Faith, Shame, And (Spiritual) Slavery

Sometimes humility demands that we feel bad about ourselves.

The idea stands against the norm. We don’t want to feel guilty or ashamed of anything. Our society deems guilt evil, and shame improper. My impression is that many Americans cringe at the idea that anyone could require obedience from a person. Some denominations even go so far as to deny the idea of law, claiming that we are completely free of restrictions except to love. And by “love” they seem to mean, “Whatever gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.”┬áThankfully, many people I know think that is ridiculous. I have no idea about what most people believe, I am simply stating my impression.

The Bible never indicates that we should conduct ourselves as if we were constantly at a funeral service. If you are always feeling bad because of your faith, there is something wrong somewhere! Christians are to be full of joy, not sorrow. But there are times we need to allow sorrow to take over.

The time you need sorrow is when you recognize sin in your behavior.

Some people manipulate others with guilt

When we look at our behavior and sorrow over it, that serves to motivate us into action. It doesn’t always motivate though. If it is forced upon us by others, that is not going to be much help. Charlatans manipulate and control people with guilt, fear, and shame. These people do not have the power to motivate and lead others. The fact that the only power they have is manipulation stands as evidence that they do not have God in their lives.

Mourning, guilt, and shame are not sinful emotions, nor are they powerless ones. But manipulating others with these is ultimately both powerless and ungodly. Forcing a man to obey because of guilt is not the same as that man deciding to obey God from his own volition. And the only thing that has the power to cause a man to willingly pursue God, in the long run, is love. Love is built through “positive” connections, not guilt and shame.

True leaders will exert power of persuasion and cause people to follow God willingly.┬áThe power of God is not found in people who manipulate, brow-beat, and in other ways force compliance. God’s power to cause repentance is found in His goodness. Paul mentioned this in Romans 2:4.

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

There is great power in the positive message of truth.

Striking a balance

Where is the balance between this message of truth and the absolute necessity of mourning over sin? The balance lies in our own hearts, not in the pressures contrived by others.

When we see where we are in relationship to God, and we recognize that we have wandered from Him, we need to mourn over that and come back to Him. We need to remind ourselves of the seriousness of our disgraceful conduct, and prick our conscience so that we can be motivated to give up sin. After all, we sin because we enjoy it, or because we think it is what is best for us. A good way to help reinforce the need to stop it is to apply a negative feeling to the activity. So, we are to mourn and weep. It’s the beginning of the humility necessary for accepting God’s word.

Do not think that mourning is enough to cause you to stop sinning. Those kinds of emotions are aids, not masters. You still need to determine to avoid sin, and decide to follow God’s word so that you can come into His presence again. But don’t think that you will have all the necessary ingredients for change until you are able to mourn properly for your sins. If we cannot even realize what we have done, and the serious nature of it, we need help.

It’s quite common for us not to realize how bad sin is. We need others to point it out to us and talk about what such behavior does to others, to ourselves, and to God. We need that “negative” discussion where we feel uncomfortable and guilty. It might sound like I am contradicting myself here, but there is a difference between someone manipulating a person to act in a certain way and someone teaching a person what they have done wrong and how to remedy it.

The difference between manipulating and leading

The sad thing is that (it seems) many religious people have never seen or noticed the difference between the two. Satan loves convincing us that all such discussion of sin is nothing more than manipulation. But here is a clue to help you see the difference: A manipulative person needs you to continue doing what you are doing so that he or she can hold power over you.

They might call upon you to repent and change, and then guilt you into answering their “altar calls” (to make them look effective), into giving more money to the church, or into volunteering more of your time. They will constantly use your weaknesses against you, and use them to create more guilt. That is destructive. They have a vested interest in keeping you where you are – a slave to their manipulations. But a true leader will address your sin, show you why it was wrong, call upon you to leave it behind, and then show you how to get rid of it.

Some people want you to keep the guilty feelings, but some people want you to be free from the guilt that plagues you. One is a thief, and the other a shepherd.

Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd.

Elders in a congregation are “official” shepherds, but they were probably doing that kind of work long before they were recognized for it.

The Bible acts as a shepherd too. It will guide us where we need to go. More precisely, God leads us where we need to go; the Bible is the way He does that.

It’s OK to let Him lead you. The purpose is not to cause feelings of guilt and shame. The purpose is to lift you up to greater heights. James 4:10 says this.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

But He cannot lift you up until you get rid of what is holding you down: Sin.

How is your spiritual life?

The joys of a life of freedom from sin are difficult to describe. Certainly there are words we can use to describe them, but sometimes they sound hollow. I’ve been there. They sounded too good to be true, or boring, or “no big deal”. But as you grow, you begin to realize that life is empty and vain without them. I’m talking about words like love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control, and goodness.

But, now and then, mourning is necessary.

Have you had a good mourning lately? Do you need one?

See you tomorrow!

~Jason

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