One of the most important things for any believer to understand is how fear and shame impact our identity. Being a part of a culture where these two facets are often demonstrated in an unwillingness to risk because of the possibility of failure and losing face, I understand first-hand how paralyzing this can be and how much it can affect how we live.
I think many who grew up in this kind of environment can envision God sitting on the clouds, waiting to throw thunderbolts at our every sin. When I used to look at my own shortfalls, I could only imagine a God who was frustrated with humanity, especially my humanity. Why wouldn’t He punish me or be disappointed in me when I failed? From a cultural and maybe human perspective, that kind of response would make total sense.
It’s uncanny how we allow fear to seep into our lives. Many of us deal with the fear of failure; the fear of change; the fear of having our sins discovered; the fear of being misunderstood and the fear of judgment.
The truth is, fear often leads to shame and shame can cause us to doubt. We begin to have doubts about God’s love and we begin to doubt God’s grace. Ultimately, we begin to doubt the ability of the gospel to work in our lives.
It’s good to remember that God is no stranger to the response of fear. Throughout Scripture, whenever God revealed Himself directly to His people, either as an angel of the Lord or as the risen Christ, the people’s first reaction was often that of terror. There was something about experiencing the true presence of God that was incredibly revealing and confronting.
So how does God respond to our fear? He says, “Fear not.”
It wasn’t just a simple response from God. He would often explain and give reasons why our fear is unwarranted. From there He would explain why.
In Isaiah 41:10, God meets Isaiah and says to him, “Fear not,” but He doesn’t end there. He goes on to say, “for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
With God, He addresses our fears by supporting us with His presence and power.
One of the things Christians often forget is who and whose we are in Christ. In order to take our gospel identity seriously, we have to stop fearing our inabilities and start believing in God’s ability, that He is with us and that He is for us. Having this view comes from an understanding of who God is and how He sees our circumstances is more expansive than our own view. This has nothing to do with what we can accomplish rather it has everything to do with what we can surrender. Our fear is unnecessary and our shame is unfounded.
It wasn’t until a few years after coming to faith that I fully embraced the reality that God saw me differently than I saw myself. Because I always wanted to hear my earthly father tell me he was proud of me, I had unwittingly transferred that same expectation on my heavenly Father. This led to working harder and harder in order to try and please Him. I always felt as if God was disappointed with everything I did. When I looked at my friends and compared myself to them, I was always falling short. How could God be happy with me when everyone else was better than me? Shame seemed to define me. Because of this, I struggled with the fear that I wasn’t doing enough and begin to value works over pursuing and embracing the truth of God and His grace.
But when we look at Scripture, we see a totally different approach. Scripture never points us to more works as a means to earn God’s approval. When we place our hope in our spiritual achievement, we make our faith more about us than about God. When we do so, we are attempting to change the gospel to fit our lives instead of allowing the truth of the gospel to transform our lives. The focus becomes what we do rather than who we are because of Jesus and who He is.
Scripture is clear to define God with one word and that is love. We read this in 1 John 4:8. While Jesus is indeed Creator, Sustainer, and Judge, love is both the infrastructure and the fuel for each of His other characteristics. God’s nature is holy and righteous. We know this and it is part of the reason we tend to fear God’s judgment. But in God’s love, He poured out His full wrath on Jesus on the cross. There is none left. Jesus bore it all.
So what does this mean for us? It means our identity and worth do not start with us, rather it starts with Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done for us. As Romans 3:25-26 says, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because, in his divine forbearance, he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
So where does this leave us? It means we are now justified by God’s grace. That’s how God views us. He declares us innocent. It’s a new day and a new me. This truth is of primary importance in building a foundation for our lives to live this truth in our lives.
Regardless of our failures, Jesus levels the playing field at the foot of the cross. Our starting point is, “Not guilty” rather than “Not worthy.” I want you to think about that for a while. This is who we are. This is our reality. Anything else is a lie. This is the truth of our identity and how God sees us.
In closing, let me end with a few truths from Scripture that I hope will help us understand who we are and our relationship with Him.
Firstly, we are saved by grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Secondly, we are new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Thirdly, we are righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:24 says, “and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
It is easy to see how we can wrongly view ourselves in terms of the judgment. Yes, we are guilty but because of what Jesus did on the cross, we are now justified spiritually. In other words, God declares us innocent because of the cross. I know it is hard to absorb this reality, especially when we’ve lived most of our lives learning to fear the consequences of sin, but this is what God sees when He looks at us. We are forgiven, cleansed, righteous and because of Jesus, we are now “worthy”.
And when we understand this, when we finally, truly believe this truth, it leads to changes in our attitudes and our behaviours. We will find ourselves wrapped in the gospel that transforms rather than condemns. The result is true appreciation, humility, and life-altering gratitude. So that is my hope and prayer for each of us that we might discover and apply this truth in our lives in order to live the fullness of life God intended for us in Christ Jesus.