Tag Archives: Shame

Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Repentance?

“Repentance is an about face from sin and dead works to the living God.” That’s what theologians say. They also say, “It’s an entire change of mind resulting in a total change in life.” I think they are right, but I would also add:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

So why is our culture forgetting the power of repentance and instead embracing punishment, shame, and public embarrassment as the popular responses to wrongdoing—as if those have ever produced anything good?

As we have learned recently from our politicians, enemies will highlight a person’s weaknesses and ignore his or her strengths or the good that also marks their character. And as we have also seen in the media, a person learning from mistakes, changing, and growing are given little expectation or value. The media calls it flip-flopping or being deceitful. But I know people change for the better every day. I watch it constantly. I’m a pastor, and as a Christian, I know the value, power, and hope of repentance.

This is why Paul, when preaching in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:30b, told the people that God “. . . commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”. 

Why? Because God wants the best for us, so he, like any good parent, wants us to get rid of the things that hurt us. So as we meet him and get to know him, his goodness motivates us to turn away from the things that are dark and destructive . . . sinful. . . in our lives.

Repentance is a wonderful gift, so when we have opportunity to repent, we need to take advantage of that opportunity. Notice that after Peter saw a group of Gentiles be baptized in the Holy Spirit, he reported, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life” (Acts 11:18, emphasis mine). When Paul was exhorting young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25, he said, “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (emphasis mine). God gives us opportunity for repentance. We choose to respond or not.

This is why we should all embrace repentance with grateful hearts, and why we as a society are making a mistake by not validating repentance.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he modeled God’s gift of repentance for all of us. After he committed destructive and devastating sins, he reveals the hope we all can receive from God if we will embrace repentance. Read this passage slowly and thoughtfully, then consider going back and praying through it:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me . . .

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Sin is not only the negative, inappropriate, or destructive thoughts, words, and behaviors that violate our lives and those around us, and sometimes society as a whole, but it is also a violation against God and his perfect, wonderful, uplifting plan for our lives. No one wants the best for us like God does, so when we know him, we can repent, and live better lives.

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Why Do I Feel So Much Guilt?

#2 in Q & A Series

Well, all of us are guilty. Feeling it and having the ability to do something about it is a gift.

There are lots of reasons why people feel guilt. Maybe you have done or said something wrong. Or maybe you have been influenced by your culture, family, or a non-New Testament religious organization that has you convinced you are not worthy. Regardless of the reason you are feeling “so much guilt,” the New Testament has the solution for you.

Guilt can be a motivation to improve our lives. In Romans 3:19, Paul writes that the purpose of the law “is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God.” Paul is saying that all of us need to take responsibility and not excuse our own ungodly thoughts, words, and actions. We all fall short of God’s ideal and need Christ’s righteousness for us to be in right standing with God.

Once his righteousness is in us, we experience great confidence. In I John 3:20-21, John writes, “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence.” Feeling guilty is our state outside Christ or in disobedience to Christ, but as we abide in His righteousness, we are cleansed and gain great confidence in him. This is easy. It is a relief.

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

In II Corinthians 11:9, Paul said, “I have never been a burden to you, and I never will.”

I decided early in my ministry career that I wanted my Christian service to be like Jesus’ and Paul’s in this respect. Every ministry I have ever led has been structured to be an uplift, an encouragement, a relief to people. Life is difficult enough, we don’t need Sunday worship to be a burden as well. And on Sunday mornings when we as believers gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and, consequently, our own resurrections, we worship, fellowship, give, and publicly read the Word together. This is not the time to add burden to people’s lives. Our giving can be done freely, joyfully, and without pressure. That is why I am opposed to religious leaders imposing guilt in order to extract funds from fellow believers. Some construct godless, guilt-inducing ways to get believers to give more and more. I’ll not go into details, but fundamentally I think believers should give, and the leadership should budget accordingly so the costs of ministry do not excessively burden the worshippers.

Sadly, many Christians do not feel guilty because of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, but because of leaders who impose guilt in order to control them. These types of leaders have been in the church from the beginning, and very often they are our most popular leaders. Paul warned Timothy about them by saying, “They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (II Timothy 3:3-6). I notice these leaders scrutinize the weaknesses of others and present themselves as spiritually superior. Watch out!

Our modern Christian culture demands justice and public ridicule for some sins, while other sins are embraced. Immorality, theft, and addictions demand punishment. Judgmentalism, lovelessness, and blame, however, are lauded and can be marketed to the church . If our leaders promote certain sins, they can raise significant amounts of money to stop “those sinners.” This duplicity makes the one raising the funds appear spiritually superior highlighting the inferiority of others. Everything about this is contrary to the New Testament.

