Sometimes when I preach, it’s hearsay. But other times, most of the time, I feel like a hypocrite. I’ll often say to people about the teaching, “If you know me, then you know this is an area where I struggle, so we’re going to learn together. I’m placing myself under the same authority as you, the Word of God.”
When it comes to the devil’s trinity of fear, shame, and guilt, I really struggle. So what follows is a reminder to me...and to you.
The foundation of what’s to come: You aren’t saved by the faith you muster up. You are saved because of the faith God gave you. In other words, the faith you have is supernatural and a gift you bring to Jesus.
Now if you get this, you don’t have to read any further: For God’s sake (and yours), let God love you.
But just in case you want to keep reading, what about our struggle with fear, shame, and guilt?
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:13-19).
The extent of fear, shame, and guilt...it’s everywhere.
When I received the message that my father had died, an older pastor hugged me and said, “Use this. Whenever you talk to ten people, seven of them will have a broken heart.”
Let me add to that: Whenever you talk to ten people, eleven of them will struggle with fear, shame, and guilt...the ten you’re talking to and you.
You aren’t saved by the faith you muster up. You are saved because of the faith God gave you. In other words, the faith you have is supernatural and a gift you bring to Jesus.
You can tell how important a subject is to God and us by looking at how often it’s mentioned in the Bible. If Justification is true (and it is), if it was finished when Jesus said it was finished (and it was), if Christ’s blood covers all our sins and we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ (and it does and we are), then why does God keep talking about sin?
It is for the same reason a mother keeps telling a small, crying child after a minor fall that he is fine. That child doesn’t think he is fine. You really are...but you don’t think you are.
Fear, shame, and guilt are woven into our DNA.
It is every one of us. Anybody who says differently is either living in denial or lying.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).
Judgment and punishment is the source of fear, shame, and guilt. Not just judgment, but the deep down realization that we deserve it.
What do you feel when a police officer is behind you and following close...when you’re not speeding or breaking any laws? You wince and your stomach turns over.
There isn’t a thing you can do about fear, shame, and guilt. Not one thing. But we keep trying, don’t we? It’s why we make the promises. It’s why we’re so religious. It’s why we work so hard to be good. We keep thinking that our fear, shame, and guilt will eventually go away. They won’t. They won’t ever this side of heaven.
This is bad news. Well, not exactly. In fact, it’s probably a good thing.
Do you know what’s frustrating about being a preacher? You may agree with what I just wrote...but you’ll keep trying to fix something you can’t fix. What’s even more frustrating is that I’m the teacher...and I will keep trying to fix it too.
We need to run to Jesus. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him....There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear...” (1 John 4:16, 18).
Robert Capon, author and Episcopal priest, had a different take (as he often did) on the story Jesus told in Luke 18 about the tax collector and the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray. What if that same sinner kept sinning and came back to the temple to pray the same prayer? What if he were a drug dealer, a pimp, or a thief who stopped by the church on his way to deal, traffic, or rob another bank? The story would be the same each time. That’s the point. It’s that radical and surprising.
It’s a principle. God whispers in our joy. God shouts in our pain. God gently comes and loves us in our helplessness.
I’ll never forget my friend Dave O’Dowd’s comment to a woman in a church we both served in Boston. He was dealing with the theological problem of suffering and this woman then made it personal to her own suffering. She said to Dave, “The pain, humiliation, and failure have been so hard. Why would God put me through all of that?” Dave asked, “Would you rather not have known him?” The woman said softly, “no,” wiping away tears.
Time to Draw Away
Read Isaiah 41:10 / Psalm 18:2 / Romans 8:1 / 2 Corinthians 5:17
We all struggle with fear, shame, and guilt. It’s inevitable. But what then? How would you answer Dave’s question? How has God whispered in your joy, shouted in your pain, and gently come and loved you in your helplessness? Run to Jesus. In his loving and open arms, you’ll find safety, peace, and comfort.