I remember the fear I felt about joining my first small group of men fighting pornography and lustful thoughts. I was battling shame at a deep level and my natural instinct was to hide and run from the shame. I was willing to do anything to find freedom, so long as I didn’t have to share my struggle with others. However, I had reached a point where I had tried everything else and I knew that I needed help outside of myself so I signed up for an online recovery group; under the name “Bob Hope”, because there was no way I could use my real name. What if people I knew found out? What would they think of me? What would they say about me? All of the familiar feelings of shame and guilt around this sin began to surface yet again.
Fast forward a couple of years in my journey of fighting lust and I am not going to lie and say that lust is no longer an issue in my life, because I still battle the sin on a daily basis, but through vulnerability and honesty with others I have found a great deal of freedom from the sin. I am now a part of an online group of pastors where I share my actual real name publicly and each week I ignore my instinct to run and instead share openly about my thought life and other actions that I believe lead me away from the freedom I desire. What’s interesting is that I spent years fighting lust alone, full of guilt and shame with no success. Why? Because, shame can’t help you.
You might be fighting lust or something completely different, but the truth is we are all seeking freedom from something. Unless you are Jesus of Nazareth, you struggle with some kind of unwanted behavior; some kind of sin. You may be an expert in hiding that sin from others - but no matter how well you hide it from others, you can’t hide it from yourself and God. It will eventually destroy you and hurt those around you. That is what sin does. It kills things. You know that and I know that, so why do we avoid the things we need to do to truly find freedom? Shame.
Bottom line: Shame doesn’t work, because it is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.
To repent means to “change direction”. As a kid who grew up in the church, I was taught that the best way to change was to “try harder” or “fear the consequences” of sin more. Well meaning people, would try to guilt, shame or intimidate me into more desirable or “godly” behaviors. It would go something like this below. (Charts make everything better, right?)
Now, I am not saying that these things said to me weren’t true. And by the way, I have said all these things to others at points in my life also, so don’t feel bad if you have said them to someone. In fact, most of the underlying truths in those statements are indeed true, but they also aren’t effective in helping people find true transformative change in their lives. I didn’t, and don’t need, truth that causes me to hate myself more, I need truth that is effective to truly change me. What is that truth? The grace, love and mercy as seen in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His perfect life, atoning death, powerful resurrection, His Spirit sent to empower my life and His promise of a future glorious hope free of the presence of sin. It is this kindness that leads to actual repentance.
Don’t believe me? Take it up with the Apostle Paul…
Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? - Romans 2:4 (CSB)
Or how about here?
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship - Romans 12:1 (CSB)
Okay, what about Jesus Himself?
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” - Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG - Paraphrase)
You see it is His grace and love that motivates us to truly change. When we live in His acceptance we desire to change because we want to, not because we are afraid of consequences or shamed into pleasing others.
It’s kind of like when you see a cop on the road. You probably hit the brakes and drive the speed limit for the next few miles out of fear, but then 15 minutes later you are back at it - driving 70 in 55. Why? Because you didn’t really want to change the way you were driving, you did it because you were afraid. As Christians, we are experts at playing the role of cops, scaring or shaming people into short-lived fear based change. But, what people really need is Gospel truth that will lead to an actual desire to change. So, let's use the same chart above, but this time we’ll use Gospel truths and the better transformative result.
My hope is that this would begin to change your perspective on how the Good News of Jesus truly leads to transformation. We often think of Jesus as our “get you out of Hell” card. We think, “He saves us from hell, but we are supposed to work really hard to stop sinning now so He doesn’t change His mind.” In reality, Jesus is more interested in “getting the hell out of you”. It is His grace that not only saves us from a future penalty for sin, but also gives us power over present sin. This has been transformative in the way I counsel people as a pastor. I no longer attempt to guilt or fear people into change. Instead, I lead the way with kindness and love - as Jesus has with me. I used to think that this approach would lead to people sinning more, but in reality it leads them to feel safe which leads them to trust the Spirit and call out for help.
It has also been transformative in my own life. As I begin to allow the truth of the Gospel to sink deeper and deeper into my heart, I found that perfect love does indeed drive out fear. Eventually, I dropped the name “Bob Hope” and leaned completely into my most shameful sins. I found a group of brothers who were willing to love me where I was and share the good news of Jesus with me over and over again. The result? I am truly for the first time in my life finding authentic and lasting change. That same power and change is available to you if you will repent from the lies that say you aren’t enough and believe the truth that Jesus has done it all for you and given you all that you need to overcome anything you face.
There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. - 1 John 4:18 (CSB)