“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31b-39, ESV)
What Paul gives us here is an appropriate message as we end one year and start another. God knows we are sinners who are in constant need of His mercy. Yet, as the apostle Paul tells us, once God has justified us, nothing can take away His love for us. The fact that nothing can separate God from those who are united with Christ Jesus is a powerful truth that can counteract and nullify one of the most potent weapons of the forces of the world, the flesh and the devil: shame.
Shame intimidates and causes hurtful wounds. Shame is a whip wielded by our friends, relatives and even our spiritual leaders to enforce compliance to a code of external standards. It is even a weapon we wield against our selves. Believers who believe they are hopelessly defective find their conscience punishing them for almost anything they think, say and do. A skilled spiritual abuser or a thoughtless relative or acquaintance can exercise great power over shame-filled individuals, for their conscience is an open wound that does not heal.They seek healing and relief, but find only more pain as unthinking, unfeeling, selfish, uncaring people continually irritate their inflamed conscience with rules and laws that remind them only of their defects.
Now guilt and shame are not the same thing. Guilt is the feeling of having wronged God because of a specific sin. Guilt leads the believer to confess his sin and find forgiveness and relief. Shame, however, is the belief that one is irreparably defective in the sight of God and man. It is composed of global guilt over non-specific sins, as well as feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. Shame fails to appropriate the grace of God to inner hurts.
Yet the words of Paul offer healing and freedom for such people for it enables them to understand the unalterable nature of God’s grace, acceptance and love. God does not condemn His elect whom He has justified and declared righteous. His verdict is the only one that matters and it is final. And it is written indelibly on our hearts by His Spirit. Therefore, if we still feel shame, if we feel still hopelessly defective, even after we have confessed our sins, we must ask the Lord to help us to appropriate the truth of His unalterable verdict. We must ask the Holy Spirit to make the truth of our security in Christ real to us. Then, when we are able to appropriate God’s free gift of righteousness, we can move on to carry out God’s will, secure in His eternal love.