by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Guilt can be a vehicle for restored health by recognizing mistakes, learning from them, and taking responsibility to initiate changes and implement healthy disciplines for the purpose of repentance and growth. Shame, on the other hand, is the device of our internal self-centered devices, as well as a primary vehicle of our spiritual adversary to drive us into ourselves, internalizing our flaws and failures, and even the circumstances in our world to somehow define us to the point that we buy in to irrational beliefs about it all. Shame is the driving force behind self-condemnation that ultimately debilitates and ruins us.
Jesus knew this matter of self-condemnation would be a problem for us so he told us about a very wealthy father who had two sons. One of his son’s became uncomfortable with all that he had, and the way things were, and chose to leave and do his own thing his own way. He asked his dad if he could receive right now the inheritance that he would receive when his father died. Then, he thought he would have it all, everything he needed, and he would not be uncomfortable. Besides, money and possessions would mean power and control. Driven by an escalated sense of entitlement, the son would be able to do what he wanted, when he wanted to do it, without anyone telling him what to do. He wanted the control of his own life and destiny, motivated by discontentment, in order to minimize his discomfort.
Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Give the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” Luke 15:11-13 (NKJV)
“I was so obsessed with me and the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people… What I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part.” —Barack Obama
The son left his family, and everything that was good, well, and secure, to go do his own thing. The problem, though, was that all this power and control was as addictive then as it is today. He could not stop once his brain was fueled by lust and greed and put into drive. It took more of his self-centered pursuits in an addictive lifestyle to overcome discomfort and dissatisfaction. This young adult man was so obsessed with the reasons of his dissatisfaction and repeatedly made destructive lifestyle choices necessary to conquer his problem. The Bible says he wasted what he had on “prodigal” living, including his participation in drunken sexual escapades with prostitutes.
Words that describe “prodigal” living are: wayward, meaningless, self-indulgent, riotous, corrupt, wasteful, reckless, uncontrolled, degenerate, immoral, wicked, and depraved, to name a few. These words might also be descriptive of behavioral patterns pertaining to lifestyle choices deemed necessary to address an obsession with dissatisfaction and perpetual discomfort. It appears that was the case as this son began to squander and lose everything he had and was rendered lost—powerless in the cycle of addictive living.
There are those stuck in addiction that know exactly what I am talking about, and others in recovery from addiction that know exactly what I am talking about. As we become more and more indulgent in addictive behavior, it develops into a lifestyle and the problems mount and life becomes a continuous struggle just to survive.
Self-indulgent, reckless behavior may appear to be a good time at the beginning, but as it becomes a pattern of behavior and evolves into a lifestyle, the trappings of an uncontrolled addictive lifestyle and culture creep in a little at a time until they take over, and the addictive lifestyle costs outweigh its benefits.
This is what the lost son in the Bible came to understand as well. Not only did he experience the direct effects of an addictive lifestyle that contributed to his destruction in life, but there was an occurrence that came out of left field that he did not expect. He had already run low on his resources when a famine hit the land and wiped out whatever resources he had left.
“But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods (husks, shells) that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16 (NKJV)
Addicts in pain understand that this is how it is. It’s bad enough that our behavior as self-absorbed addicts has its direct effects but then we often find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and it goes from bad to worse and then even worse. For the lost prodigal son that Jesus was talking about, a famine had hit the area where he made his home at the worst possible time, and it left him with nothing. He had to get a job caring for the pigs of an acquaintance. He could not even afford to eat the same “food” that he fed those pigs.
When he was with his dad, he had it all. His father was a wealthy man who treated his sons well and blessed them from the love in his heart that a father has for his sons. When this son ran off with his portion of his father’s wealth without the loving guidance of his father, he couldn’t handle it. He took what was meant for good and chose unwisely and poorly, resulting in his undoing.
Do you remember that Adam and Eve had it all, everything in the garden God provided them, but became uncomfortable when it was brought to their attention that they could have more? Do you remember that they essentially wanted the one thing that God had that in their hands would be their doom? God knew what they could not handle. They chose unwisely and poorly, and it was their undoing. Jesus tells this story of a man that bit a lot more than what he could chew, and, like Adam and Eve, what he bit into got the best of him, almost killing him.
Listen to what Jesus says about this young man who lost everything and how his father responded.
“But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food enough to spare, and I perish with hunger? I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and went to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had great compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father I have sinned against God and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” Luke 15:17-24 (NKJV)
Here is an opportunity to introduce the ABC principles of recovery right here in this wonderful story of the activation of the promise of God to empower us in recovery when we admit, believe, and commit. These are the necessary steps to help us recognize the responsibility for our mistakes, for which we are indeed guilty. Once we come to believe that the one we are responsible to, loves us enough to forgive us, it becomes bearable to admit our mistakes without the hopeless shame we tend to link with our failures—failed expectations.
Admit – The son admitted his way of handling what his father had given him did not work. The Bible says he came to his senses. I believe the son hit rock bottom and hurt bad enough to seek help. I suppose there was a period of ambivalence where he may have been conflicted between the pleasure he experienced with his booze, drugs and women; and the life of peace and stability he could have if he turned from his ways and returned to what he knew was of greater benefit. This really hit home with him when he realized that even his dad’s hired help had been better cared for than the care he was getting on his own (Luke 15:17).
