Luke 7:36-50; Galatians 5:22-25

It’s that time of the year again . . . tax-time. There was a fellow who one year decided to cheat on his income taxes. The problem was that he later started to feel so guilty that he couldn’t sleep. After thinking about it for a while, he sent an anonymous check for $100 to the IRS along with a note that read: “To Whom It May Concern, I cheated on my taxes and now I feel so guilty that I haven’t been able to sleep for weeks, so I’m sending you this check for one hundred dollars. I hope you forgive me. P.S. If I still can’t sleep after one week, I’ll send you the rest of what I owe.”

We laugh, but the truth is it is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to experience the peace that passes understanding when we are out of sync with God’s purposes for our lives.

Just ask the woman in today’s story who sought Jesus. The NLT refers to her as an ‘immoral woman;’ however the fact that she displays unloosed hair and also has a local reputation indicates she was a prostitute. My guess is she, like our tax evader friend, was also losing sleep. We can only surmise that sometime before this scene played itself out she had heard Jesus speak about forgiveness. Now sufficient time had elapsed for her to see the error of her ways – to realize that she was breaking God’s own heart and to feel in her soul the desire for forgiveness and a new life. When she came to the realization that He offered what she craved, she didn’t hold back but ignoring custom and religious tradition, she crashed the party at Simon the Pharisee’s house. Why? Because something told her that Jesus held the key to set her free from her past, from regret, from her guilt. In other words, something told her that in Him she could find a little peace.

When we are out of tune with God, we experience several negative emotions that all interfere with experiencing inner peace.

Sometimes I will say something negative about someone else to a third party; in other words, I will sin by gossiping. And then later as I think about that or any other sin I commit, I can begin to doubt. I can doubt my faith. Am I really a Christian? Has God really forgiven my sins? And I will feel like I let that people down, let God down as well as let myself down. And I will feel guilty.

When we are out of tune with God we almost always feel guilty. Guilt is one of the most efficient robbers of peace.

To be sure, guilt can be constructive. Psychologist Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland is a leading researcher on guilt and points out that guilt is often the motivating factor in healing and restoring relationships that have gone awry.1 So guilt can be a good thing.

On the other hand, guilt that results from sin (past or present) hounds the mind and robs of not only sleep but also peace. Shakespeare wrote: “The mind of the guilty is filled with scorpions.”

Many people suffer with the emotional pain of guilt on a daily basis. Mark Twain claims to have sent a note to twelve of his friends as a practical joke. The note read: “Flee at once, all is discovered.” Within 24 hours all twelve of the famous men had left town.2

What if you opened your mail one day and found such a note? What would race through your mind? And how would thinking about that make you feel? Would you leave town? If not, how much sleep would you lose?

Would you believe that the Apostle Paul struggled with this issue?

Listen to his struggle:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. … And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:15, 18-19)

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains this Doctor Jekyll/Mr. Hyde syndrome by stating that there is a war being waged within every Christian; the war between human nature and the Spirit nature. We were born with ‘human’ that is the ‘sin’ nature. Or as Paul refers to it in other letters as ‘old nature,’ the ‘old man’ or simply ‘the flesh.’

Then we become Christians and when we do we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes that clear earlier in this same letter when he states emphatically, “You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. (Gal 3:2). When we receive the Spirit that’s when the war breaks out.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. . . . When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. . . . But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:16-17, 19-21a, 22-23)

The point is that the battle is real, and it is one Christians will wage throughout their lives. And the questions is, How do we win this battle that wages in us?

Let’s turn back to back to Romans 7, where Paul revealed his struggle to us.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:21-25a)

Our strategy cannot be to pit our will against our sin nature because that sets up a losing scenario almost every time, but rather to surrender our will to Christ.

Or as Paul writes the Galatians in today’s Key Verse: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25).

