I have been under shame for so long, I’m not sure I know what freedom feels like.
Let me explain. I have not been under the bondage of a works-based theology. I escaped that years ago. But…my heart, my feelings, have been bound under a weight of shame. I’ve known God’s forgiveness for a very long time, but I haven’t forgiven myself.
I have always felt the need to apologize for being me. My whole life I have felt less than others.
Does that make sense?
Probably not. Unless you have struggled with shame, this is probably a foreign concept to you. But if you know what it is to see yourself as hollow, bad, unlovely…then you know what I’m talking about. This has been my understanding for as long as I remember.
It’s necessary to know the difference between guilt and shame to fully get what I’m trying to say. Guilt is “the developmentally mature, though painful, feeling of regret one has about behavior that has violated a personal value.”¹ We are guilty of sin. It is good to feel that guilt, to know we’ve sinned and to seek forgiveness. If we are in Christ we are completely forgiven.
However, shame is not letting yourself “off the hook.” “Shame is an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self. A moment of shame may be humiliation so painful or an indignity so profound that one feels one has been robbed of his or her dignity or exposed as basically inadequate, bad, or worthy of rejection. A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.”²
That is where I was. I’m not there anymore. No more feelings of defectiveness. I now get you are all as defective as ME!! But the difference NOW…I understand God loves me too. Not just YOU. He loves me. I don’t have to keep a list of rules just perfectly to stay in the love of God. While I was a sinner, He died for me. In my ugliness, He chose me.
So — now that I FEEL the love of God clear down to my toes — I must say, I’m feeling a bit rudderless. I’m beginning to feel the freedom that is in Christ. I think. But I do NOT want to go off the deep end.
I know I’m not in bondage to shame anymore. I know I’m not bound by a list of rules handed to me from clergy. I know I am in a loving relationship with the God of the Universe. And I know God is Holy. So…my question is…
…how free am I?
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1
I understand this to mean, we are not bound by rules or regulations man will try to place upon us to be “right” with God. But Paul does give a warning:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. ~Galatians 5:13
I am free to serve others. Peter gives us the same warning, but then calls us God’s slaves:
Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves.* ~1Peter 2:16
What’s up with that? I am a slave of God?
Next, James tells us we will be judged, but our judgment is based upon a law of liberty:
Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. ~James 2:12
So, it isn’t that I am free to be me. That’s not the point, really. I am free. But being ME could be wrong, I still have a sinful nature, I do still need guidance. I still need a rudder. I am a slave to something, just not sin anymore.
Now you are free from sin, your old master, and you have become slaves to your new master, righteousness. ~Romans 6:18
I am a slave to righteousness…right living. But see, the kicker is, you don’t get to tell me what that looks like anymore than I get to tell you. We have a clear word that will judge us…the perfect law of liberty (that’s the scripture, people). I’m free to follow Christ as He leads me down this path. I’m free to listen to His Spirit as He guides me in the way HE would have me go.
And do you know why that’s a good thing? Have you read any of the Gospels lately? Jesus is really cool. I mean, really! He’s not going to lead me wrong.
Now you…YOU might.
But not Him!!!
1. Facing Shame: Families in Recovery, Merle A. Fossum/Marilyn J. Mason, page 5.
From the NET bible:
*Doulos is normally translated “servant,” the word does not bear the connotation of a free individual serving another….The most accurate translation is “bondservant,” in that it often indicates one who sells himself into slavery to another. But as this is archaic, few today understand its force.
Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For a Jew this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities, including such great men as Moses (Josh 14:7), David (Ps 89:3; cf. 2 Sam 7:5, 8 ) and Elijah (2 Kgs 10:10); all these men were “servants (or slaves) of the Lord.”