At 42 years of age, I've made many more than my share of mistakes in life. Big ones, too. I can completely explain everything I've done, every choice I have made, from an academic, intellectual, psychological standpoint. But in reality, the culmination of my sins has resulted in nothing but deep-seated guilt and shame.
Only recently have I begun to release some of that to God. Yes, I knew I was forgiven. Yes, I knew Jesus covered my sins. But I still saw myself as the foolish, guilty, faithless one. I lived in a fear that, as soon as anyone really knew me, they'd put on their "holier than thou" and judge me for my past. I grew up in a church where perfection was the name of the game, and I had certainly fallen far from that.
In his book Awakening, Stovall Weems addresses this. He points out, in italics even, "If you aren't firmly grounded in an understanding of grace and the New Covenant, guilt and shame will take the joy -and therefore the strength- from your relationship with God." When I read that, the words guilt and shame stuck out like neon signs. They were the burdens I bore. And here I was reading that because I didn't have a real understanding of the power of God's grace, it was affecting my potential as a mature follower of Christ. Cognitively, I knew all of this, yet my sins still hung over my mind and my spirit. I had strived to forgive those from my past, and I did; but I couldn't forgive myself.
Later in the same chapter, Weems more clearly explains the New Covenant we have under Christ: "the plan was for a relationship in which we could be declared righteous based not on our behavior but on God's love for us... where we could stand perfected before God, not because of what we do or don't do, but because of his goodness in Christ." It started to sink in. I am perfect before God. Not just forgiven. Not just fallen and picked back up. Not just renewed, though I was certainly all of those things. I am perfect. Perfect because God made it so through his Son Jesus Christ. I can stand blameless of all of my mistakes, all of my sins, because Jesus took them upon himself:
"[God] identified every sin that you and I and everyone who's ever lived or ever will live will commit from the time of birth to death. God called all of these into remembrance. He executed His full wrath, His full punishment, His full displeasure, His full disappointment, His full judgement, and His full condemnation for these sins on His own Son. Only someone as righteous and holy as Jesus could stand in the gap for us, and He did it obediently" (Weems).
Those words in bold are what did if for me. There was release in the realization that God wasn't just passively forgiving me, that it wasn't just "you're my child, and I love you, so it's ok now" in some Prodigal Son-type acceptance of my waywardness. No, there was a price for my sins. There was a dire consequence. Because of my sins, God was angry, displeased with me, disappointed in me. There was punishment exacted, and judgement, and condemnation for my sins. But I wasn't the one who had to pay that price. I couldn't. Jesus, in his perfection and love, was the literal lamb on the altar who was sacrificed for my wrongdoings. The awful price was paid by my loving Savior as he hung, bleeding and dying and sad, on the cross for me.
That image of Christ on the cross became somehow new to me in this moment. The fact that those were my sins he was dying for, because God had called my sins into his remembrance, caused me to see that I really, truly am forgiven. I am perfect. I can stand before God because Jesus did that for me.
Living in the New Covenant means that we as believers can rest in the goodness of God because "our entire relationship with God and the power that comes with it" can only be experienced this way. Guilt and shame aren't part of the New Covenant we have under Christ. Even though that was my past, it isn't my present, and it isn't my future. I'm looking forward to the things God has for me and the way He will work His perfect will through me as I follow Him, free of the heaviness of guilt and shame, as I mature in my walk with Him.