Guilt. The recollection of failure and inadequacy. Recognizing that we fall far short. Shame from being plagued repeatedly by the same sin that we have previously resolved to forsake once-and-for-all. The feelings of defeat and despair. Desiring help… but not exposure.
The opportunity to examine ourselves when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, can be weighty and burdensome when our conscience indicts us and guilts sets in. What do we do with it? What can we do? Perhaps we deem ourselves unworthy, and abstain from participation as we let the bread and cup pass. Or perhaps we cast an apology to the Lord, and determine with greater resolution that this time, we will prevail.
If we’re not careful, we can get caught in the trap of moralism, and miss the beauty of our Savior as we turn our attention to ourselves.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
This serious warning concerning our participation in the Lord’s Supper should not be ignored! But we must understand it properly! We have a command: examine yourself. The guilt that may ensue is not the end goal of the Lord’s command! If we find guilt in our self-examination…
First, we ought not be surprised when sin is revealed in us. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We should honestly check ourselves, not seeking self-acquittal, but our true current condition.
When we recognize sin, we need not wallow in guilt, but simply practice 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The guilt is grace from God, a means to freedom when we respond by turning to the Lord, acknowledging our sin, and receiving His forgiveness. In fact, that’s the very definition of “walking in the light” in 1 John 1:7… having fellowship with God not because we are innocent but because Jesus’ blood has cleansed us of our sin.
The temptation can easily be to make promises to the Lord and/or ourselves, and resolve to do better. When we do so, we turn the focus on us, becoming self-engrossed, self-empowered, and self-trusting. We are almost certain to fall flat on our faces in our pursuit of self-righteousness, and then surrender in sin until a later point of recommitment to our self-resolution. Do you see the pattern?
Yes, there is great weight in the desire not to participate “unworthily.” How can we ever be worthy of the death of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the holy Son of God? Yet Paul urges repeatedly in his letters that we seek to walk and live worthily (Ephesians 4:1, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). We are soberly and weightily called to respond to the gospel – and that’s the purpose of Communion, to remind (1 Corinthians 11:24-25) us of the gospel and to proclaim (1 Corinthians 11:26) the gospel visually.
Our only hope in the midst of the guilt and failure of sin is the gospel! By the gospel we have received forgiveness, and by the gospel we are called to and empowered for new life! We cannot receive Communion in a worthy manner if we carelessly and casually continue in unrepentant sin, nor if we are clinging to self-worth in the measure of our performance. But, if we are in the midst of an ongoing battle against sin in our lives, and we are walking in the light with regular confession and repentance, we find all our worth in Christ alone, and celebrate Communion as a commemoration of gospel hope, found in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Let us diligently examine ourselves, praying wholeheartedly the words of Psalm 139:23-24, and let us joyfully participate in Communion together because Jesus is the means of all of our fellowship with one another and with the Father!