Gospel Identity: Overcoming Fear and Shame

Your gospel identity is good enough; fear not

One of the things important for any believer to understand is how fear and shame impact our identity.  Whether I could verbalize it or not growing up, too often I envisioned God sitting on the clouds, waiting to throw thunderbolts at my every sin. I looked at my own shortfalls and could only imagine a God who was frustrated with humanity, especially my humanity. Why wouldn’t He punish me or be disappointed in me? That would make total sense.

It’s uncanny how we allow fear to seep in. Fear of failure. Fear of change. Fear of being found out. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of judgment.

Fear leads to shame. Shame causes us to doubt. We begin to doubt God’s love and we begin to doubt God’s grace. Ultimately, we begin to doubt the ability of the gospel to work in our lives.

It’s good to remember that God is no stranger to the response of fear. Throughout Scripture, whenever God revealed Himself directly to His people, either as an angel of the Lord or as the risen Jesus , the people’s first reaction was terror. There was something about experiencing the true presence of God that was incredibly revealing and confronting.

God’s response every time: “Fear not.”

From there He would explain why.

Fear not, for I am with you. Fear not, for I am your God. Fear not, for I will strengthen you and I will help you. Fear not, for I bring you great news. (See Isaiah 41:10, 13; 43:5 NKJV; Luke 2:10 KJV.)

In order to take our gospel identity seriously, we have to stop fearing our inabilities and start believing in God’s ability, that He is with us and that He is for us, and that His view of us and our circumstances is more expansive than ours. This has nothing to do with what we can accomplish; it has everything to do with what we can surrender. Our fear is unnecessary and our shame is unfounded.

It wasn’t until a handful of years ago that I fully embraced the reality that God saw me differently than I saw myself. I always felt as if God were disappointed, and that, compared to others, I was consistently failing Him. Shame seemed to define me. Because of this, I struggled with the fear that I wasn’t doing enough and begin to value works over pursuing and embracing truth.

Scripture never points us to more works as a means to earn God’s approval. Ever. When we place our hope in our spiritual achievement, we make our faith more about us than about God. When we do so, we are attempting to change the gospel to fit our lives instead of allowing the truth of the gospel to change our lives. The focus becomes what we do rather than who we are because of Jesus and who He is.

Scripture is clear to define God with one word: love (1 John 4:8). While He is indeed Creator, Sustainer, and Judge, love is both the infrastructure and the fuel for each of his other characteristics. God’s nature is holy and righteous. We know this. It’s part of the reason we tend to fear God’s judgment.

But in God’s love, He poured out his full wrath on the cross. There is none left. Jesus bore it all.

Thus, our identity does not start with us; it starts with Christ.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of His blood — to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished —He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. — Romans 3:25-26

Where does this leave us? Justified by grace. That’s how God views us. He declares us innocent. It’s a new day and a new me. We must first believe this truth in order to live this truth.

Regardless of our failures, Christ levels the playing field at the foot of the cross. Our starting point is truly, “Not guilty.” Ponder that for a month. This is our reality. Anything else is a lie. The truth of our identity is how God sees us. Here’s what Scripture says about us:

  • We are saved by grace:

God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. — Ephesians 2:9 NLT

  • We are new creations:

Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! — 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

  • We are righteous and holy:

Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. — Ephesians 4:24

  • We are His messengers of reconciliation:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. — 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

It’s easy to see how we can wrongly view ourselves in terms of judgment. We are taught to trust that we are justified spiritually – that God declares us innocent because justice was served on the cross – even though we are incredibly guilty. It’s hard to absorb this reality, especially when we’ve lived most of our lives learning to fear the consequences of sin. But this is what God sees when He looks at us:

Forgiven. Clean. Righteous. Worthy.

And when we understand this, when we finally, truly believe it, our attitudes and behaviors change. We will find ourselves wrapped in the gospel that transforms. The result is true appreciation, humility, and life-altering gratitude.

Watch the Video for A Mile Wide

Excerpted with permission from A Mile Wide: Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker, copyright Brandon Hatmaker.

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Your Turn

Do you long for a deeper faith? A richer walk with the Lord? Start with receiving His view of who we are — loved, forgiven, clean! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about overcoming fear and shame to discover our gospel identity! ~ Devotionals Daily

A Mile Wide

A Mile Wide
Brandon Hatmaker
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Brandon Hatmaker

Brandon Hatmaker is pastor of Austin New Church (ANC), co-founder of Restore Austin, and a missional strategist with Missio (www.missio.us). After years of serving in the megachurch, Brandon and his wife, Jen, refocused their ministry on church planting and mobilizing the church to meet the needs of the poor and marginalized. Together, ANC and Restore Austin have developed a unique network of churches and non-profits that serve in a collective effort to impact their city and world.

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