A few weeks back I posted a quote from a lecture called “Gospel fluency” to my twitter. It said “Shame is evidence that we believe Jesus wasn’t enough; that we must first feel sufficiently bad about our sin before God will accept us.” This is how God is helping me to understand what that really means.
I struggle with multiple sins, including self-righteousness, petty anger, and lust, all drizzled with a sticky shame reduction. Some of my “bad habits” I would even say are actually addictions. Recently I felt my own inadequacy, turned from Jesus to my drugs of choice, and began to spiral towards the shamefulness that so often comes with it. God in His mercy chooses to use my faults and the accompanying feelings of despair to refine me and reveal to me my own heart.
In the car, the song “Nothing but the blood” came on and reminded me oh so sweetly that “Naught of good that I have done” will bring me to reconciliation with Christ. When I began listening to the audio Bible, I started with Ephesians and was reminded that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing…” And then, when I sat down to write this post, an old Newsboys song by the title “Dear Shame” came to mind, and I decided to look it up. Though the music video is terrible (no offence to the Newsboys, who I really enjoy… but it was made in the 90s), it starts with a wonderful reminder of Romans 8:1, that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Again and again the Lord brought to my mind the wonderful and freeing realization that though I am broken, and I am filled with wicked tendencies, but I am not hopeless nor am I worthless because of my sin.
Suddenly, peace has invaded my soul and given shame the boot. My value comes from the fact that I bear God’s image. He made me unique and placed me specifically where I am with His high and good purposes in mind, and though I may (and sadly, often do) fight it, His sovereign plan will come to completion in my life. As a Christian, sanctification is the natural progression of things. An analogy (from the book You Can Change, which sounds much more “Self-help-y” than it is) would be this: We often feel that sanctification is like trying to roll a large heavy boulder up a hill, but occasionally, we slip and it falls as far as it can before we catch it to begin pushing it back up. Instead, we should realize that sanctification is the other way around. We are adopted as sons and daughters of Christ, and God begins perfecting us to His image immediately, regardless of our efforts. The boulder naturally rolls down the slope into a lush green valley, but occasionally, we decide to take it upon ourselves to try and push it back to the top; that is why sin is so toilsome and tiresome, and righteousness brings such peace and joy; one is the result of our efforts and the other is a result of the Lord’s efforts in us.
This is not to insinuate that the Christian life is easy or comfortable or that it can be accomplished through complacency. No, if I were to assert that, surely I would heap more shame onto those of you who, like me, occasionally feel the noose of addiction or other repeated moral failing tightening around you. What I am saying is that, though righteousness does take conscious effort on our parts to read scripture, meditate on God’s word, seek Him in prayer, commune with other like minded Christians, and declare the gospel to others, it doesn’t feel like work, because in truth it is the Lord who will build in you a desire to know Him more. And He is fully away of the totality of our dependency on Him. He made us to be that way. He has known since eternity past each time and each way you would rebel, and He has planned for each rebellion and squelched them all on the cross of Calvary.
Shame is like feeling worried because you don’t know how you will ever pay a bill you no longer owe. When you disobey God, remember that you are not alone. You are not the first, nor will you be the last, Christian who has proclaimed to trust Christ and then walked in a manner contrary to the call. Even Paul himself admitted that “I practice the very evil that I do not want.” So then, an appropriate response to sin is contrition followed by laughing in the face of the enemy who would love to burden you with shame. Be filled with joy and lighthearted gladness that Jesus’ sacrifice has purchased you from slavery and preserved you from perishing.
Does sin carry consequences? Yes, it does. But feelings that God has made a terrible mistake in saving me, or that I will never be worth anything, or that I cannot walk in victory over sin are no longer any of them.