Monday, September 26, 2011

Guilty or Ashamed?


My dear friend Missy Jones presented our devotional at last week's ladies book club meeting. Missy tapped into the struggles faced by the main character in our book selection, Sweetwater Gap by Denise Hunter, and gave us some great food for thought. Missy has graciously allowed me to share her message with you.

Guilty or Ashamed?

by Missy Jones 

I have a friend. Let’s call her “Jo.” Jo was raised in the church. She was taught right from wrong at a very early age. But she was rebellious as a teenager, and as a result, made a lot of bad decisions that haunt her to this day.

Jo carries a lot of guilt. She doesn’t really try to hide it. If you talk to her long enough, she’ll let you know that she has made a lot of mistakes in her life. And the guilt of those past mistakes is affecting her life even today. Her marriage is not what it should be. She worries about how her shortcomings affect her children. Even her health is affected by the worry that plagues her mind. She works day and night to rise above the memory of her past. But she can’t. No matter what she does, the memory is there, and it is the guiding force in her life.

The guilt she is carrying is causing her to make bad decisions, even today. Not the same kind of mistakes she made in the past. Nothing illegal or immoral, but just wrong. The guilt affects the way she deals with her husband and children. It affects the activities she chooses, almost as if these activities are some sort of penance for her past misdeeds. She is sad. She is tired. She is frustrated. She feels unworthy.

Now, I’m no psychiatrist, but Jo has come to me at times for help, and I’ve done my best to make her realize that the past is just that – the past. I have tried to tell Jo that the guilt she is carrying is unhealthy and unnecessary, but for some reason, she can’t lay it down. I have come to believe that Jo is not actually feeling guilty as much as she is feeling ashamed. And there is a difference.

First of all, we are all guilty. Webster defines guilt as “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct, especially violating law and involving a penalty.” Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Each one of us is a sinner. Each one of us has made mistakes. Each one of us has felt the sadness and heaviness of heart that results when we do wrong. It is that feeling that ultimately led each of us to give our lives to Christ. It is that awareness of our sin that caused us to want to make a change in our lives.

First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We have assurance that God is willing to forgive us. We know that once we come in contact with the blood of Christ, our sins are washed away. We know that as long as we walk in the light, that blood continues to cleanse us. Christ’s blood is the ultimate stain fighting formula. It removes every stain, and it continues to keep us clean. This is such great news!

Jo was guilty; I was guilty; you were guilty. We were all guilty at some point in our life. We were all in need of forgiveness. Jo knows this. Jo was baptized at an early age. She received the cleansing she needed. Even though she made many mistakes later, she repented, and Christ’s blood flowed over her, cleansing her again! So why is she still feeling guilty? I believe that Jo is confusing guilt with shame.

Shame is defined as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” Shame is a direct result of guilt. Or at least is should be. Shame can be a motivating force. Shame helps to keep our conscious tender. Shame can help keep us on track. But shame can also cause us to get off track. When we use shame as a tool to help monitor our own behavior, it can be a good thing. But when we allow the devil to use our shame against us, it can become very dangerous.

God’s plan is great! He created us. He loves us. He blesses us. He wants us to be with Him forever. He has even provided a way to make that happen. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of this great plan?

What the devil has to offer is eternal damnation. Not very appealing! We would never choose the devil’s offer over God’s, and the devil knows this! Since we would never choose damnation over eternal life, the only way the devil can win us over is to somehow make us believe that we are unworthy of what God has to offer. How does he do this? Shame.

Jo’s shame is robbing her of her joy and peace. Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace is such a wonderful gift. Peace renews us. It centers us. It allows us to remain focused. And if we have peace, it is obvious to all around us. Proverbs 15:13 reads, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” David sings in Psalm 13:5, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”

Peace and joy are the gifts God gives us to remind us that we are saved. They come as a direct result of knowing that we are forgiven. They feel good! When we have peace and joy, we smile. We are kinder. We feel confident. We’re walking on sunshine! We want to share these good feelings with all we come in contact with. People see our peace and joy, and they want to know how to get it. In the same way, if we wear our shame like an old winter coat while claiming to be Christians, then others question our faith, our conversion, perhaps even our God. We must make sure that we wear our peace and joy as we would our favorite outfit. We should feel beautiful in it!

How do we do this? How can we move past guilt and shame and claim our joy? Romans 5:1-11 tells us exactly how to do this.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
 Jo didn’t deserve it. We didn’t deserve it. But it was done. God sent his son to die for Jo. To die for you. To die for me. It’s done. As Christians, we should shake free from the shame that binds us, and wear our peace and joy as a sign to all those around us that we are saved. We are not perfect, but we are saved! To remain living in the sadness and shame of our prior acts is to be ungrateful for what God has done for us. No, we’re not worthy, but God still chose to give us this great gift.

Jo’s shame is a result of bad choices she made in the past. Jo must now make the choice to live a life worthy of the sacrifice made for her. Because Christ died for Jo, she was made worthy. Because Christ died for us, we were made worthy. Our lives should reflect this worthiness.

I would like to end with Colossians 2:6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Let us pray:

Father, we praise you for the gift you gave us. The gift we didn’t deserve, but the gift we so greatly needed. Father, may we live each day with the great understanding of what you have done for us. May we truly understand where we would be without this great gift. May we choose to live our lives with the full assurance that we are saved and that we belong to you. Father, when we feel unworthy, help us to push that shame from our hearts and replace it with a true joy and peace. May we all live worthy of our calling in you. In Christ’s most precious name we pray, Amen.

Missy (Hilyer) Jones lives with her husband, Gerald, and their two children, Jewell (9) and Brack (6), near Tallassee, Ala.  She enjoys writing and teaching Bible to all ages at University Church of Christ.  She loves to cook, entertain and decorate her home.  She also enjoys teaching heirloom sewing and embroidery. Her favorite thing to do is throw a party!  She is the executive director of the McCraney-Cottle Arts Council in Tallassee.

(Photo from Bigstock Photo)

Thank you, Missy! Still to come, a round-up of favorite apple recipes and the announcement of our new book club selection.

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