Helping college age people work through feelings of shame and guilt is not infrequent nor is it a small task. As they are discovering who they are, they inevitably discover they’re not who they desire to be – at least in ways. But we can find ourselves in the same place as well. Shame and guilt over past sin or current struggles can paralyze us….completely. We feel separated from God, the people of God and the things of God.
We have to understand, though, that shame creeps in because we wrongly identify ourselves in sinful actions/tendency/behavior.
At it’s core this misplacement of our identity is because we view ourselves as bodies that have a soul versus a soul that has a body. It may seem like a matter of semantics, but it’s not at all. It’s an entirely different identity. If we view ourselves as a body that continues to sin and do what it ought not – cf. Romans 7:18 – we inevitably end with feelings of shame and guilt. However, if we view ourselves biblically and through Christ as a soul that has been made new, our identity is beyond our fleshly actions. This is important to understand because our identity then is not found in sin, but instead in who God has made us to be spiritually (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14).
Viewing himself as a soul that struggles with fleshly issues is exactly what led to Paul being able to separate his identity from his sinful actions. Paul knows that nothing good dwells in his flesh (Romans 7:18), but it’s clear that he doesn’t identify himself in his flesh:
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. _Romans 7:20
This separation of identity, my friends, is critical to battling the shame and guilt we often deal with. This might be a good point to bring up with someone you meet with today. Or, it might just be for you. Either way, I’d like to remind you that you are a soul (i.e. new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17) that has a body. It doesn’t give us an excuse to sin (Romans 6:15). In fact, a proper understanding of grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and points us toward godliness (Titus 2:11-14). But it does give us freedom from shame and guilt and condemnation (Romans 8:1!!!!).