The article below is a reflection by Chuck Bosworth, Pastor for Worship Arts at Cherry Hills Church in Springfield, Illinois. Their pastoral staff went through a coaching and consulting process with Gravity Leadership a couple years ago, and we asked Chuck to write down some of the reflections he shared with us about one of his discipleship groups.
Last night in my discipleship group, several of us offered up similar phrases as we shared our what we were aware of in our lives:
- “I have grace for others but no grace for myself.”
- “I feel I should be further along.”
- “To come back to the same issue for months is the opposite of success.”
- “What I’m doing most days is not worthwhile.”
- “I’m failing in these areas…”
I’m struck by some of words that punctuate these phrases. Words like “failure”, “should”, and “worth.” I know the sting of these thoughts because I’m not a stranger to the pain they cause or the paralysis they bring.
Thoughts like these seem effortless for us. The bad news of defeat and shame permeate our group many evenings. And that calls into question my own sense of worth and competency as a leader.
So as I listen, I vacillate between despair and condemnation of myself out about the spiritual shape these guys are in. But I know that the bad news we feel because of our lack and failure is insufficient to help us reach maturity in Christ.
We can’t use the shame that got us into the mess to get us out of the mess.
The ever-present need for good news
What if Jesus had said to the woman caught in adultery, “You shouldn’t have sinned,” instead of what he did say: “Go and sin no more.” What a difference there is between these two approaches!
- “Go and sin no more” is a benediction, a blessing: a conferring of dignity, freedom, vision, and exhortation for a new life on a shamed woman. It’s good news, but living in the light of it can be hard.
- “You should not have sinned” is shaming, and comes out of (and always leads to) a heart hardened by sin and shame.
“Go and sin no more” is good news that’s sometimes hard to live out. “You shouldn’t have sinned” is bad news that hardens the heart.
Hard or hard-hearted?
Hardness of heart is a much more dangerous place to be than hard circumstances. I’m realizing I need friends to help me discern the difference between hard circumstances and a hardened heart.
Hard is to be expected. And we should be honest about hard. We must not cover it up as if it’s really easy when we’re dying inside. The Psalms are helpful here, always proclaiming the necessity of honest and vulnerable communication with God and his people.
All through Scripture God calls us to love him with all our hearts, souls, minds and bodies (Deut 6:9). Jesus names it as the most important commandment (Matt 22:36-40). Scot McKnight calls this the Jesus Creed. As we are conformed to His image, He is making us new again…this means we become people who are aware and honest about our emotions, bodies, minds and souls…our whole selves.
Our hearts can be hardened either by sin that leads to our living in a constant, toxic state of condemnation and defeat, or by a numbing, a spiritual apathy and lethargy that simply shrugs at evil. The solution to both is the same: we recognize it by the grace of God and face it in his love.
The way of Christ does not shame
The Apostle Paul says that the Christian life is a continual renewing of the mind (Eph 4:17-19). You must not walk in the futility of your mind alienated from the life of God due to your hardness of heart, beware of becoming callous and giving yourself over to sensuality and impurity, which is ultimately idolatry.
Paul goes on to say in this passage that this is not the way you learned Christ. Rather, be renewed in the Spirit of your minds and give no opportunity to the devil.
Paul says that the hope we have in God does not put us to shame (Rom 5:5). Why? Because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
So I’m not condemned because He stood in for me… the love of God is being poured into my heart as I respond to the Spirit by grace… the love of God is being poured into the hearts of the Church worldwide as each responds to His unprecedented act of love, His willingness to offer Himself to reconcile all things.
Go and sin no more!
And so “hard” is to be expected because we have an enemy who wants nothing more than for each of us to live without recognizing that the love of God is being poured into anything. He hates the love of God and the fact that it conquers all.
But worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and glory and power! His death and resurrection assure us that “hardened” can be recognized and recovered from, because it is the very currency in which the enemy traffics. It is the very opposite of the lamb slain for the life of the world.
So… go and sin no more! With no shame!