Reflections by John Stell June 2022
Sin can have a powerful sway over our ability to serve God and others in this life. At the beginning of our lives, we are all given an innate (though incomplete) understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. When we sin, most of us experience a certain level of guilt. But it is what happens afterward that can cause even more devastating effects. If we experience shame after we sin, it starts to poison our sense of who God made us. Shame tied to sin can cause spiritual paralysis and impotence.
If guilt begins to transform into shame, we may begin to find it difficult if not impossible to reconcile the expectations of a true Christian faith that asks us to sacrifice, while at the same time balancing a healthy (and humble) sense of self. The enemy and his demons can then use our own failures and mistakes as potent weapons against us by destroying and dismantling us with our own inner thoughts and dialogue.
Humility is absolutely necessary to be a follower of Christ, but shame and despair are not. We must learn to fight against shame and its associated paralysis, as to do otherwise render us useless in God’s Hands. Time and again, God has proven that even the most sinful souls can be reshaped into pillars of the Church, examples from which to learn and abide by.
Many of us may have felt the weight of our past sins and/or our general unworthiness preventing us from doing greater works for the Glory of God. The voices of our inner demons may tell us we could never be forgiven, or that our life could never be used to glorify God because of our past. “I’m not good enough to do that.” Or maybe it’s, “What would people think if they knew who I really am and what I’ve done?” Or perhaps, “I’m not a saint like the ones in church. How could God possibly use me?” But in the end, these are all meaningless when compared with the Mercy of God. How easily we forget that the Grace of God is sufficient for all, even the so-called worst of us.
This means then, that our job is to obey. I prefer to think of it like this: I am not and will never be worthy, but God IS worthy. He is worthy of my worship and service to Him—it is the least that any of us can do to show our gratitude for His Mercy and Love. Secondly, He is worthy in that perhaps my sins are overwhelming to me, but His Grace is sufficient for me and for all of us. He is not bound by our weaknesses, but He instead chooses to use our weakness to prove a point: God can do the impossible and use whomever He chooses to do His Work and His Will, for His Glory.
So in the end it has very little to do with us, if we can only but find the courage to move out of God’s way. God chooses the broken and the unassuming to work great teachings and miracles in the world. If we have brought our sins before Him in confession and truly repented, then God cares nothing about our past—what He sees is our potential in the here and now, IF we allow Him to use our entire being for His Glory despite our unworthiness.
What we must remember is that, “Christ makes ALL things new.” That includes us. I can say from experience that it is a struggle for me to look beyond my past sins and evil deeds. Given to dwell on such thoughts for any length of time, I certainly find myself being paralyzed. And yet, God demands that if we truly want to follow Him, we will trust in His Mercy and find the strength to obey Him and do the work He has asked us to do. Our hope should always be anchored within the words that the Orthodox Church espouses with such frequency: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is a reminder that we must always maintain humility, while at the same time never allowing our past to overshadow the greatness of God’s Mercy.