March 9, 2016
A quick note before I nod off:
I once learned the distinction between guilt and shame in a college small group*. It's not necessarily a theological or formal definition, but rather a helpful way to look at our sinfulness, especially in areas of recurring sin.
Guilt, we discussed, is a healthy emotion. You might think of it as our conscience. It's a bad feeling, but we can train ourselves to appreciate it because guilt points us to our sin as a place where we can allow God's grace into our lives. Think of it like a mariner charting his course: once rocks and hazards are on the map, he can do well to steer clear of them in the future. Perhaps most importantly, guilt is temporary. It points us to restoration, and after repentance, it has served its purpose and dissipates.
Shame, on the other hand, is insidious. Where guilt points toward the instance of sin and the need for restoration, shame points toward the person. It is the voice of the accuser. and makes accusations against your identity, rather than pointing toward the instance of sin and need for repentance. Where guilt is temporary, shame is a vicious cycle that leads us away from "living in the light." It suggests that we are unloved and unvalued when we turn away from God. Shame is irrational; it's what led to Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness and sin from an all-seeing God, rather than running to him right away with their confessions. How different our world would be if shame had not run its course in them!
If there are areas in your where you are repeatedly prone to sin and/or shame, take a moment to reflect on how you respond after falling: can you face yourself in the mirror, accept your sinfulness, and use your guilt to point you back to him. Or maybe an easier barometer: Can you easily pray after your sin? Can you come to the Lord quickly, knowing that he always forgives?
If not, pray against shame, in addition to your areas of difficulty. Pray, maybe even out loud, rejecting the lie that you have to be "good enough to earn" God's love and approval, that you have to measure up to being a good Christian. Then, accept the truth that Jesus measures up for you, that he forgives you (in persona Christi in Confession) and you are in Him.
Praised be Jesus Christ.
*Much of the content for this reflection is derived from this same small group curriculum, called Dangerous Men. You can find more info about it here.