Before you read any further, I need to let you know something: This is NOT a post about political correctness, politics, or anything that has happened in the news recently. I try really hard to limit my commentaries on those things because social media is a powder keg for so many issues. Plus, whenever you or I put our thoughts out there, there really are no buffers of protection or explanation to truly make it worthwhile. But this IS a post about people, people like you and me and how we've been made to believe that what we have either done in our past or the things we are currently involved in today are worthy of shame and self-hate.
You know what I'm talking about. Think back to a mistake that you've made in the past or to some bad decisions that continue to haunt your memory. When those events define who we are today, then we find ourselves living in a bubble of shame and self-hate, convinced that we are not worthy to move on with our lives because, well, we don't deserve to.
If you are a follower of Jesus, then I think you're tracking with me by now. If you aren't, I still think this will make sense to you. You see, the battle against sin is real and serves as a constant reminder of our fallen nature. When Jesus came and bled and died, He did so to forgive us of our sins and to redeem us for God. That's great news! If you have placed your faith in Jesus then you are forgiven and free - free from guilt and shame from your past sins and mistakes.
But for most of us, the reality of this good news is not enough to move us beyond the incredible essence of God's grace. We still feel guilty for our past sins and, to make matters worse, we still struggle with many of those sins today. Just because we have received forgiveness in Christ doesn't mean that the temptation to sin magically goes away. In fact, I believe that it actually gets magnified because we now know the devastating effects that sin has on our lives and our relationship with God.
So we hide, lie, embellish, and exaggerate about our sins. We don't want others to know that we are struggling because, well, we are followers of Jesus and we aren't supposed to do those things, right? Yet we DO still struggle with sins, those areas that we know are wrong and offensive not just to God but to the relationships we hold most dear here on earth. Sin always hurts - whether it is ourselves or the others around us.
Because (most) Christians hold to a level of absolute truth, when others act in ways that we know run contrary to God's truth, it is so easy for us to point the finger of guilt at them and wag it in their faces. In doing so, many hope to bolster their grasp on truth and decency while clinging to a personal track record that they hope will prove them "safe." And for fellow believers who stumble and fall? Well, this is where the shame comes in. Instead of seeking forgiveness and accountability, it becomes far easier to beat themselves up over their sin to the point of doubting not only their salvation but also their ability to even receive God's love and forgiveness.
The apostle Paul was familiar with this struggle all too well. Romans chapter 7 is devoted to the struggle that he still waged against sin that continuted to plague his life. "For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate...For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God's law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body." (Romans 7:15, 22-23) Translation: I know what's right but I struggle sometimes to do it and I hate it when that happens in my life.
Look, none of us want to be seen as failures, especially in our relationship with God. And when we do stumble and fall, it's so easy to beat ourselves up and create our own self-depreciating shaming culture. Do you know what that accomplishes? Nothing! I've never seen anyone grow in their relationship with God as a result of constantly beating themselves up over their past mistakes.
What is the solution? Fight! Shame is not one of the weapons in God's arsenal. But grace is, and He has lavished His grace on us through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7-8). This means that God's grace - His unconditional love and forgiveness - is greater than all of our sin. Yes, sin is real and it's ugly, but if you know Jesus as Lord and Savior then you also must understand that your forgiveness is complete.
What about the constant struggle against sin? Again, fight! There is no magic pill to swallow that will make sin somehow less appealing when you become a Christian. In fact, because you now will be more aware of what sin is, it's draw may be even more appealing. So fight it! You have the ability to fight sin because the Holy Spirit, who lives within you, has given you that power. Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:12-14 that we are to press on in our effort to live lives pleasing to God.
I talk to people all the time who are devastated over the sins in their lives. Some live in daily anguish and retreat to their own little prisons of self-punishment. Sadly, many Christians feed this notion into their heads, making them believe that they indeed need to punish themselves because of their failures. But last I checked, that punishment was already served. When Jesus hung on the cross, He died for sins once for all. It is finished. And no amount of shame or self-hate or punishment is going to add one measure to the forgiveness you have already received. So believe in your forgiveness and God's amazing grace and accept it, and then fight with all you've got against the sin that continues to pull you away from God.