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A Righteousness by Faith #29: Why we don’t have to live with shame

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5

Few of you who read this have not experienced a sense of shame sometime in your life. You may live with it every day, for that matter, always feeling disappointed with the person you are. You never will get it right. You will always fall short. Even your successes are short lived moments of happiness followed by gnawing awareness that you will never measure up.

What makes this worse for us is the lie that God joins us in this ritual of self-censure. He doesn’t, but a lot of us think He does. Why is God’s view of us so different from our own?

Partly because we view ourselves through the lens of the Fall instead of the Creation. We are a mess. We see our mess. We focus on our mess. We magnify our mess. Then we feel overwhelmed by our messiness.

Some teachers, seeking to restore some balance to our inner peace, tell us that God believes in us, so we can believe in ourselves. But this is not the hope of which Paul is reminding us in this passage. Hope does not put us to shame because it is rooted in God’s glory, not ours. Nothing we essentially are is the product of the Fall. God created us. Not with the left over parts that He found in the box after assembling everything else. He made us in His image. He put His personal stamp on us. We were made to reflect His glory from the outset.

What’s more, God does not believe in you or me. We will mess up because we have been affected by the Fall. We cannot be trusted to hold it together long enough to limp into eternity. No, God believes in Himself and what He is able to do through the Spirit in our lives. This is the hope which is drawing us toward living out a righteousness by faith.

Paul wanted the Roman church to understand this truth. What held Jews and Gentiles to this way of righteousness was not the fear of condemnation. Shame will not produce righteous behavior or promises that ‘next time we will do better.’ It is the pouring out of God’s love that will draw us to righteous living.

The word meaning ‘poured out’ is directly related to Joel’s prophecy about God lavishing the Holy Spirit on His people in the last days. Peter quoted it during his sermon at Pentecost—“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” The result would be visions, dreams, and prophecy so that men and women would call on the name of the Lord.

But Paul points to something more.—that, through the Spirit, our hearts will be filled with God’s love. That we will be secure in His ‘agape’. Agape, as I have mentioned before, is a different kind of love than what we expect from others in our world. Agape is not a friendship love or family love or the love of a lover. These three kinds of love all had their own defining word in Paul’s day. But God chose to reveal His love through the word ‘agape’—the love given by the will of the lover. This lover will not be put off by rejection or the mess found in the life of the one He loves. His love is beyond belief, never dependent on our perfection.

I learned the reality of this much later in life than I wish I had. I often found myself licking self-inflicted wounds. I mourned my life failures with a passion. During one emotionally wrenching session, while I was again reminding myself how true Satan’s lie about me was, the Spirit broke into my circular conversation. He reminded me that God loved me beyond my brokenness, even in the middle of my pity party. My recitation of my shame stopped cold and I was flooded with relief. Yes, that was it. God’s love for me trumped what the Fall had done to me. I have not been the same since.

It is not our shame but God’s love that determines who we are. His love is the evidence of the hope that we will live out a righteousness by faith, even when we believe we cannot hold on as we persevere through the sufferings of life. His love has already been poured out. It will not be taken away. It shows us how much we are valued by God. It puts shame to death.

-Steve Smith