privilege of being the nation through whom the Savior of the world was born.
(v26) The Messiah came to you first, the gospel is being preached to you first. You are the first who get the opportunity to repent and turn from your wicked ways. But this gospel will soon be preached to all the families of the earth.
At this point Peter and John were suddenly interrupted by a group of religious officials who brought with them the captain of the temple police. They were kept in jail overnight, and the next day brought in for questioning in front of the nations religious leaders. Peter tells them, in effect, that the time of their ignorance is ended. Now, knowing what they know, they must confess the name of Jesus or face the consequences, because
there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Ac 4:12).
Ignorance vs. defiance (vs 13-17)
Peter bluntly confronts the crowd with their collective guilt, but he also assures them that they are not hopelessly beyond the reach of Gods salvation. What they had done was terribly wrong, but they had been deceived when they did it, rather than deliberately defiant, and because of that fact it was likely that their hearts were still capable of repenting when shown the truth. Peter very generously included their rulers in this statement, which in particular meant the high priest and the Sanhedrin (Ac 4:5, 6). While some in the Sanhedrin must have been deceived, others, including Annas and Caiaphas (Jn 18:12-14) were not. They did know Jesus was the Messiah but rejected Him because they didnt want to surrender their positions of authority. This is exactly what Jesus told them using a parable about a vineyard (Mt 21:33-41), and they fully understood that the parable was directed at them (Mt 21:45, 46). So the idea that all the rulers were ignorant would have been more than Peter meant to say.
Jesus (Jn 9:39-41; 15:22, 24)
Paul (1 Tim 1:12-16)
Crossing the line
Being ignorant isnt an excuse you can pull out on the judgment day and show to God and Hell let you go to heaven. But it does mean you werent deliberately defying God. You didnt fully understand what you were doing so your heart wasnt hardened as severely as it would have been.
But there can be a moment when a persons heart crosses a line. It moves from confusion, deception or ignorance to knowledge and a willful decision. Further claims to be confused or falling back to philosophical questions cant change whats happened inside. Yes, God knows when this happens, but the real problem is what you do to yourself. You violate your integrity. Now youve chosen to become spiritually blind and deaf. This decision damages you far more than the sin itself because a piece of the real you dies inside. You find it becomes harder to feel sorrow or repent. The more you do it the worse it gets. The brighter the light thats rejected, the greater the darkness that results.
The Unforgiveable sin (Mk 3:1-12, 22-30)
This is a troubling passage for many. I have often been asked to evaluate whether or not a person has blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not saying bad things about Him. Its far deeper than words. It takes place when a person refuses to acknowledge what their heart knows to be true, and then takes it another step, and defiantly labels the manifest presence of God as demonic. It has nothing to do with railing at God in anger after some tragic event. It isnt happening when horrible things are said in drunken outbursts.
Jesus speaks these words to people who were watching Him minister in power, and yet who were willing to call something so obviously of God, demonic. Imagine yourself in that crowd watching Jesus. Your head may not understand, but your heart knows Gods there. No one watching such love in action, healing the sick and delivering the oppressed, can stand there and not be moved. No one can be in that environment and not recognize the heart of God. Whats happening to people is beautiful, I intuitively know this is holy. So, for me to willingly suppress my conscience, and call that lovely working of the Holy Spirit demonic (v30), requires the ultimate violation of my integrity. Here, when Gods light is shining the brightest, I call it darkness. I prove by this that I am willing to do or say anything, with no regard for the truth, so long as I can avoid surrendering to His lordship. This is a cold, passionless decision to win at all costs. And if this step is taken, something in me dies, and apparently cant be restored.
The gift of guilt
It takes a lot of courage to admit guilt, to acknowledge wrong choices, to boldly face the truth about myself and my relationship with God. But feeling guilty is a lot better than falling deeper and deeper into self-deception. It means my conscience is still working, I still have the integrity to discern between whats holy and whats unclean. And heres where Gods grace becomes amazing. God doesnt push me away, but invites me to bring my guilt to Him, asking only that I repent of the way Ive been thinking and turn in faith to His Son so my sins may be wiped away. The Lords Table regularly leads us to confess our sins and receive His mercy. Listen to Paul (1 Co 11:23-32).
As embarrassing as it may be, being honest with myself and with God is the first step toward mercy. God is glad to forgive sinners. But there is nothing He can do for those who insist on denying their sin, or refuse to call on the name of His Son, the only name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Ac 4:12).
If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jn 1:8, 9).
So the gift of guilt is that it leads us to the mercy of God.
1) What is the difference between guilt & condemnation? Between guilt & shame?
2) Have you ever stubbornly refused to admit that something you were doing is wrong? What made you face your guilt? What did you learn about Gods mercy?