From Shame to Grace

By Gwen Sellers

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It's that sharing the truth of our struggles thing that gets so sticky. Though many of us believe in God's forgiveness and learn to — mostly — fully accept it, shame's voice often continues to linger in our minds. What if I'm really not forgiven? Or what if God forgives me, but His people won't? Will my brothers and sisters in Christ still accept me if they know I'm struggling with this? Can I survive in the Body of Christ if I don't look like I have it all together? Sadly, though God is the only One with the right to truly judge, we are often judgmental of ourselves and others (thus Jesus' warning in Matthew 7:1-5. For more on what He meant, see the Got Questions article). We are used to the world's system of justice rather than God's perfect justice-grace-mercy mix. We are used to the world's meritocracy of acceptance rather than God's unconditional love in Christ. Many of us have been wounded by fellow believers. We also have an Enemy who likes to use the lies of shame. I have personally never been shamed when I've chosen to be real with others about my sin struggles. In fact, if anything, I've come to see the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13. My sin struggles are not all that unique. But I've definitely felt the fear of exposing myself. I am blessed to attend a church that explains the depths of God's grace. God's grace does not mean that sin is no big deal. It actually means sin is a huge deal — only God is big enough to handle it. And yet I've still given in to shame. Some of this is perhaps a healthy shame. As I said, I don't want to boast in my sins. They are shameful. But I am convinced that some of it is the Enemy. We recognize that God's grace is completely other, and then the Enemy causes us to doubt whether something so good could actually be true.

Sadly enough, it also comes from the shared and broken history of God's people. It's our draw toward legalism, that desire to make separate classes of people based on rules in some defined system. It's a way to control who is in and who is out. When we can look better than someone else, we can convince ourselves we are better and therefore worthy of love or respect. We see it in the Pharisees, in the Corinthians, and in our own hearts. But it's not how God works. And it's not how He wants His people to treat one another. Our acceptability is not based on our works. We are worthy of love and respect because we are created in the image of God. As God's people, we are called to love one another, forgive one another, bear with one another. It should not be a fearful thing to share our struggles with sin.  It should be something that brings about restoration. James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." A few verses later, James writes, "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). There is no room for shame here, only truth and freedom (John 8:32).

And lest we be fooled, the issue of shame does not end here. It's not just about sin. We live in shame over things that have nothing to do with sin. This is perhaps the reason I most hate shame. I get that sin involves shame. But it can be a healthy kind of shame, the kind that makes us blush and realizes that what is being exposed is actually wrong and needs to be changed. Guilt or conviction are better words for it. When we recognize sin, we can be ashamed, but then we need to expose it to the light so that we can experience life. We first bring it to God so that He can forgive and restore. Then sometimes we bring it to His people so they can help us overcome. Or we admit it so that others living with a sin from which we are now free can know they are not alone in their struggle. Unfortunately we do give in to shame and try to drive our sins further into the darkness. This only leads to death and further bondage. But the battle against this shame makes sense to me. And it is soundly defeated when we know the truth of the Gospel.

More on shame and lies next.

Image Credit: Nemo; Untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Hardships  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 3-12-15