If you were absolutely free to do whatever pleases you, how would you exercise your freedom?
I think that the answer each of us gives to this question is helpful in illuminating the desires that lie at the very heart of our being. It helps to expose who or what functionally sits enthroned at the center of our lives, the object or subject around which our whole world revolves.
What would my answer be? To be frank, it exposes a dark, shameful side of me that I would not want anyone to know about. To this day, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully prepared or even comfortable with confessing the full extent of my struggle to another person. My gut-feeling on this is that I’m the norm, rather than the exception. We all have deep, dark secret sins and shames that we don’t want exposed to others. To compound my shame, I am aware that I am very much responsible for my darkest sins. There was no unintentional decline into sin. I chose it. I embraced it. There are no excuses.
We are corrupted to the core. Our desires are corrupted and fallen. And they manifest themselves in sinful choices. Sometimes these leave visible scars that many can see, with the guilt and shame of it all hanging like heavy, dark clouds over us. More often than not, the scars are invisible, and our struggle with the guilt and shame of it all is internal.
For those in Christ, the struggle can be intensified. Though we are reminded over and over again of who we are – that is, that we have been adopted as children of God, and that new life runs through our veins, enabling us to live up to our true identity as children of a holy Father – it does nothing to help us. We already know these things, and we appreciate these truths, and yet they still do not aid us in our struggle with the guilt and shame of our sins. And so we push on dutifully as Christians. Though there are genuine moments of true delight in our calling and identity, the dark clouds of guilt and shame continue to rumble overhead and cast a deep and pervasive gloom over our lives.
To those of you who identify with what I’ve written above, I hope you open your heart to listen to what God has to say to one like you:
I love you.
I loved you before the foundation of the world. I loved you before you were conceived. I loved you as you were knitted together in your mother’s womb. I loved you the day you were delivered into this world. I loved you as you took your first steps. I loved you before you could even utter a word. I loved you as you grew up.
And I loved you even when you turned your back on me. I loved you even as you descended into the dark pit of your sin. I loved you when your guilt and shame hung like dark clouds over your soul.
And so I loved you by sending my Son Jesus. I loved you when He died for you on the cross. He loved you by bearing all your guilt and shame there. I loved you when I accepted his sacrifice and forgave all your sins against me. They are removed from me as far as the east is from the west. I loved you when I adopted you as my child.
I love you now in the glory of your humility, with all your scars and struggles with your guilt and shame. I love you as you try to please me. I love you even when your best attempts to do so fall short. I will love you no matter what happens to you in this life. I will always love you in life and in death, till the end of days and for all eternity.
Why – you may ask – why set your love on such a miserable creature like me?
Because I want to. My love is freely given. I love you because I love you. Even though you were the unloveliest thing in the universe, even when you were still my enemy, I loved you. If you have any doubt, then remember that while you were my enemy, I gave you the most precious thing to me in all the universe – my Son.
So you never need to fear losing my love, because it is given out of my own free will, and not in the least for any quality I see in you. If you have any further doubt that I might change my mind, remember this: if I have given you the one who is most precious to me, why will I hold anything else back? In fact, in giving you my Son, I have given along with him all things.
Do you understand why and how much I love you, my child?
I’m afraid I don’t fully understand it still.
A good and honest answer. Then do you believe I love you?
God’s answer to the question I posed at the start is this: I am absolutely free to do whatever I please to do, and I have freely chosen to set my love on you. While we would exercise our freedom for sinful and selfish ends, he has always exercised his freedom in love to us, from eternity past to eternity future. We are chosen, called, made right, forgiven, reconciled, adopted as his children and will share in God’s glory. And so in the present, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Are you struggling with guilt and shame? Then know that God has always loved you, loves you now, and will always love you – not because of who you were, are or will be, but because of who he is. He doesn’t ask that you first fully understand his love. God’s first and most important question to you is whether you believe that he loves you. If you do, then come to him today and find the rest you seek in his loving arms.