Let’s Press On

One of the significant issues that keeps believers in Christ from knowing the Lord better is their past. Many Christians focus their attention on their past. Failures of the past plague them with condemnation. Wrongs done to them in the past tempt them to self-pity, bitterness, and resentment. This often creates a need for “pay backs.” Past successes give false assurance that things must go well today. Past blessings distract them from seeking the Lord’s fresh work in their lives now. Paul gives us heavenly insight concerning how to deal with the past: “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” Things of the past need not dominate our present. God’s grace can cover past failures and pains. Today, we need to look forward to the next work of grace that He wants to bring forth as we walk on with Him.

God wants us to move forward, looking upward. Paul said, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The goal is to get to know the Lord better. We are to press toward that goal, exerting all of the spiritual strength and energy that God’s grace supplies. This is our reply to God’s heavenly call to seek Him, to know Him. Along the way, we will partake of the prize that comes with that goal. The prize is every blessing that results from getting to know Him better. Let’s press on to know the Lord!

You Learn

You live you learn, you love you learn,
You cry you learn, you lose you learn,
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn.
(Alanis Morissette)

The most important life lessons you will ever learn will be from bad decisions you make. Time and experience can be excellent teachers when you actually learn a lesson from your poor decisions. I wholeheartedly believe that good judgment comes from experiencing the consequences of your bad decisions. If you have a difficult time making decisions, or always blame your bad outcomes on others, then you have not learned anything. If you have not learned anything, you will continue to have negative experiences that will cause you to make more poor judgments.

You can only learn from the error of your ways if you recognize the fact that you messed up. Many people remain in denial, tending to place the blame on others. The minute you take responsibility for yourself, the learning process will begin. When you admit your mistakes, you hasten your learning development. The only way to prevent making a mistake a second time is to learn from it the first time. If you don’t, you will make the same error again and again until you are forced to learn.

The lesson lies in the way you interpret your errors. If you keep repeating the same pattern, how can you ever expect your results to differ? It is much more beneficial to face the mistake than to escape from it. Looking at mistakes and working toward understanding them will promote progress and insight.

It is normal to feel bad about an error you made. This can come in the form of guilt, shame or regret. An acquaintance of mine who is an addictions counselor told me there is no room for shame in recovery. To feel shame is to suffer humiliating disgrace or disrepute. Shame tends to lie to you, telling you that you’re worthless to the core. Someone who feels shame becomes mired in condemnation, which severely hinders your progress.

A good friend of mine, who is a reverend, reminded me that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1) It is important for Christians to know there is a huge difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of the devil. The Holy Spirit works to convict you and push you away from the ensnarement of sin and toward God. The condemning spirit of Satan, however, works to push you away from God, leaving you more prone to hopelessness. Satan will try to convince you that you’re no good, and that God will never forgive you.

The devil wants to keep you away from God by making you feel shameful and condemned. As soon as you confess your sin you are forgiven, and your sin is forgotten. Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” God immediately purifies us from all unrighteousness. (See 1 John 1:9) If you’re being drawn closer to God, you’re feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But if you feel like hiding from God, and you begin to doubt His love for you, you’re feeling condemnation from the devil. Rebuke those feelings in the name of Jesus. Resist the devil and he’ll flee from you. (See James 4:7-10)

We need to keep in mind that God is strong and He does not tolerate sin. Yes, He does judge us, but He is a fair judge. He always wants to draw us to Himself. Satan’s purpose is to pull us away from God and stop our fellowship with other believers. God is straightforward and direct, but Satan is sneaky. 1 John 3:19-20 says, “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” (NASB)

2 Corinthians 5:17 declares you to be a new creation. You are a totally new person because of what Christ has done. The old you has passed away. The person who was defeated, the person who sinned, the person who didn’t radiate the beauty of Christ, is dead. You are someone new. A completely different person to the one who, like all of us outside of Christ, had reason to feel ashamed.

Satan could accuse you as much as he liked for the sins of your neighbor, but the accusations would be meaningless. You would ignore them because you know you’re not your neighbor. Likewise, he can accuse you as much as he likes about the person you once were, but you can ignore it. The old you is dead. You have a whole new identity. The new you, the person you now are, is pure and holy and righteous, and is filled with the Holy Spirit. No one likes being slandered, and that is what Satan is trying to do. But it’s a case of mistaken identity. He is accusing the wrong person. He is trying to make you feel condemned. He wants you to give up hope. But the person he’s accusing is dead and buried with Christ. Just ignore him.

If, after God has forgiven you, you won’t forgive yourself, you are implying that you have a higher sense of justice than God. Anyone having the brazenness to make such an accusation is on dangerous ground. You are also implying that Jesus is inadequate. That he didn’t suffer enough for your sins. There is nothing wrong with feeling guilty when you’ve done something bad, but if you feel shameful or condemned then you are missing the miracle of the Cross.

Is Shame a Bad Thing?

Shame says, “There’s something wrong with me that isn’t wrong with everyone else.” It tells you that you’re worthless. Therefore, you must find some way to prove your own worth. In its worst expression, it says, “I am outside the love of God.” A person with a shamed sense of identity reads the Scriptures and usually feels condemned. Far too many individuals feel dirty, worthless and ashamed of themselves. As a result, they feel unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God and have the type of living and intimate relationship that God wants to have with them. Shame prevents intimacy with God because it makes us feel damaged and distant from Him.

Is there a difference between shame and guilt? Yes. Guilt is what takes place when a person realizes his or her failure. True guilt is actually a good thing. It helps us to judge our behavior against the laws. It allows for retribution, punishment and amends. It allows us to pay for what we’ve done. False guilt, which is what Satan throws at us, is where the sin has been repented of and forgiven, but the devil still wants us to feel guilty or to see ourselves associated with our past offenses. Satan uses false guilt to rip apart the lives of believers.

