Our consciences need to be instructed by the Word of God. For the believer who has trusted Christ as his sin substitute and repented of sin, the guilt of sin has been removed, once for all (Romans 6:23, 8:1). If a person is guilty of sin, repentance is the answer. But if someone isn’t truly guilty or has repented but doesn’t “feel” forgiven for confessed sins, more wisdom is needed in helping. Thankfully, God is not stingy about giving wisdom when we ask Him for it (James 1:5, 6).
False Expectations and Failed Attempts
The perfectionist and legalist both expect to feel joyful and reap peace through their efforts, but when they don’t, they are confused. Meeting man-made standards was never the stipulation for God’s peace, anyway, but we are often deceived. Disillusionment results. They often feel as if God is out to punish them, and they see life’s difficulties as harsh inflictions from a cruel master, rather than the natural reaping patterns (at times), all part of the gracious training and restoring rod of a Good Shepherd (James 1:2, 3; Hebrews 12:6; Psalm 23).
While God’s Word teaches that the way of the transgressor is hard (Proverbs 13:15), the way of the legalistic perfectionist is harder still. Even though their sin is not intentional, it is still rooted in belief contrary to God’s Word and reaps difficulty. The despair they suffer is the natural result of misplaced trust (Galatians 6:7). While legalism is really a man-made yoke, it seems like a God-made yoke, so a person’s view of God and relationship with God are strongly affected.
Just like the victim of sexual abuse who attempts to remove feelings of defilement by showering, sometimes frustrated perfectionists cope by creating a sort of neutralizing ritual or personal penance. Other times, people feeling shame retreat from society and into their own analysis over their problems or dive into all kinds of addictive behaviors.
Lasting Hope and Help
The answer for misplaced shame is not to meet the qualifications of any given man-made religion or cleaning regimen. It isn’t to hide. It isn’t to try to push past the pain or to attempt to numb or distract yourself. It isn’t to deceive yourself into thinking you’re the best thing ever or to try to overcompensate for your deficiencies by looking good or working harder or even serving others. So what is it?
It’s to look into the perfect law of liberty — and to learn to enjoy the freedom that it brings (James 1:25)! It’s to be instructed by God’s Word and to learn to trust it for the answers of life (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s to delight in His law and replace your own false ideas with His true and holy ones (Psalm 19:7-14, 2 Corinthians 10:5).
It’s to surrender your own ideas and let His thoughts permeate your own (Psalm 16:7, 8). It’s to see the true God in all His holiness and love and grow in grace, as a response to that greater vision (Psalm 16: Ephesians 2:4, 5). The natural result will be spiritual fruit such as peace, joy, and hope! (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Continue reading with Part 2.