“Godly sorrow brings repentance
that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,
but worldly sorrow brings death.”
(2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV)

I recently heard a former drug addict preach an inspiring sermon at my church. One of the things Rick Casto, now a Teen Challenge director, said really struck me: “Guilt says, ‘I’ve done wrong.’ Shame says, ‘I AM wrong.’”

I couldn’t help but think of the many broken men and women I have ministered to and worked with through the years. So many who have done bad things—or have had bad things done to them—suffer with a deep-seated feeling of shame and condemnation. Quite frequently, the shame they feel because of their sin leads to still more sin and shame.

For example, someone who is abused or sexually exploited feels dirty and unworthy, so he/she consumes alcohol or drugs to deaden the pain. More often than not, the loss of self-control experienced under the influence of these substances leads to still more exploitation or outlandish behavior and its accompanying guilt and shame. On and on the cycle goes, all too frequently ending in suicide or death. The person feels unworthy of genuine love or happiness—unworthy even of life itself. They despair, despond and die—either by inches or all at once.

Some well-meaning organizations and individuals only add to the problem. Consider how Alcoholics Anonymous requires each participant to identify him/herself by saying, “Hi, I’m ____, and I’m an alcoholic.” Even if that person has not touched a drop of liquor for decades, they still identify themselves as such. It’s like their addiction is a disease for which there may be treatment, but no real cure. It’s no wonder that these people often relapse.

While it is important to admit one has a problem to begin with, you should not continue to rehash that shortcoming over and over again ad infinitum, once it has been brought out in the open and dealt with. In other words: It is one thing to identify one’s sin, but we are not to identify ourselves AS our sin.

In the New English Translation, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

What a downer! There aren’t many sins left out of this list. It makes one wonder whether anyone has a shot at heaven.

But in the New King James Version, verse 11 counters with this message of hope: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” The Apostle Paul was saying that those of us who have had our record of wrongs erased through faith in Jesus Christ can not only look forward to life eternal, but we no longer need identify ourselves according to our sins!

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, he put it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I am not who I used to be. That person—that addict, that sinner, that abuser or whatever—does not exist anymore. Jesus took that old identity from me and nailed it to the cross, when He was crucified for my sins in my place.

I would never advocate not calling sin SIN. People cannot come under conviction if they never learn that there is a standard of behavior to which we are called. That’s why the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Old Testament Law were given—to convict people concerning their sin. When sin is defined by the Law, then we know that we have broken it. Once we know we have done wrong, and we hear about the penalty (death), which we deserve, then we realize we need someone to rescue us from that sin and its penalty.

Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit’s job was to make mankind aware of their guilt regarding God’s Law. In John 16:8, we read: “when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” As we saw in 2 Corinthians 7:10 above, Jesus’ intention is not to impose the kind of overwhelming shame, or “worldly sorrow,” that leads to depression and death. The “Godly sorrow” the Holy Spirit inspires “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” Unlike shame—which drives us away from God and others—conviction draws us toward God, away from our sin, and into fellowship with others who have also been freed from sin (c.f.—1 John 1:3-7). 

Romans 8:1-2 confirms that guilt and shame are no longer a part of the life of an individual who belongs to and walks with Christ by His Spirit.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

Every individual on this planet has sinned and is in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23). However, once we have received the gift of salvation Christ offers, then we need no longer identify ourselves as sinners. We are no longer shame-filled slaves of unrighteousness. Instead, we are glorious light-filled saints and children of God.

Don’t let sin or shame define you any longer. Don’t identify yourself as an addict, a liar, or whatever you once were. Call yourself what God calls you:

  • His child (John 1:12, Ephesians 1:5)
  • Friend (John 15:15)
  • Saint (Ephesians 1:1)
  • Masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Ambassador of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Your wrongs have been removed, so you are right with God. Let that sink into your heart and transform your life forever!

(Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

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