Believe – The son believed that his father could care for him in a way that no one else could and that the only resolution to his mess was to return to his dad, admit that he blew it, and ask for forgiveness in the hope that his father would indeed forgive him (Luke 15:17-18). He believed that becoming dependent on his father was his only real hope for a new life of recovery. He believed in his heart (his gut, his inner man) that his dad’s way worked.
Commit – The son did not just talk about what he needed to do to be restored by his father into a place of recovery, rather he committed himself to doing it. He left the addictive lifestyle that left him hungry and devastated, and returned to the one who could rescue him from himself. In fact, he committed to the care and also the will of his father, when he said, “Make me like one of your servants.” (Luke 15:19) The son was humbled and willing to do whatever it took to be successful in his recovery. Truth be told, he did what he had to do for a meal. But recovery was the payoff.
Best Robe – Upon arriving, the father immediately had his servants bring his son the best robe. The best robe in this story represents the robe of righteousness.The father was committed to helping in his son’s recovery. The son was lost in his own choices and behavior. He was dead in his shame. His father expressed compassionate mercy becoming reconciled with his son by covering him with his own righteousness. In other words, it was the goodness of the father that made his son good. The son would no longer carry the weight of his shame since his father removed it and replaced it with his goodness. The best robe of righteousness that Father God has put on us to cover our sin is his son, Jesus Christ. We wear the righteousness of Jesus when we return to our Father who is in heaven.
Signet Ring – The father then ordered that a ring be placed on his son’s finger. The ring was a signet ring that meant that the son was restored into the family once again as an heir to his father’s estate. This is an astounding statement of a father’s love for his son—“Everything that is mine is yours, my son”. Everything the father owned would once again be inherited by his son now that the son’s debt of disobedience was forgiven. This reconciliation meant that there was full recovery of their relationship.
Sandals – The son arrived barefoot and his dad had the servants put sandals on his feet. Only permanent members of the family wore sandals, while the employees were barefoot in the master’s house. The sandals were a symbol of affirmation that the young man was back home. He no longer was the lost son—the dead son—but was alive. He was the found son. He was family.
Feast – Finally, the father told his servants to kill and prepare the fatted calf for a feast. This meant that they would be celebrating a very special occasion. The father proclaimed with joy, “My son was dead (in his independence from the father) and is alive again (in his dependence on the father). He was lost (in addictive shame) and now is found (in relationship). Let’s celebrate!” (Luke 15:24).
The point of this story is to recognize that Jesus is talking about our relationship with God. We are born into this world with the opportunity to submit to God in the person of Jesus Christ who has it all, and desires to show his favor on us and bless us with the riches of heaven. He wants us to be full of life. So why do we continually squander what God desires for us when we determine to live life our own way in an effort to minimize our discontented mindset? Why do we fall prey to selfish sin, and allow it to take hold of us?
We have a fallen nature prone to addictive sin—the logical cause and effect of compensating for our dissatisfaction and the failed expectations we have of ourselves. It takes over our lifestyle until it finally ruins us and we hit bottom. When we finally hurt badly enough, we might just admit that we are powerless and are resigned to die in our shame. We must reach out to God who loves us more than we can know. He is compassionate, always faithful to forgive us and give us a shot at a new life through his plan of recovery, which begins by restoring us into relationship with him. Our way of thinking leads to disorder (James 3:16) and emptiness, while God’s way of recovery leads to peace and fulfillment. When we finally comprehend that letting go of our failed expectations means submitting to the will of our Sympathetic Savior Jesus Christ, we can know that he has set our captive hearts free. It is in submitting to recovery God’s way that we can finally realize freedom.
God cannot wait to set us free. He wants to set you free from your addiction to you. When he receives us back into his family, he showers us with his incredible love through blessings from heaven. Whenever one who was lost returns home to the family, there is a party in heaven. It is at home that we are free. All that is his is ours, freely given by him.
“I say to you there is joy in heaven in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (NKJV)
Permanent Member of God’s family
One fact validated by the words of Jesus Christ himself is that he has the authority to set us free once and for all and that we are adopted into his family permanently. God has adorned you and me with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. He has placed the ring of the inheritance of the full blessings of heaven onto our fingers, and has placed sandals on our feet, spiritually speaking, as indicative of our position as permanent members of the family of God. Jesus said,
“A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” John 8:35-36 (NLT)
Our problem is that we don’t readily accept that we are slaves of anything until we are wiped out by it, and drowning in the wake of its shame. Receive this word today. Let it resonate with you. Freedom comes from knowing Jesus. He has liberated us from a life of addiction to sin and shame. Quit crawling back into the cage of shame clinging to the memories and methods of your past. Let it go. Let go of failed expectations and reach out to Jesus. Let him heal your wounds. His expectation for you is that you receive forgiveness from him and live with peace and joy in his grace.
We all eventually understand the reality of hell we are living in. The prodigal son from the Bible came to believe in hell when his circumstances deteriorated to the extent that he was coveting the food he was feeding pigs. He knew hell when he had lost everything due to his addiction to overcoming dissatisfaction.
The point is that it does us absolutely no good not to give your shame to Jesus Christ to free you from it. Let the price that Jesus paid for your addictive sin be enough. Receive his forgiveness and be free to start a new life. Be willing to let go of all of it and let God love you. Submit your life to his compassionate mercy. Let go and let Jesus take you upward from your hell into a new stable life of peace, freedom, and joy.