Freedom Stories are back, sweet sisters! After a summer of refreshing and refining on the focus of this space, I wanted to be intentional about sharing stories that align with our monthly themes. This month, as we’ve been learning about shame I knew we needed a testimony of someone set free from shame and self-condemnation. Immediately, Rebekah came to mind. This godly woman is a writer, podcaster, and all around encouraging person of faith. She frequently encourages me through her own story, which she shares some of here. I pray her words and God’s grace alive in her would encourage YOU today, friend!
This is Rebekah’s Freedom Story.
I grew up in the church, the granddaughter of the sound guy of the church we were attending, and even had my birth announced from the baptistry the Sunday I was born. I was saved at the age of 8 and actively involved in children’s choir, youth choir, church musicals at Christmas time, Bible drill, and mission trips.
But I didn’t truly know the gospel. Not like I do today.
When I was 14, my family and I became involved in a Christian ministry that, looking back, was extremely legalistic. I, as a bibliophile and someone who thirsted for theological knowledge, was ripe for the picking and quickly fell headlong into their very legalistic teachings on God’s supposed expectations for His daughters. I was also ripe for the picking in terms of the shame that is regularly heaped onto the shoulders of legalistic people everywhere.
In the two years leading up to this new season of my life, I had attended youth summer camp with our church’s youth group and experienced those proverbial mountain-top experiences. I returned from youth camp determined to be in my Bible every single day. But what happened both years was that I was good about that for maybe a week. Then I would miss one day of Bible reading, that one day would turn into two, and before I knew it I was right back where I started – only reading the Bible on Sundays at church.
I experienced so much shame as a result of this. Over and over, I would determine to do better, only to “slip up” yet again. I got to the point where I thought it was hopeless – I just could not stick to my commitment of having a daily quiet time, no matter what I did.
It was this shame that my legalistic season followed on the heels of. To add to that shame and self-condemnation were the lies of legalism which will tell you that unless you are dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s, then God will be displeased with you. I used to have this subconscious view of God as Him being up in heaven with His proverbial arms crossed, a scowl on His face, as He looked down on me in displeasure any time I fell. In all my efforts to be perfect, I was, in essence, actually drifting further and further away from God’s true heart as my wrong view of God led to my not wanting to be near Him.
The thing about legalism is that, with it, comes a terribly judgmental heart. You adhere to legalistic teachings and then begin to look down on yourself and everyone else who does not live up to them.
The result was that, in my feelings of shame and self-condemnation, I began to view others through that same lens, and put feelings of guilt and shame over onto them as well. It got so bad that I began to think that I could not even interact with, let alone befriend, people who were different than me. I didn’t have any friends who weren’t Christian, let alone friends who were of a differing political viewpoint or lifestyle than myself. What I did not understand is that God’s love is unconditional, and that that meant that my love for others could be, as well – regardless of what viewpoint they held to.
Loving someone does not at all mean you agree with or approve of every single last decision they make or thing they do. But, in all my feelings of shame, I just could not grasp that.
In my head I knew the “Romans road” gospel. I could have shared that presentation in my sleep, but I was not living and walking in light of its truths and implications. I was viewing the gospel as something that was merely good for my eternity, not so much for my here-and-now life.
But that, friends, is the reality of the gospel: it does have amazing implications for our eternal destination, but it is meant to make a difference in our everyday lives, too! It is meant to free us from shame, guilt, condemnation, and wrath. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, yes, but He never condemns us. We are sinners, yes, but Christ took our guilt upon Himself on the cross, and we have no business still carrying it around as a burden strapped to our backs.
I understand this now, but I didn’t then. The Lord had to take me on a journey to, bit by bit, and little by little, come to a full-orbed understanding of the implications of the gospel. And what He used to do that was Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:14-8:1.
I had been familiar with Romans 8:1 (Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,) for some time. But I had never paid any attention before to the context of this verse, which led me to have the mistaken idea that perhaps the lack of condemnation was dependent upon me doing everything I was supposed to and nothing that I wasn’t. As soon as I backed up and first paid attention to Romans 7, however, this mistaken idea was totally shattered!
At the end of Romans 7, Paul is lamenting his ongoing struggle with sin. He is sharing with the believers in Rome that he knows what he should be doing, and he knows what he should not be doing. And yet, it is those very things he shouldn’t be doing which he is doing. And those things he should be doing? Yeah, he isn’t exactly doing those. And yet! There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
Praise God, amen? This realization freed me up in more ways than I can even begin to count. I no longer walked in shame and condemnation, because I knew that any shame and condemnation I was feeling were coming from the enemy and were a slap to Christ’s face. I began to grow in my intimacy with God, because I no longer felt like cowering in a corner so that a vengeful God wouldn’t find me and scowl down at me. Instead, I was dancing in His grace, resting in His love, and relishing His mercy. I was at peace, knowing I was forevermore at peace with God.
Do I still sin? Of course I do! Does the Lord still discipline me for that? Yes, as any loving Father would! But I no longer despair when that happens. I no longer mourn in the same way, thinking I have disappointed God. Because you know what? It is absolutely impossible to disappoint Him! We sadden Him when we sin, yes, because He wants what is best for us and sin just doesn’t make the cut. But He isn’t disappointed. In order to be disappointed, He would have to have high expectations of us that we could disappoint. But He doesn’t! Psalm 103:14 says, “For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.”
The freeing truth is that God is not shocked or disappointed when we sin. He knows full well the sin nature with which we all still struggle on a daily basis. And when it happens again, and we do something we know we shouldn’t (or don’t do something we know we should!), He is still there to love us, pick us back up, and help us walk the right path again.
Friend, I don’t know what part shame may have been playing in your story. But I have a feeling it is there somewhere. And to you, I would share Paul’s beautiful words in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Embrace your freedom, friend! Christ died so that you could have it. Lay down the shame, guilt, and condemnation, and pick up Christ’s freedom, love, and grace instead. Be free, sister, as Christ already made you to be!
Rebekah Hargraves is a wife, mama of two littles, blogger, podcaster, and author whose passion is to edify, equip, and encourage women in their journey of Biblical womanhood, particularly with an emphasis on the gospel and its implications for everyday life. Rebekah‘s first book, “Lies Moms Believe (And How the Gospel Refutes Them)” released the fall of 2017, and the “Lies Moms Believe” Companion Bible Study came out March 30, 2018. You can find Rebekah on her website, Hargraves Home and Hearth, on Instagram, or on iTunes via The Home and Hearth podcast.
P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check out 35+ stories of other inspiring women like Rebekah here.