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The Vault of Your Heart

Wisdom in living a life free of guilt

Proverbs 28:1

1 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
But the righteous are bold as a lion.


He seemed like a perfectly ordinary man. 

He was in his mid-forties, reasonably dressed, and would come into the bank branch two or three mornings a week. He had recently opened a single checking account and kept a balance of about ten dollars in it. During the days before the 2008 crash, banks were offering “free” accounts, with zero balance requirement to avoid fees. 

During his visits, he would deposit a small amount of money or cash a modest check, and then spend an idle half-hour in the bank. He would clumsily flirt with the tellers and try to make small talk with other customers, or he would sit quietly in the lobby sipping coffee and reading the complimentary newspaper, while casually watching the activity of the branch. 

He seemed like a perfectly ordinary man.

After about a month, the Christmas holidays arrived. This bank, along with several other local financial institutions, contracted with the local sheriff’s department to hire off-duty deputies to serve as passive lobby security. The deputy was paid overtime to enjoy the perks of a few hours in a quiet bank and not writing tickets to speeding tourists from the mainland. They, too, enjoyed sipping coffee and reading the complimentary newspaper, while casually watching the activity of the branch.

One morning, the ordinary man entered the bank. He paused for a moment at the door as if unsure of what he came in to do. After a few moments, he went to the teller window to make his deposit. Instead of flirting, he seemed agitated, glancing back at the law enforcement officer who was sitting in one of the chairs in the lobby. The ordinary man seemed uncertain as to what he should do next. 

He paced back to the front door of the bank and looked nervously out into the parking lot. He then walked to the coffee pot, but did not pour himself a cup of coffee. Instead, he turned and went and stood directly in front of the sheriff’s deputy. 

 “I know why you are here!” He seemed to almost shout.

The surprised officer slowly put his styrofoam cup of coffee on the table and set the paper aside. “You do?” He said. 

“You’ve got no right! The ordinary man stuttered, “I haven’t done anything!” 

“You haven’t?” The deputy replied, slowly rising. He was very interested, now.

“NO!” The ordinary man blurted, “and you have no proof that I will!” 

“Of course,” the deputy replied, cooly. “Why don’t you and I step outside and discuss what’s bothering you,” and he waved him toward the door.   

As the two men stood on the front steps chatting, the bank staff could see the ordinary man gesturing and shouting. He calmed down when a second sheriff’s deputy arrived, summoned for additional assistance. Soon, he quietly got into the back seat of one of the cars and the first deputy came back inside the bank to explain the situation to the bewildered bank manager.

The ordinary man apparently had a history of criminal activity and had recently been released from jail. He confessed that he had been considering entering the competitive and dynamic world of bank-related crime, but when he saw the deputy in the bank, he assumed that the sharp-eyed and savvy bank staff had discerned his motives and arranged to have him arrested. 

The ordinary man had been surprised to discover that this was not the case. Since no actual crime had been committed, the ordinary man was released, but he had gained far more attention from law enforcement than he preferred. The deputy had a humorous new story to tell to his colleagues, and the bank manager lost a few night’s sleep over the lax security measures of she and her team. 

This incident above (which is a true story from many years ago at a bank where I worked) is like a proverb come to life. The ordinary man may not have committed a crime that day, but criminality was in his heart—and he became convinced that everyone around him knew. In Proverbs 28 Solomon writes of just such a man:

1 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
But the righteous are bold as a lion.–Proverbs 28:1

This is a proverb that has bothered many believers. In a day and age when wickedness seems to run rampant while the righteous cower in fear, this can seem like a hollow promise. Is this proverb true, or is it forever unfulfilled? You will be surprised to learn that it can be a picture of your very own heart.

In verse 1, Solomon illustrates what commentators call, “the psychological insecurity of the wicked.” Although the wicked in this world seem vocal and ascendant, in their hearts resides a burning coal of fear and doubt. This is manifested in several ways that you will quickly see as familiar. For starters, it is reflected in God’s words in Leviticus:

17 I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.–Leviticus 26:17

This insecurity lies at the heart of every man, and the one question that reveals its presence is: what do you do with your guilt?

Since there is no one who is truly good (Romans 3:10-12) and all have sinned (Romans 3:23), man is without excuse. Although the people of this world work hard to justify sins and selfish behavior, the nagging guilt that plagues them will always manifest itself in their lives. Each person is fleeing from something that they will never truly escape.

