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This article continues the discussion on how we deal with sin, guilt, and shame. Find the first part of this series here.

In our world today (and perhaps in humanity in general) we tend to confuse results with character. We tend to admire the folks who are “making it” and shake our heads at those who don’t. This mode of judgment turns inward on ourselves, too.

Am I failing at what I set out to do? Am I feeling not-awesome? “I’m bad.”

Am I achieving success? Are things going great? “I’m amazing.”

We carry guilt and shame (or else self-justification and pride) over these self-assessments, often ignoring an objective moral standard in favor of our own or society’s ideas about “success” and what we should be, do, or achieve.

Success failure God's standard freedom sin problem

This became shockingly evident to me when I read the results of a Barna poll from 2012. When Christian women were asked to choose what they struggle with the most, they rather staggeringly cited the modern “sins” of disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%), with traditional biblical sins like anger, selfishness, envy, and lust ranking much, much lower.

For the majority of respondents, it would seem their self-evaluations are guided more by extra-biblical categories than by scripture.

This focus on failures that undermine our personal success rather than sins as defined by God means our emotional heap of guilt and shame is often clouded, confused, false, or misplaced. And it means our confidence is on rocky ground, as well.

It’s no wonder women-focused memes often try to pick us up out of our pit of despair by telling us we’re beautiful and amazing and enough. That we can do it. Just follow this five step plan.

But these memes operate in the same muddied realm as our misguided guilt and shame.

To really be free from the disorienting weight we carry, we need clarity not congratulations, true relief not trite reassurance.

Heaping praise on ourselves usually just creates further shame and dissonance when we inevitably fail again.

Clarity comes when we look to a higher court of opinion than the flighty world around us or our fickle heart within us.

We feel weighed down with guilt, shame, and anxiety. Then someone tries to talk to us about our sin, our moral failings. What?! “I’m beating myself up enough already, thankyouverymuch.” In the moment, it feels better to talk about our struggles in non-moral/non-sinful terms. We assume that to go in that direction is an attack on our person, a hindrance to our well-being and self-esteem.

But what we don’t realize is that the world and our own hearts are harsh and inconsistent taskmasters. And our heavenly Father, who calls us to a higher standard, also grants us mercy and compassion. And in Jesus, we see that our God, who “will not break a bruised reed,” calls the weary to come to Him for rest and to find that His “yoke is easy and [His] burden is light.” (See Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, and Matthew 11:28-30.)

You see, our God is specific enough about actual sin, actual spiritual and moral failing, that we can know right from wrong–what pleases Him and what doesn’t. His commands have much more to do with love and faithfulness than with getting results or being productive. God’s call to righteousness is very different from the world’s call to awesomeness. The world focuses on outcomes, but God is most concerned with the substance of our daily living.

By submitting to what God’s word says is right, we can see real sin and guilt more accurately and deal with it promptly, freeing our conscience from a lot of weight and confusion–and freeing us to pursue faithfulness while trusting the outcomes to God.

If we allow our general feelings of success and failure to rule, either fearing others’ or our own scrutinizing judgment rather than fearing God, we will find an ever-present cycle of self-exaltation and self-condemnation. A crazy cycle that doesn’t bring the peace that God intends when He calls us to humble ourselves, confessing and turning from sin, and resting with confidence in the righteous Savior Jesus.

Other posts in this series:

Sorting through Our Sin, Guilt, and Shame