We should fund the Gospel, but we should probably ensure it’s an authentic New Testament Gospel. New Testament Christianity is an uplift to people. It lightens our load and offers a solution for guilt. The cross sets all of us free from the need to humiliate others, even the unrepentant. It’s just not our role. We offer dignity, confidence, and joy because of the love and righteousness of Christ. Remember the fruit of God’s Spirit within us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because of the reality of the cross, our lives are a Sabbath rest. I know, I know, the great evangelists say we should burn out not rust out. Well, let them. I’m going to take some time in my back yard and gratefully enjoy Him. I’ve lived long enough now, that I feel no need to be an expert in anyone else’s sin. I only feel compelled to let others know the freedom they can find in Him. That’s it. And that’s not hard.

If you feel guilty, then repent. Receive your forgiveness and be transformed, renewed, filled, and healed, so your life will improve. Now, smile a grateful smile, and rest.

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What are your thoughts on Shame?

#1 in Q & A Series

I appreciate the way the Blood of Christ and God’s Spirit free us from shame. No doubt, I, for one, am grateful for the forgiveness of sin and the opportunity to have a clear conscience.

I know a lot about shame. I spent four years dominated by shame. Then I realized that Christ was not shocked at my sins, that he had forgiven me for them, and that he had positive plans for my future. Key people in my life decided to forgive me. So for me to allow shame to lord over my life was a denial of my faith and a repudiation of those who had confidence in Christ’s resurrection power in me. What followed that realization was an interesting process to watch. There were those who had publicly fueled and promoted my demise, actually wanting shame to control me, who did all they could to promote shame in my life. Others, though, promoted resurrection in me and did what they could to encourage healing and restoration in my life. It seemed to me as though some proved to be enemies of the Gospel’s work in me, and others proved to be friends and true believers of the Gospel’s power to work in me. This dynamic altered the way I respond to someone else’s sin: I want always to be the guy who encourages resurrection in others.

As I went through this process of deciding who would have a determining voice in my life, I decided that Jesus’ life was more powerful than my shame, and that those who said what Christ says should have influence over me, not those who wanted only to accuse and take advantage of me. It was a glorious process as the influence of Christ and authentic believers set me free to pursue God’s plan for my life.

The New Testament talks about the dynamic shame plays in all of our lives. In I Corinthians 1:27 Paul writes, ” . . . God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” Paul uses the word “shame” twice in this verse, both times talking about the embarrassment and humiliation that will come to those who are impressed with themselves.

In the fourth chapter, Paul turns his warnings about pretension directly at the Corinthians. In verses 8-13, where he mocks the arrogance of the Corinthians, he concludes his sarcastic rebuke by saying, “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children” (verse 14). He doesn’t want to shame them, but he is warning them about looming dishonor if they do not reflect on his admonitions.

In Ephesians 5:12, Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to avoid bringing shame on themselves by talking about what ungodly people do. He said, “It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.” Here, Paul is encouraging the church to constrain it’s own speech in order to be honorable.

I think this is exactly where we are in the American church. We have transitioned from being the body of gratefully redeemed believers encouraging honor and life in Christ, into being the self-righteous group that scrutinizes, criticizes, whines and complains about “those sinners.”

I am convinced that under the guise of hating sin, some have inadvertently switched from being ministers of reconciliation and hope in Christ to being advocates of holding people accountable for their sin. I know it sounds good, but that might leave us as enemies of the Gospel in others and leave us positioned in Satan’s role . . . accusing the brethren.

We must be careful not to become the enemies of Christ’s work in the lives of others, because he does know how to shame his enemies. Chapters 10-18 of Luke include significant warnings for “religious leaders,” “teachers,” and “Pharisees” (those who use the Scriptures to condemn others), all of which provide ample warning to modern leadership. In the midst of his text, Luke notes, “This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did” (Luke 13:17). Here, we have Jesus intentionally shaming the religious leaders, teachers of the Scriptures and the Pharisees, while the common followers were able to see it and rejoice in him.

Christ had the courage to give his life for us, identifying with us as sinners and taking on our shame. He doesn’t impose shame on repentant sinners, only the self-righteous. When describing himself in Luke 18:32, he said, “He (Jesus) will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon.”

He demonstrated Courageous Grace (my wife’s latest book title). Jesus had the courage to identify with us, while we were yet sinners, even though he had full assurance that we would not be 100% free from sin until we see him face to face. I don’t say this to excuse sin, only to explain our role in being Christ-like and relieving shame from those who are in Christ. Probably the strongest identifying markers of an authentic follower of Christ is a willingness to be identified with the sinner and invest in healing and restoration. This identification is contrary to the false Christian leaders of our day who distance themselves from sinners and use the Scriptures to impose shame, actually using the appearance of their own moral superiority to gain power and influence. In doing so, they are denying the Gospel and instead promoting an appearance of godliness that woefully lacks the power of God.

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