One way that this is manifested is through the projection of one’s sins onto another. Now, projection is a psychological term (and I am not a psychologist), it basically describes the process in which you can attribute to others what is happening in your own mind—or heart.

For instance, those who seek to discriminate on the basis of skin color will inevitably call their opponents “racists.” Those who steal from others will inevitably call their victims “thieves” for owning more than they deserve. Those who lust, inevitably call the objects of desire “seducers.” And those who crave material wealth call others greedy for owning possessions of their own.

This habit can often be justified in your mind by performing acts of kindness or having good intentions toward others in order to appear righteous, or to assuage their guilty conscience. In doing this, you can feel you are “offsetting” your sinful actions or desires, but Jesus warns you in Matthew 6:1 that by “doing good deeds to be seen by men” you forfeit any true merit before God. 

Have you experienced these things in your life? Is there someone who repeatedly seeks to harm you, and actually blames you as the cause of their sin? Or perhaps you struggle with an addiction or another sinful habit, and find yourself taking comfort in the fact that it is “not really your fault.”

Comedian, vaudeville performer, and actor W.C. Fields who had a “fondness for alcohol once quipped: “It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it.” 

Another way in which you may assuage a guilty conscience is in constantly requiring affirmation from others. When your spouse or others are angry or unhappy with you, do you find yourself begging them to tell you “it’s ok” or apologizing so profusely as to almost exasperate them into forgiveness? This can be an odd, but terribly manipulating form of “fleeing from guilt” that can cause irreparable harm to relationships.  

Finally, a form of fleeing guilt is found in controlling others with their own guilt. By requiring constant submission to you by reminding them of their own sins and faults, you can feel as if you are a tower of righteousness above them—all the while received that your own sins are not being acknowledged. All of this forms a terrible cycle of blindness. As Tim Keller points out:

The more we lie and betray, the more we fear being betrayed until we “flee when no one pursues.”–Keller

All of this comes down to one thing: you have become someone who fears man instead of fearing God. Commentator Bruce Waltke explains:

The wicked, who do not fear I AM fear people, but the righteous who fear I AM fear nothing…Both psychologies are grounded in reality: I AM safeguards the righteous and damns the wicked.–Waltke 

The wicked may show boldness and the righteous may hide, but the destiny of both is assured—and this should give you strength. As Solomon completes the thought of his proverb:

...but the righteous are bold as a lion.–Proverbs 28:1b

Do you flee from guilt? This can be a continual struggle in your life as a believer—for you are forgiven, but still endure the effects of your sins and life in a sinful world. The Apostle Paul, who meets Jesus face-to-face on the Damascus road, carries the effect of his past sins all of his life. He shares with his dear friend Timothy:

13…though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,–I Timothy 1:13

And yet, Paul ran his race with endurance, knowing He was forgiven: 

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.–Philippians 3:12

Here is the key: your past sins should drive you to Christ! Because of His work on the cross, you can now approach the Lion of Judah without fear:

16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.–Hebrews 4:16

English pastor Maurice Roberts, in his essay “Remembrance of Past Sins” puts your past sins in a beautiful frame for you to consider:

Old sins are of use to teach us new lessons. Old sins are often a photofit of our present spiritual deficiencies. Old sins are an index to unobserved infirmities. He who would be familiar with tomorrow’s temptations, let him consider well yesterday’s shortcomings.–Maurice Roberts  

Instead of feeling guilt, use your past sins to learn how to repent in the present and avoid future heartache. But like a good sailor, keep a weather eye out on life’s tumbling sea:

Every man, like the weather, has his own prevailing wind of susceptibility and will blow soonest towards his besetting sin. When Grace is low in the soul the tide of our corruptions will carry us out towards the same old jagged rocks as they did in the past. If to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Let us remember our old sins.–Maurice Roberts

Do you have past sins that you need to confess to Christ? Are there sinful habits or manipulations that you should confess to those whom you have harmed—or is now time to stand up to them in order to encourage them to repentance for hurting you? As Puritan Thomas Brooks (possibly paraphrasing the church father Origen) wrote that, “repentance is the vomit of the soul,” when you lay your guilty conscience before the gentle eyes of Jesus, you will know true freedom and healing. For as the psalmist says: 

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.–Psalm 32:1

And you can take that to the bank.



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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