We all have a past, not simply time we have lived in, but past experiences we carry with us. We walk in shackles, shackles of bad memories, shackles of pain, shackles of insecurities and worse of all, shackles of guilt and shame. We carry a load with us wherever we go, we carry baggage that we have accumulated over the years which transfers into every relationship we will ever be in, every conversation we will ever contribute to and every life event we will ever have. How we perceive the things going on around us is shaped by our life events and more importantly how we react to our current situations derives from the guilt and shame we have accumulated and the baggage we are currently carrying. How does the Church function with each individual coming from some from of brokeness? How do we live freely without feeling the burden of guilt surrounding our hearts? How does the Church, and the individuals who make the Church, function with so much pain, so much guilt, so much shame and so much baggage within it? The more important question is how do we become beggars for grace at the foot of the cross rather than continue to live as people trying to numb the pain of guilt with our own righteousness?
As I sit in Starbucks writing this I am surrounded by people who have a story, who have problems, who feel the weight of baggage and most of all have some level of guilt and shame in their lives they are currently carrying with them. I know this because I am in the same boat, the friend that is meeting me here soon is in the same boat, not because I know him so well, but because he is a human being with life experiences, and baggage that rests of his shoulders and on his heart. In our American culture we are often identified as a “Culture of Guilt” and we see the eastern world as a “Culture of Shame”. There is some level of truth to that in the way we live and perceive ourselves and others, but in our culture we have both, we simply confuse the two and think they are synonymous.
The problem is not, how do we deal with guilt, but how do we move from people of guilt to being people of innocence? Guilt is the breaking of a moral code we have failed to meet. It is driven by law and weighs heavily on our conscience when we fail uphold certain standards. How do we move away from shame and move into our true identity as children of God? Shame is driven by our personnel model we seek to uphold, we feel shame not because we break a rule but because we thought we were a better person than a rule breaker. We become shameful of what we have become. We may feel shame from something morally- irrelevant, such as our bodies not being the exact way we, or the world, thinks they should look. In this we are guilty of nothing but shameful because we have lost our purpose and replaced it with “Hollywood” ideals. Some of us walk in shame at who we are and some of us walk in shame in who we have become.
Guilt is not something the Church is unfamiliar with, scripture points out over and over that we are guilty before the law of God and the Gospel is God’s means for redemption of sinful people humanity. None of us are good, none of us can be saved on our own, it is only by Grace through faith that we are saved. It is Christ alone whose merit counts as righteous. We understand this in Church today, the forensics of it, it goes deep into our hearts because we like Justification but what we struggle with deeply, is Adoption.
Adoption is something the Church wrestles with because we don’t actually believe that we are delighted in and wanted by God! We are constantly living in shame of who we have become and as we look in the mirror we say “you need to work harder, make more money, be happier, look better…” and we foolishly buy into the way of thinking that God sees us the same way as we have made our own self-ideal out to be! We do not like to believe that we are delighted in, if you want to see this is action whether your at school, work, home or wherever you are, have one person with you stand on a chair in a room full of people and say ten things you love and are thankful for about them! I guarantee by number three they turn their face down and cannot look you in the face! Because they are shameful because they feel they have not lived up to those things, humans have the most difficult time accepting that we are loved deeply by God because it makes no sense, we don’t like how scandalous Grace truly is.
How many of us would rather work off a debt rather than have us be bailed out? Being bailed out never makes us feel better about our debt but rather moves the feeling of guilt from one party to another. For example, as a student I am deeply in debt when I graduate, lets say I get into some unfortunate events in 5-10 years and I cannot pay off my massive school loans. A good friend of mine is doing well and knows my situation and pays off my school loan! Although I would feel relieved I can now avoid prosecution form the government or my bank, I certainly would feel I owe my friend back every dollar and the cycle of guilt settles in again. Even though my debt has been Justified I would have a very hard time not feeling guilty for what my friend has done. Well, even though this example is a bit of a stretch it shows how we as people are ruled by settling debts. We are ruled by feeling shameful that we have to be bailed out. We are constantly feeling like we owe something to someone, whether that be our parents and living up to their expectations, the expectation of obtaining the ‘American Dream’ or whether that be our own model we have for ourselves. There is a constant cycle of fulfilling something that is driven by guilt and shame for breaking a standard or for not living up to an ideal!
If we are to live in the truth and light of the Gospel we have to understand something very deeply, that the cross of Jesus Christ says that those who are in him have absolutely no sin and will have no sin before God at any point in our lives. The Gospel is not something that we owe anything to other than our full surrender. How we often make the Gospel to be is it forgives the sins in our lives that we have moved past on our own, that is not living in light of a victorious death, that is living a life that buys into the falsehood of the world. We are not guilty people but free people living in the light of the Gospel. Our shame that derives from our trespasses has no place either, are we not children of God, does he not know us each personally, has he not reconciled us while we where far off? The cross says we are his people, would we be beggars of grace continually and stop attempting to live up to a perfect ideal we have in our mind. There is no shame in the Gospel, there is no room for it, we have been washed clean, we have been reconciled, we have been called according to his purpose. Would we stope beating ourselves up for something God has already forgiven and forgotten. Would we not be people who carry shame around with us, God delights in his people deeply, in a way we cannot understand but he does unconditionally. The reality of baggage is that it has been lifted off us by Christ and he did so with joy, because of the truth is a Father delights in his children.