Or as the NLT has it “let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”

That great author and pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, Warren Wiersbe writes, “Walking in the Spirit is not some emotional experience, detached from everyday life. It is the daily experience of the believer who feeds on the word, prays and obeys what the Bible says.” 3

This is nothing new. This is what we have noted the last two weeks: the Word and Prayer, Prayer and the Word. You say, “how long are we going to talk about the importance of Word and prayer?” And I say, “until we get it!”

In his fine book, The Silent Shepherd, John McArthur writes: “Practically speaking, the first major peace in the pattern for the spiritual walk is a diligent and daily intake of God’s word. 4 Prayer is really an indispensable ingredient for any Christian who wants to walk by the Spirit.” 5

He or she who makes time for the Word and Prayer wins!

I once came upon a little verse, a little rhyme, a little limerick that I’ve never forgotten because I think it brilliantly sums up what Paul is saying to us here in Galatians:

“Two natures beat within this breast.
One is cursed, the other blessed.
One I love, one I hate.
The one I feed will dominate.”

Feed what? The Word and prayer!

“The fruit of the Spirit is peace!” As we enable the Spirit of God to have more and more sway in our lives through the Word and prayer, we will experience more and more of His peace.

In the early years of the 19th century in one German village stood a grand old stone-walled church with a stately pipe-organ that was famous throughout the region for its beautiful, rich tone. One day a young soldier stopped and asked the aged caretaker of the church “Sir, would you please permit me to play the pipe organ for one hour?”
“I’m sorry, young man,” the caretaker replied, “no one but our own organist is permitted to play the organ.”
“But sir, I’ve heard so much about the organ of this church, and I’ve walked so many miles to play it for a single hour!”
The aged man paused, then shook his head sadly.
“Please,” the soldier pleaded, my commander gave me a 24-hour leave before we move to another province where the fighting is expected to be heavy. This may be the last chance in my life to play the organ.”
The caretaker reluctantly nodded then took a key from his pocket and held it out to the soldier. “The organ is locked,” he said. “Here is the key.”

The soldier took the key and unlocked the ornate cabinet of the organ. Then he began to play. A billow of majestic chords rolled from the great golden pipes of the organ. The caretaker stood transfixed as the glorious music washed over him, bringing tears to his eyes. He moved to one of the pews and sat down, entranced.

Within minutes, people from the village poured into the sanctuary to listen. Streams of beautiful music filled the sanctuary for an hour. Then the gifted fingers of the organist lifted from the keyboard. The young man closed and locked the keyboard cabinet. As he stood and turned, he was surprised to see that the church had nearly filled with parishioners who had come to listen to his music. Humbly receiving their compliments, the young soldier walked down the center aisle to return the key to the caretaker.
“Thank you,” the young man whispered.
The old man rose to his feet and took the key. “Thank you,” he answered, that was the most beautiful music these old ears have ever heard. Can I ask your name?”
“My name is Felix,” replied the soldier. “Felix Mendelssohn.”
The old caretaker’s eyes widened as he realized whose hands he grasped: the hands of the young man who, before he was 20 years old, had become the most celebrated composers in all of Europe.
“To think,” the old man wondered aloud, “the master was here and I almost failed to give him the key!”

The same Master who granted both forgiveness and peace to the woman in Luke’s story is here with us now. If we give him the key to our hearts, He will make unimaginably beautiful music in our lives: music that will make people who know us stop, listen, and wonder, and music that will bring us peace.

The Master is here and He is ready to give us a new beginning. It is not only our duty but our joy to give him the key to all that we are and have.

1 Roy F. Baumeister, Arlene M. Stillwell, and Todd F. Heatherton.
Guilt: An Interpersonal Approach. ©1994 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. Psychological Bulletin 1994, Vol. 115, No. 2, 243-267.


3 Warren W. Wiersbe. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament
[Colorado Springs, Colorado: David C. Cook, ©1992] page 530.

4 Macarthur, John. The Silent Shepherd. [Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, ©1996] page 108.

5 Macarthur, John. The Silent Shepherd. [Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, ©1996] page 111.