by  Kathleen Petersen

Not long ago, the secular counseling profession seemed to have solid answers concerning release from personal shame and guilt. Christian counselors used some of those methods and celebrated when their clients were freed from unnecessary anguish. But the celebration now seems premature. Waves of popular culture influencers are rapidly creating new definitions of irredeemable wrongdoing. Their fiery torches, lit on social media, seek and consume too many minds and hearts.

Help us Lord Jesus! As conscientious, caring Christians, we desperately need a healthy approach to facing our past transgressions — those transgressions that have caused lasting damage.

Providentially, we have the confessions of the Apostle Paul to give us insight. During his trial in Acts 22:3-21, he gave a lengthy account of his past which included his religious inheritance, religious accomplishments, and religious sins. These two verses sum up the shameful behavior impossible to “live down”
in his life. 

“As I was traveling and approaching Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Acts 22:6-7 CSB

What Paul had viewed as the highest service to God, arranging for severe punishments for Jesus’ followers, was, in fact, persecution of his own Messiah. His later testimony reveals he never evaluated those heinous acts lightly. Here he describes his shame in raw terms:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
I Timothy 1:15 CSB

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “shame” this way:

A painful sensation excited by a consciousness of guilt, or of having done something which injures reputation; or by that of which nature or modesty prompts us to conceal.

So, our human tendency is to hide destructive past behaviors. 

How did Paul meet this challenge after recognizing he had inflicted lasting harm on so many? Although Paul realized he could never live down those harmful and murderous acts that he sometimes agonized over the memory of, he regularly turned those recollections into deep appreciation of forgiveness granted him by the death of Jesus. Here’s an expression of the Scriptural cure for shame:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12;1-2 CSB

In Acts 2:16 Ananias gives Paul the key to freedom from shame:

Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

In Acts 22:19-21 Paul records a pivotal conversation he had with the risen Jesus: 

But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in you imprisoned and beaten. And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I stood there giving approval and guarding the clothes of those who killed him.’

He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles. Acts 22:19-21 CSB *

This conversation outlines a time honored Scriptural practice. Once you have turned your back on sinful behavior that has damaged others, don’t try to live it down, wallow in it, or over apologize (although apologies and reconciliation may be necessary). Move forward and serve him with all your heart. 

Let God speak to you as you listen to one of these beautiful reminders. the Oslo Gospel Choir or The Power of the Cross {Grab your guitar, to strum along.}

* Although Paul immediately testified to many about his dramatic conversion experience, he was not sent on his first missionary journey to the Gentiles until he had prepared for at least another 14 years. 

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