You may have been a Christian a while and have heard the message of the gospel a thousand times. You may have just become a Christian and still can't quite believe it. You might be exploring Christianity and the idea doesn't quite make sense. Ephesians 2:8 sums it up beautifully and is the place I would like to start:
'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--'
It is only because of the grace of God, who sacrificed himself for our sins, that we have been saved. It is a gift from God, not something we have achieved on our own. It is not in any way our works that have saved us. In fact, it is nothing to do with us. Yet how many of us, if we really admitted it to ourselves, still believe somewhere deep-down, that it is? And with the burden we still put on ourselves to be better, in order to earn salvation, we realise time and time again we just can't do it. I know there are so many followers of Christ still attempting to earn forgiveness from God, still comparing themselves to others who seem so much better, and still living with the shame of their past failures. That being said, I felt it was important for me to write this blog to tell you what God has taught me over the last few years.
I grew up in a Christian family and was so blessed to be taught the message of Christianity from an early age. I knew God, in my way, but when I got into my teenage years, he very quickly went into a little box in my head, ready to be brought out just when I needed him. I enjoyed the experience of God, when worshipping and praising him. Just like those who get into relationships because they are in love with the idea of being in love, I treated the Lord in a similar way. I loved how he made me feel. But I didn't love him enough to lay down all the other things I loved in life. And as they became more tempting, God took a back seat. The truth is, life became all about me. I kept God in his box, bringing him out when I needed him, but I lived a life that was far from what he wanted. Every week, as I came to church, a small voice kept telling me that what I was doing wasn't right. But I pushed it to the back of my mind, continuing to praise God. By the time I came to University, though, I recognised the double-life I was living wasn't really working. After a very messy first term at University, when I'd made more mistakes than I ever thought I would, I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom in tears, broken and desperate, asking for God to come and help me. And the all-loving father, of course, did. It was a slow process definitely, but he turned my life around. And he turned me around.
Yet, despite this, I lived with the shame of what I'd done for a long time. At first I tried to hide it, hoping it would just go away if I ignored it. The odd thing was that I still felt I had to earn God's forgiveness. I slipped into legalism, feeling guilty whenever I didn't spend enough time with God or didn't read the Bible as much as my friends. I would compare myself to other Christians all the time. When I messed up, I would feel so guilty, and instead of bringing it to God, I simply tried to hide it. It was all because I felt, deep down, that I was just not good enough. I always found a reason that my failures were somehow so much worse than other people's and the shame that I had tried to hide, rather than bringing it to God, built up. I ended up not liking myself very much.
I want to talk about one of my favourite stories of Jesus. It was where I really saw Christ for who he truly was and saw me for who I truly am: As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said,“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman,“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said,“Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John: 8: 3-11)
This woman stood before Jesus, ashamed and exposed, her sin laid out for all to see. She waited for Jesus to condemn her, to say she was worthless and deserved to be punished. Yet he didn't. With all those who would have condemned her, the only one who had that right met her only with love and grace. And with that, her life was changed.
Another story of Jesus shows his dealings with Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling counsel. In general, Nicodemus probably felt he'd done alright in life. He'd lived by the law. If anyone could earn his right to salvation, he probably thought he could. And yet, Jesus tells him this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3
Later in his conversation, Jesus also states this: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17
What he tells Nicodemus is that by works, he will not receive his salvation. To receive your salvation, you need to be born again. They need to die to their sin so that Jesus can offer them a new life. He offered this life to the woman caught in adultery. A life with him, where she was no longer bound by her sin and shame. A truth I didn't know when I was still bound by my shame was that it wasn't possible for me to be free without Christ. I couldn't overcome my guilt by simply being a better person. Just as Christ did with this woman, Christ offered me a new life with him, where I would walk in freedom, no longer sinning and no longer bound by shame.
You may have heard these stories before. You may have never heard these stories before. You may have understood, in theory, that we are now free from our sin. But in reality, you are constantly feeling the guilt and shame of your past. Or even feeling guilt in the present, comparing yourself to others, never feeling like you're good enough.
I feel so strongly that we need to break the chains of guilt and shame in our church. It is something that kept me bound for so long and I know that God never wants us to live with this. He died so that we could be free from it. May we never allow our shame to get in the way of accepting the joy and freedom of Christ into our lives. 'And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...' Ephesians 2:6
Livvi Scales is a part of the Student Team at the Belfrey. If you give her a cup of tea and some cake, she'll be happy.