My experience? Guilt is sometimes easier to deal with than shame. Guilt seems more objective sometimes--like when I’ve double scheduled an appointment and I call my friend and say, “Look, I messed up and I’ve got two things going at once, and you’re one of them and I can’t make both…will you forgive me and let me off the hook?” And my friend says, “Ya, man, sure. No problem, we’ll reschedule.” “Am I forgiven?” “Yup.” I’m guilty, but forgiven by my friend. When I get a speeding ticket and pay the fine, then I’m done. It’s over. Even with my sin before God…I’m a sinner and I know it. No fight with that. But then I become a Christian. With Jesus, justification by faith is so powerful that the legal guilt against me is gone. The curse is removed. He took the guilt and the curse. His is such an awesome spiritual transaction that, even though I’ve talked and preached about it for years, it seems simply amazing to me right this minute. That God would remove my guilt…seems as unfathomable as the infinitude of space. 1 John 1:9 shows us how to deal with recurrent guilt post-conversion.
Shame is compellingly real at times.
But while guilt is removed…shame caves in--the pit in my stomach is back. Why? Because I know who and what I am, and my enemy helps remind me. Martin Luther yelled at the Devil sometimes; it seems the Devil whispers at me of my shamefulness and I crumble.
It’s not that I’m not forgiven; I am. God will not unforgive once He’s forgiven. He forgives, but I still feel like damaged goods…second or third or fourth rate compared to others…deeply flawed and never to be unflawed. Rather than feeling like an honored son of a welcoming father (think the prodigal’s father in Luke 15:11-32), I know what I think and what I’m capable of thinking, feeling, and even doing. I know I’m forgiven (that’s cool), but I feel shame (that’s real).
So it becomes time to dig out, again.
Grace is the shovel to dig out of shame just like it is with guilt. When I focus not on my failings or on my sinful tendencies, but on the Cross and how it killed my guilt forever; when I remember God created me in the first place and wanted me around Him so He recreated me in Christ--He took the initiative; when I rest in the fact and never-changing new status as a son and a loved one at that, whom my Father has given some gifts at least to use in His Kingdom…this takes some energy to do by the way…when I do this…I find I’m shoveling out the shame. Grace means that God didn’t have to forgive us--Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross--but He amazingly did. And in Jesus, we’re sons. I’m claiming my name and canceling my shame. When I take a minute to look back and remember how much of my chaos God has undone and how much gold He’s laid down in my life, some shoveling takes place.
And I can rest. And you can too. My preoccupation with self diminishes for a few minutes and I can give more sacrificially. Freedom!
So grab the shovel when shame shows up. Dig like I dig. Your wife will love it. If you’ve dug out, you won’t be throwing any shame on her. Or your kids. Or your coworkers…friends…church members…or your friends who are skeptical about Jesus. Oh, and you will love it too. And so will the Father. He didn’t set you free only to pile up heavy shame on you. He’d rather see you jump and fly. Want to please the Father? Dig out of the shame pit. The Spirit will help you lift the load.
You are your new name, not your old one.