I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:4-5
Shame. Webster says it’s a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.
We’ve all fallen short of God’s commands. When we feel sorry for our sin, it draws us to repentance. The Holy Spirit lets us know that we need forgiveness from our Savior.
When the blood of Christ that was shed for the cleansing of our sins covers us, that’s where the shame should end. We are set free from the curse of sin by the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
Yet that’s not always the way it goes. Sometimes we have a hard time forgiving ourselves for our shortcomings. When that’s the case, satan is quick to use our past to keep us from a fruitful future. I’ve been through this and I want to share some of my testimony with you, praying that you’ll find hope if you have a similar struggle.
I have struggled with shame. My shame was mixed up with pride, which I’ve found to be a bad combination. My guilt over sin was surrounded by my own incredulous reaction to my weaknesses and the absolute determination that no one else would ever know that I’d failed. Somehow, over the course of growing up, I had gotten this crazy idea that I wasn’t vulnerable to ‘bad’ sin. Sure, I might mess up at times in my attitude or something of that nature… but to actually choose to give into temptation… surely I would never fall into the big traps. (Just to clarify, sin is breaking God’s law, no matter how ‘big’ or ’small’ our human eyes make it.) I was the Preacher’s Kid. I was expected to live a certain way. And I was determined I wouldn’t let anyone down. I had a very real fear of disappointing others… of disappointing God… and I was determined that wouldn’t happen. In my journey through teenager-hood, I somehow turned that fear into ‘I won’t fail’. Pride. It can disguise itself in so many ways, but as Proverbs tell us, it’s always the predecessor to a fall.
I was one of those teenagers who wore a promise ring, wrote letters to her future husband, and was so certain that she’d never have a problem with sexual sin. So when I fell in love with the boy who would eventually become my husband, it was a shocking turn of events to discover that my hormones plus my emotions equaled a problem with following through on all of those promises I’d made to myself and to God. It might sound ridiculous, but I really was surprised at my own ability to sin. Time and time again, I found myself choosing to compromise the standard I knew was set for me in God’s Word… and I was eaten up with guilt. I was guilty. I still longed to be who God wanted me to be… but I couldn’t really pray. I couldn’t really seek God’s presence. And I definitely couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through. There was no way I could let anyone know how far I’d wandered from God. They would think I was (gasp!) a sinner. (That pride thing can also keep us from reaching out for help.) So, when I ended up pregnant at 19, I didn’t know what in the world to do. Consequences had caught up with me in a life-changing way.
Maybe it’s cliche to say that I had to really reach the end of myself before throwing myself at the feet of Jesus, but that’s what happened. Apparently, I had to learn a lesson that should be easy to understand ~ we are all (every single one of us, with no exceptions) sinners. We all need the grace of God to redeem us. Finally, it got through my thick head that I needed His mercy just as badly as everyone else. At that moment, it felt like I needed exponentially more of it. I could not help myself. I (quite literally) couldn’t hide my sin any longer and I couldn’t hide behind my pride… I was wholly dependent on the grace of Jesus.
1st John says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness. And so He forgave mine. And He blessed me with beautiful moments of grace… I’ll never forget a couple from our church showing up at the front door after we began to share the news that we would be having a baby just six months after our wedding. I expected outrage and condemnation, because these were people who trusted me with teaching their daughters in Sunday School… and at that point, I was actually hiding from people so that they wouldn’t see my changing figure. Like actually jumping into rooms and peeking around corners until I was convinced they’d left the building. Anyway, I braced myself and answered their knock. They gave me smiles, hugs, and a present for the baby. I was overwhelmed with the love of Christ that shone from them. And once that precious baby was born, grace became real to me in a whole new way. Because I saw, right in front of my eyes, the ashes of my sin turned into something beautiful. In fact, Sean’s name means “God is gracious.” He is truly one of the greatest, most miraculous blessings in my life.
Yet in spite of all the gentle ways God guided me back onto His path, I still held onto shame. In 2nd Corinthians 7, Paul talks about the Godly sorrow that brings repentance, leads to salvation, and leaves no regret… but he also speaks of a worldly sorrow that brings death. That is the sorrow that haunts us, condemns us, and accuses us when we are already redeemed by the blood.
So when Neil and I would hit a rough spot in our marriage, a voice in my head said ‘This is what you get.’ When I would begin to rebuild my vision for my future, part of me would insist that I didn’t deserve anything I hoped for. When opportunity came along to encourage someone or to take part in some ministry, shame tapped me on the shoulder and said…”Nope. Don’t you remember when you broke God’s law and then lied about it again and again? How can you help someone else after all that? How can you say anything?” And when I needed something from God, all I could remember was walking away from Him. I knew the love of God and I still chose sin, so how could I possibly ask anything from Him?
Shame silenced me for a long time. I took part in satan’s lies that I should hold onto my guilt. I let that guilt (which was me focused on me instead of God) mix with pain from difficult situations I encountered and eventually had an ugly rain-cloud storming over me. I stopped moving forward in my purpose for Christ.
But God’s love didn’t leave me stuck there. He kept on being faithful, pouring His love into my life. In so many ways, the light of His truth shown into the darkness that threatened to take me over.
These questions came to me ~ when we hold onto our past sins, claiming them as evidence that we’re not worthy to help build the Kingdom of God, aren’t we saying that His sacrifice wasn’t enough for us? Aren’t we giving more credit to our sin than to our Savior?
I wanted my faith and my trust to be in God, not in the power sin held over me.
If you’ve struggled with leaving your past behind, please check out the post I’ll label Shame(less), Pride(less) Verses of Truth (this post is too long to include them. ). The Word will show you that shame is not your portion. If you’re struggling with sin right now, please know that God is waiting for you to return to Him. (And don’t be afraid/too ashamed/too prideful to ask someone you trust for prayer and encouragement… we all need help sometimes!) These are the truths that we can stand on and I know, from experience, that trading pride and shame for a garment of praise will change your life. Yes, repent when you sin against God and then strive to live in holiness… and trust in the power of His salvation! From the beginning, God’s plan was to rescue us from our sin… let us walk humbly in His gift of freedom, in His strength and for His glory!
He gave His life so that we could have life abundant in peace, gladness, and the wonder of redemption.
Romans 5: 1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us ~ set us right with him, make us fit for him ~ we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand ~ out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
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