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How to Feel Better About Yourself

Last Sunday in Psalm 51, I preached on the gift of guilt and shame. Rather than things to be rid of as soon as possible, as our culture might tell us, guilt and shame are gifts from the Holy Spirit meant to lead us to Christ. But there are many ways out of guilt, many ways to prematurely feel better about ourselves, many exits from the highway of shame before we get to Christ.

So, if you want to feel better about yourself–but worse about Jesus–here are some ways to soften your shame:

Focus on people instead of God. While David said “against you, you only have I sinned”, we tend to see other people as the primary plaintiffs in our sin. By ignoring our greatest offense against God (and by comparing ourselves to other sinners rather than his holiness), we wiggle out of our need for Jesus.

Shift blame. We mostly see this in Psalm 51 because David didn’t do it. He took Nathan’s rebuke without flinching, without blaming Bathesheba for bathing outside or his other wives for not satisfying him. How we would be helped if we rejected Adam’s pattern of blaming our sin on everything else that moves.

Don’t learn the Bible; adopt a different standard instead. David cried, “I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” The only way to know our sins is to know God’s Word, which alone can define sin. But if we want to feel better about ourselves, we can adopt the mushy, self-righteous but quite easy morality of our culture’s Three Commandments (1. Don’t kill anyone…unless it’s a baby; 2. Don’t cheat on your girlfriend; 3. Don’t impose your morality on anyone else…except for #1 & 2).

Ignore the feeling of guilt, just wait it out. We often treat guilt like heartburn: grimace, hold your breath. And then keep eating. But even if time erases our feelings of guilt, it does nothing to the fact of our guilt.

Focus on sin and not sinfulness. To feel better about your sin, just repeat the mantra of every pro athlete caught in scandal: “That’s not who I am.” And ignore David’s startling statement: “I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ignore the fact that your sin came from a bottomless pit of sinfulness within you, a pit that theologians used to call original sin. Says Charles Spurgeon: Repentance of the evil act, and not of the evil heart, is like men pumping water out of a leaky vessel, but forgetting to stop the leak. Some would dam up the stream, but leave the fountain still flowing; they would remove the eruption from the skin, but leave the disease in the flesh.

We don’t have to not pretend that guilt and shame are fun. But they are a necessary step to the pursuit of forgiveness and joy in Christ. Like the sinful woman in Luke 7, we will only treasure Jesus to the extent that we understand our need of him.

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