When I was little and my faith was new and soft, the idea of God's grace was easy to latch onto.
As I grew older and my shortcomings grew louder, grace became a vague concept woven into a security blanket of sorts: "I don't really get it, but I'm going to choose to believe it means I'm okay."
Grace gained some dimension in my life as I really sought out Jesus for myself, and found Him. The extravagant joy of true freedom saturated me for the first time, and I knew in the deepest parts of myself that I was forgiven, because I could feel it!
And then, I stopped feeling it.
My initial, clumsy baby steps of walking with God slowly matured into a more informed, more experienced stride... And with that stride, I developed the understanding that grace was no longer applicable to me, because I should "know better," by now. Sure, grace is fine for the new kids...but what about me, when I've been walking with God for a little while now? When I've have already said "Sorry" for this specific issue not once, but maybe ten or twenty times?
It's sinister because it seems noble - to trade in the concept of God's grace, covering even your stupidest and most frequent mistakes, for "being held accountable." It's like a form of justice, being held to your actions and the condemnation they merit, because anything else seems irresponsible, doesn't it? But that idea - that you should suffer the punishment of condemnation in order to bring justice to your wrongdoing - completely flies in the face of Jesus' sacrifice. To trade in God's grace in order to reclaim the shame you might feel you deserve is unbiblical, not noble.
(I should note now that I'm not advocating for irresponsibility. I'm not saying you should dissociate yourself from your actions and treat grace as a "get out of jail free" card, because that's not it, either.)
Here's what I am saying: If the grace of God is real, if you have declared that you believe that Jesus' sacrifice was true and truly extended as an invitation towards you and you've chosen to accept it, then shame has no allowance in your life. Not even a little bit. Not even when you really feel you deserve it.
This year, I found myself struggling with an issue I thought was long-defeated. Overwhelmingly disappointed with myself, I welcomed shame like a house guest. I figured it deserved to be there, so there was no point in fighting against it. I had failed, so what rebuttal did I have?
Shame is heavy and sharp and potent - it leaks into everything around it, seeping deep and numbing sensitivity to truth.
And grace, despite being a life-long companion in concept, failed to have any effect at all on the shame I felt - it was much like the scene in the movie where people are helplessly firing bullets at a monster that is obviously unfazed. And you're like, "How are they going to take that thing down?"
Shame is like that. Little bullets of truth - "You're forgiven, you're set free, God sees you as pure!" - are, indeed, really powerful things that should be disarming the condemnation... And sometimes, they do. But sometimes, the weight of shame feels heavier than the weight of grace. So we surrender to the lie that we deserve the onslaught we're facing, and hope the feeling will wear off with time, when we've gotten far enough away from the transgression to maybe, just maybe, be dissociated from it.
But the truth is that we are dissociated from our sin, and the resultant shame, the moment you declare that you believe Jesus covered that cost for you when He chose to die on the cross, able to take your place because He didn't have any of His own sins to cover.
Which, again, is so nice in concept. But when you're suffering under the crushing weight of shame, the accusatory pointed finger of condemnation, how do you make space in your heart to be effected by what you're hearing? How do you move this revelation from your head, which can understand and believe it completely, to your heart, which can remain unmoved and pained?
The catalyst for my healing didn't come from elaborated theology, a certain number of encouragements, the memorization of a bible verse. The thing that finally cracked open the hard exterior of my heart that otherwise could not swallow the truth of grace was actually catching a glimpse of the heart of God Himself:
I recently got to hear someone speak on something I had never before noticed in the first chapter of the gospel of John. In both verse 14 and verse 17, we see something subtle but powerful. Verse 14 declares that Jesus is full of grace and truth. Verse 17 reiterates this by saying that grace and truth came through Jesus. The speaker asked us to note the sequence of the words we were all so familiar with - had you ever noticed that, in both of those verses, grace precedes truth?
He went on to say that this is the way God operates: He meets us with grace FIRST, before presenting the truth. He doesn't forfeit truth for the sake of comforting you, but He also does not make His grand entrance into your life with a declaration of the ways your life may be in contrast with the truth.
I had a moment of "This is too good to be true," and thought to myself that the wording sequence is a small detail on which to base something as big as how God approaches us... But the speaker proceeded to examine the stories within the gospels. What do we see illustrated?
Well, for one example: When the woman was caught in adultery and brought to Him, did He respond by quoting the law and agreeing in their condemnation of her?
...Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, "Where are you accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?"
"No, Lord," she said.
And Jesus said, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more."
He didn't say, "Hey, it's alright, adultery isn't that big of a deal anyways." He commanded her to move forward and live differently. But the FIRST thing He said to her - Jesus, the only one who was sinless and therefore the only one who actually could have rightfully condemned her - was "I don't condemn you." In essence, He's saying: You're doing something wrong, yes - but my heart is to let you know FIRST that you are valued beyond your shortcomings, and you are forgiven... Not because you begged for it or worked for it, but because, in my love for you, I choose to freely extend it to you. And from the freedom and beauty of that forgiveness, you're enabled to live differently... You're not forced into a new behavior because He comes along and tells you how wrong you are.
His primary motivation is to love you. That is His heart. And in this process of understanding shame and grace, that's what changed everything for me: To know He cherishes you/me, and values us in spite of the ways we fall short. That is the beautiful, empowering, overwhelming truth that sets us free to live differently, and to tell shame to shove it, even when we've "brought it upon ourselves."
I have never known anything more beautiful than the heart of this Jesus. No matter how well you feel you know Him at the moment, I challenge you to get know Him more - we truly find grace upon grace, freedom unto freedom, and the kind of love that wakes up numb, shame-laden hearts to feeling again.
- Mayce Fischer (Pathfinders Staff)
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