While guilt focuses on what we’ve done, shame is determining our self-worth negatively because of what we’ve done. Guilt is looking at the sin. Shame is looking at ourselves. If we allow ourselves to dwell on guilt, however, it can lead to shame. Meditating on false guilt creates strongholds. If we constantly think about our past failures and offenses, it tears us down spiritually. The picture we develop of ourselves becomes distorted.

Shame is one of the things the Bible speaks of as an imagination that must be cast down. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” An imagination in this instance is a picture in your mind that is incorrect. If you see yourself as a failure when you’re actually a blood-washed child of God, you’ve got an imagining that needs to be dealt with!

Shame is very destructive to our relationship with God. There is a good reason Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners. Feeling that way keeps us from confidently approaching God’s throne and having an intimate relationship with Him. The Bible tells us that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that we can be forgiven of our sins and offenses.

The Father wants us to draw near to Him with a clean conscience that has been freed from the memory of our evil ways. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Even the Apostle Paul, once the chief of sinners, made it clear that he was serving God from a clear conscience. 2 Timothy 1:3 says, “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of you in my prayers night and day.” Obviously, Paul understood that he was forgiven by God, and that he was no longer a persecutor of Christians. His past behavior did not define or enslave him.

Worship is an intimate way of expressing our love and gratitude to God. The Bible is clear that we should approach the Father with a clear conscience that has been purged of sin. Shame and false guilt are based upon deception, which is the opposite of truth. How are we supposed to worship God in spirit and in truth if there are imaginings hanging around in our minds that are contrary to the truth? Remember John 4:24, which says, “God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

How do we defeat or overcome shame and false guilt? First, we need to stop dwelling on our past failures.  We are meditating on something that no longer exists! If our sins are in the depths of the sea, then why are we still thinking about them? Micah 7:19 says, “…He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and will cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea.” We need to stop focusing on the problem (which has been dealt with), and begin to praise God for the solution to the problem, and think about how we have been washed clean from our sins! Instead of meditating on a lie, begin to meditate on the truth in God’s word. Psalms 51:7-12 says, “Purge me…and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation; and uphold me with your free spirit.”

We have to dissociate ourselves from our past. Here is an important thought: Why do you think God wants us to be new creations? Because he wants us to be separated from our past. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new.” We are assured in Psalms 103:12 that “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.” Now that our past sins have been forgiven, we need to leave them in the past and press on toward the things that are of God. Philipians 3:13 says, “…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before [me].” Not only are we to forget our past, God Himself has chosen to completely forget our sins as well. Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more.”

When we operate from a place of shame, we make statements such as I make the same mistakes over and over again. I am inferior. I am an immoral person. I am damaged goods. I am worthless. I have lost the opportunity to experience a complete, wonderful life. Healing from our shame involves learning to get our significance from God. Shame is grown in secrecy. Remember, we are only as sick as our secrets. We have to stop living in the past and begin to count our blessings. And we must increase the amount of time we spend in worship and prayer.

There are some significant differences between guilt and shame. The source of guilt is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we have done something wrong. This is a good thing. Shame, on the other hand, attacks our very identity. I am a bad person. I’ll never amount to anything. With guilt, we are motivated to confess. We want to get it out into the open. Maybe even make amends for our actions. Shame, however, wants us to internalize our feelings. It wants us to keep secrets. To feel bad to our core. The goal of guilt is to experience forgiveness. Shame wants us to feel pain. The result of guilt is freedom and growth. The point of shame is bondage. Someone who takes ownership of his or her guilt has the potential of having their life changed by God. On the other hand, shame “owns” us and controls us. The cycle of shame leads to anger, bitterness, self-hatred and depression. There is no peace with shame.

Though we can certainly feel our shame before people, our deepest shame is before God. People who feel worthless tend to doubt that anyone, especially God Himself, could tolerate them for very long. They quickly doubt their connection with the King of kings. Our best strategy is to remember that God has a particular affection for all things deemed loathsome by others. You must begin by being connected to Him. This is the only true way to deal with shame. Passivity, the most dangerous symptom of shame, must not have the last word. Those who are hopeless tend to avoid and deny.

Far too many of us today are feeling dirty, worthless and ashamed of ourselves. As a result, we feel unclean and unworthy to approach God. Shame stops us from having the kind of living and intimate relationship that He wants to have with us. Shame makes us feel distant from God. It makes us filthy as rags. Untouchable. Outcast. A hopeless cause. Face it, shame makes us feel like a piece of dirt. Shame is very destructive to our relationship with God.

There is a good reason why Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners. Shame keeps us from being effective as believers. When we buy in to the lie that we are ruined and hopeless, we tend to forget about prayer and worship. We are convinced that God wants nothing to do with us. The Bible tells us that the blood of Jesus was shed so that we can confidently approach our heavenly Father. Worship is an intimate way of expressing our relationship with God. The Bible is clear that we should approach God with a clean conscience that has been purged of sin. In fact, Hebrews 10:2 tells us, “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshipers once purged should have no more conscience of sin.”

When you are touched by God, you are changed in an instant. Zap! But unfortunately it can take some of us quite a while to catch up to what Jesus has done for us. Think of shame at the center of our old nature. It dictated how we related to “clean” people. Our task today is to learn how to live life from a new perspective regardless of vivid memories of our past. We have to believe God. We have to believe in that new nature which has been imparted to us at the time of our conversion. We have been transported to a place that is far better than we could ever imagine. It is time to shed our guilt and embrace our new life in Christ.