Monday, February 13, 2012

Reconciling Sin, Guilt and Shame

Sin is a problem for everyone, but it presents a particular problem for Christians in the form of guilt and, to a lesser extent, shame. Despite the fact of grace—the unconditional forgiveness of sin—we will still struggle with memory for our past sin, thought of our present sin, machinations of the sins of our future, as well as contemplation for the price of our sin; no matter how much we are told we are forgiven there is still thought, occasionally, for what our sins might cost us at Judgment.

The area of sin, and its resultant emotions of guilt and shame, can be, or become, a dastardly noose around our spiritual necks.

Let us remind ourselves of something the Apostle Paul felt, from deep within himself, when he wrote to the Romans:

“Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? [i.e. his sin] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

~Romans 7:24-25 (NRSV)

Paul knew full well how broken to sin he actually was; yet, it sharpened his sense of wonder for the grace that had since saved him, and all humankind.

Sparing Clear Thought For Our Sin

Everyone approaches their sin differently, varying from stark bludgeoning denial to the gross over-manufacture of self-flagellating thoughts, ideas and behaviours. There is usually not enough guilt or shame, or too much.

Our only true hope is to come back to the truth: not only are we forgiven, upon reconciliation of the knowledge of our sin, but also we stand hemmed in by our sin—not that that is an excuse. But, it is the truth.

Imagine for a moment the theory that we might learn how not to sin; it’s only a theory, for there are so many examples where we repetitively or routinely commit the same sins; despite ourselves. Many sins, of course, we don’t commit because we can’t afford to, or we’re not so shackled to ills of the mind or heart that might compel such sins. But much of sin is beyond learning; if it wasn’t we would have learnt not to sin already.

As we spare ourselves clear thought for our sin we see, afresh, how far from perfection we truly are; but, and this is real encouragement, none of us are condemned in our sin more than the next person. Everyone struggles with it.

What To Do With The Emotional Consequences Of Sin

This, alone, is perhaps the stickiest subject known to all humankind; whether we are Christian or non-Christian, our sin forces us to own it and the negative emotion, like guilt and shame, or deny it. Believers in Christ are somewhat imprisoned to the thought of sin and their sin, yet, held in tension, there is the all-abiding grace which has no memory-for-consequence for that sin—perhaps provisional upon the ongoing commitment of repentance. Repentance has to be unique to the class of redemptive provision.

Both the above realities are, in tandem, an astounding paradox. We feel the enormity of the weight of our sin, yet never lighter because it has been, already, relieved from us.

The buck stops at guilt and shame. Whilst they have no place in the Christian’s life, they do frequent the minds and hearts of the saints. Guilt and shame motivates many of our actions, still. And we still may not know how to deal with our sin—past, present, future, and thought of the cost of our sin at Judgment.

One thing we can know, with positive surety, is the Lord our God is beseeching us to accept our forgiveness, to its unparalleled levels of grace. We can know that Jesus is interceding for us, pleading our case continually, that we might be helped; that guilt and shame would be stripped away from our soul-felt record. Let’s experience that guilt-and-shame-free existence today.

© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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