“What you’re feeling isn’t true,” I reminded one young lady after she shared with me how a particular hurt in her past made her feel unrelenting shame for something she wasn’t responsible for. It’s easy for an observer, like I was, to point that out, plain and simple. Sometimes, that’s what we need — someone to come into our lives and point out the obvious that what we’re believing is a lie. But I also know sometimes those reminders are only the start of a deep process of uncovering what’s going on and then renewing our mind with truth.
Part of the difficulty is distinguishing between guilt and shame. Guilt is our conscience bothering us about a particular sin or sins; shame is the feeling that we ourselves are unworthy, unloved, or incapable. Guilt is a blessing. These deep, heart wrenching feelings are a gift, for they reveal sin and idolatry in our hearts that we’d otherwise ignore and escape and bring us to the beautiful place of confession and repentance. Guilt forces us to face our sinfulness head-on.
Tragically, worldly psychology (including much of what passes as Christian counseling) has cunningly sought to defeat guilt without dealing with the sin behind it. Through endless searches into hurt and trauma in our past, therapy sessions, and various tactics in blame-shifting, psychology has fought to get rid of guilt — and left behind a train wreck of mental health conditions in its wake. It’s simply not possible to fix guilt without the gospel.
On the other hand, shame is based on the lie that because of our sin, we are unworthy and unlovable. Satan loves to twist our God-given conscience (which is a blessing) and throw his poison-arrow darts deep into our hearts to make us doubt God’s love and Christ’s forgiveness. Once again, the world has sought to fix these feelings by self-affirmations and self-esteem. It’s a cheap and ineffective attempt to solve a deep problem with a powerless solution.
Enter the gospel. Rather than pretending our sin doesn’t exist, or blaming it on our past, the gospel faces it for the ugly, vile monster that it is (and doesn’t hesitate to tell us that we are totally depraved to the core) and then brings the best news to the guilt-ridden, shame-stricken soul. Christ has taken all our sin, all our guilt, and all our shame upon himself. Now we are declared loved, worthy, righteous, and innocent in God’s sight.
Feelings of guilt and shame will continue to plague us throughout our Christian walk. Yes, Christ’s work is finished, complete. But our battle to believe that truth is ongoing. That’s why the gospel isn’t just for the day we were converted. It’s for every day of our Christian lives. Whenever I face guilt for my remaining sin, I remind myself of the gospel. When I see the lies of shame and unworthiness rear their ugly head, I remind myself of the gospel. Often, that reminder comes in the words of one of my favorite Rend Collective Songs:
“When I stand accused by my regrets/and the devil roars his empty threats/I will preach the gospel to myself/that I am not a man condemned/for Jesus Christ is my defense.”
Refuse to settle for escaping your guilt with the thousand tactics this world has created. Refuse to settle for living with the lie of shame, limping along this Christian race. Rather, the gospel has given us the power to run free!