Forgiving myself is probably one of the hardest things for me to do. I read in Scripture all the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Proverbs, and all the stories of what happens when someone follows these teachings and when someone doesn’t. Throughout it all, I picture a kind of Godly man that I want to be and yet I can’t be. The man I picture when I read through Scripture is a perfect man who has all the answers and constantly exercises God’s love. I can never be that perfect man on my own. And sometimes I forget this, so when I mess up in living up to the standard I set for myself, I dwell on it and let the guilt and shame control me.
It’s a common problem, I imagine. I mean, anyone who has a sort of perfectionist attitude towards life has probably chastised themselves at some point when they fell. Sometimes it can produce something better. For instance, if I hadn’t critiqued my golf game like crazy, I would never have made varsity in my junior year and maybe not even my senior year. Picking yourself up when you fall and continuing to aim high isn’t a bad thing necessarily. But I think it becomes a bad thing when the grace of God becomes subverted by our own self-righteous pride. When we hold our own standards above God’s we miss out on the guilt-free life He wants us to live.
What’s different between our standards and His? Well, usually, I think it’s the element of humility. Instead of saying, “You know, I’m messed up,” we say, “I should be a better person,” and we take matters into our own hands and try to make ourselves better. But something came to me the other day when I was wrestling with guilt. I’ve struggled with many things; porn, gossip, pride, etc. But I think the biggest thing I’ve struggled with is properly handling guilt. The Spirit’s convicting power does have an element of guilt, but it is not intended to last very long; it’s meant to lead us to repentance. When we hold onto that guilt, that’s where we go wrong. Where we go right, though, is when we admit that we cannot do it on our own, that we need someone to walk us through it. I think we are truly Christians when we recognize that our lives do not depend on the rise and fall of ourselves, but rather on the rise of Christ.
“Remember the Resurrection,” Darrin, the pastor who spoke at our retreat for Cross Training, said to me in an email. Honestly, I haven’t thought about much else. The cross put to death our punishment while the empty tomb put death itself to death and granted the risen King the ability to give life wherever He wills. That’s the life that we receive when we embrace Him and that’s the life that leads through a life-long journey – a novel – that exceeds the man-made standards we create for ourselves.
A major theme throughout each of Darrin’s messages this last week was the denial of self, the embracement of the cross, and the following of Jesus. Notice how denial of self comes first before following Jesus. Implied within this, I think, is the message that we can’t truly follow Him unless we first surrender all of ourselves (our pride, our successes, our failures, our agendas, and even our standards) to Him. That’s what it means to cast our crowns before the throne of Jesus; we surrender up ourselves to Him, though we are truly guilty, to receive the grace that He freely and abundantly gives us. But as Paul has said repeatedly, this is not a license to keep on sinning, but rather a platform enabling us to live the lives God has always wanted us to live yet knew we couldn’t on our own. That’s why He stepped down from His throne, dressed Himself like the poorest of peasants, and devastated the kingdom of darkness.
Guilt and shame, like all the other emotions, are temporal. They come for a while, leave, and return yet again later on in life. I don’t mean to say that living the Christian life is pointless because no matter what we’ll always run into guilt, but rather to say that we must be careful. Though we’re able to surrender our guilt and shame once or twice doesn’t mean the third or fourth time will be just as easy. But I believe that if you practice something long enough, it develops as a habit, which makes it easier to do down the road. The reason why I made the varsity golf team my junior year was because I had a very disciplined short game. But if I were to go out there now, my short game would not help me at all because I haven’t practiced in a long time. Likewise we must practice the ways of Christ and discipline ourselves in the ways of truth, which means disciplining ourselves in the act of humility. Our guilt and our shame is wiped away by Christ’s promise; that if we return to Him, believe in His blood, remember His resurrection and repent with the life He’s given us, we will live honorable lives in the eyes of God.
“Remember the Resurrection.”