Guilt and shame can be powerful forces in our lives. At their best they alert us to how we have fallen short of God’s standards. But at their worst they can prevent us from receiving the grace and mercy of God that we so desperately need. In the midst of our guilt and shame we can convince ourselves that we are too messed up for Jesus or that we have done something so terrible that God could never forgive us. Can we really come to God just as we are?
Jesus made a habit of spending time with people on the fringes of society, people whose lives were seriously messed up. When the religious leaders of his day criticized him for this, Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Later in his ministry Jesus faced the same criticism (Luke 15:1-2), so he told a series of parables to emphasize God’s delight in finding those who are lost (Luke 15:3-32). Jesus summarized his mission here on earth as seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10). Even while he hung on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
If anyone might have been tempted to think they were beyond the mercy of God, it could have been the Apostle Paul. Before coming to Jesus Christ he was “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim 1:13). But he goes on to say that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim 1:15). But if Paul was so bad, why would God show him such mercy? To make an example of Paul: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:16).
And yet, God loves us too much to allow us to remain in our sin once we come to him. On several occasions Jesus made it clear that those who come to him will be changed. After telling the woman caught in adultery that he did not condemn her, Jesus says to her “Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). From before the creation of the world God determined that those whom he redeemed from their sin would “be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29).
No matter what you’ve done, or how badly you’ve messed up your life, Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). The great 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards captured it well when he said:
If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you…. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you…. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you.
With such a Savior as this, what could possibly keep you from coming to him in faith right now?