Guilt & Shame, Scabs & Scars (Recovery from Your Past)

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NLT)

Jesus Christ came to earth to identify with the human experience; then to die as a sacrifice for our self-centered condition that contains within it a fatal flaw. Nailed to the cross with Jesus was every mistake we ever committed. Jesus was wounded severely with gaping wounds wide open as he bled and died. With his wounds untreated, Jesus was buried in the grave, his body broken, entombed by man’s sin. For three days, the Bible says, the soul of the Sympathetic Savior bore the anguish of all of our guilt and shame.

But then something happened. The wounded soul and body of Jesus was healed and restored; resurrected into new life. When Jesus showed himself to his friends and family, they struggled to believe it. So as proof, Jesus showed them his scars. Now his wounds were healed. Scars are healed wounds, evidence of something that was at one time extremely painful. The evidence of your past is plain to see in your scars but your wounds are healed because of Christ’s suffering. By his scars you are healed and restored, though you may struggle to believe it. The memories of your past need not own you.

There is a clear distinction that needs to be drawn between guilt and shame. Scripture is clear in identifying our responsibility for our sinful attitudes and behavior. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. Our sin has resulted in the reality of decline, decay, and death. Decline is unavoidable; decay is inevitable; death is imminent. We are guilty of sin and responsible for its consequences.

The awesome truth about God’s grace is that Jesus paid our eternal debt for sin and that we are set free from its ultimate consequences. It is fact that I need only believe in relationship with Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin that I will spend eternity in fellowship with Christ as a member of His family. When I accept this fact into my life then God is faithful to exercise His grace and my eternity with Him is sealed. My guilt, which is my responsibility, is paid in full.

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:12

When I confess my sin, God is faithful and just to forgive me (1 John 1:9). In other words, whenever I am arrested (metaphorically speaking) and brought in by my accuser for questioning, justice has already been served (Christ paid it) and the judge says that I am free to go—every single time. So why do I wrestle so with my guilt?

We tend to lose perspective about guilt. What I mean is that guilt in itself is a point of recognizing and confronting mistakes and unhealthy behavior. We are indeed responsible for our behavior. When we are guilty of making mistakes or causing harm, we have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and grow in character and maturity.

“That is all well and good that you say God has forgiven me, and has taken me back into relationship with him, but if he really knew the awful things I have done, he would not accept me.” Have you ever felt like that? Shame is borne out of unmet and failed expectations. Whose expectations? Ultimately, it is our own unmet and failed expectations that result in our judgment of ourselves that lead to feeling shame. So many of us cannot forgive ourselves and believe that if we cannot forgive ourselves, how can God forgive us?

While guilt is an opportunity for learning and growth, shame is the distorted internalization of guilt that advances the over-personalizing of our mistakes and wrong doing. What is meant by “over-personalizing” is that if we absorb the guilt into the core character of who we are until we believe we have become the thing we are guilty of—that it somehow defines us. So when guilt says, “I did something wrong,” the evil scheme of shame is to utter, “I can’t do anything right.” When guilt says, “I did a bad thing,” shame says, “I’m a bad person.” When guilt says, “I made a mistake,” shame says, “I am a mistake.” When guilt can admit wrong and say, “I am sorry, please forgive me,” shame insists, “I am unforgivable.” Our shame screams at us, “Loser!” until we believe it about ourselves.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

Godly sorrow is healthy responsible conviction of sin that leads to repentance and growth. Worldly sorrow is shame stuck in the mire of failed expectations that promotes decline, decay, and ultimately death. The devil is a roaring lion seeking who he may devour and he uses shame as teeth to rip us to shreds.

A great deal of shame is felt in the open wounds of our past. We seem to make progress in putting the past behind us and then something happens or something is said that rips the wound wide open again. This occurs when the wound hasn’t healed quite yet. These are scabs that have dried up enough so that we can function in our circumstances and relationships, but as soon as the scab is met with some friction, we’re a bloody mess again. Scripture tells us that God has removed our sin as far as the east is from the west, an infinite separation. It’s time to let go of what God has Himself let go of in your life—that being past mistakes. He has declared you innocent. He has fully reinstated you as an heir to all that is His (Luke 15:11-31—the story of the restored prodigal).

What exactly are scars? Scars are evidence of healed wounds. You can see the mark of the wound but it no longer owns you. Healed wounds are rendered powerless by the grace of God as we experience freedom in surrendered (body, mind, heart and soul), committed relationship with Jesus Christ.

What we must learn is that when we live according to God’s expectations, according to what the Bible says about His expectations, we need only to let go of our own failures and rest in the compassionate mercy of our Sympathetic Savior (Hebrews 4:14-16). When we approach the throne of God where Jesus sits (He’s not on the cross anymore), confident in our relationship with Him, then He replaces our guilt with His peace.

“When our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts.” 1 John 3:20

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