My seventh grade math test arrived on my desk with a thud. I knew it would be covered in red ink since I didn’t have a clue about how to solve most of the problems. Sure enough the red abounded, but it was much, much worse. At the top of the paper was a big fat zero with the words “See me!” written next to it. My heart began to race and both legs bounced up and down (the most obvious signal of my nervousness).
I hated that class. The teacher terrified me. For the entire year she maintained the “don’t smile for the first two weeks” classroom management tip. She scowled if you wiggled, moaned if you asked a question, and as for warmth and compassion – my dog has more in her cold nose than she did in her whole body. Those 50 minutes with her made me want to stay home. I’m sure she was teaching everything correctly. On second thought, I’m not really sure at all, but I do know my fear of her interfered with my success.
As soon as all the papers were handed out, Miss Mean Face asked to see those whose paper bore the special invitation. With a rock sitting on top of my heart, I and one other girl approached her desk in front of the whole class for the ridicule I felt coming. I expected to be reamed out for not getting a single answer correct, but that wasn’t why we’d been summoned. That wasn’t why I had a zero. It seemed we had similar wrong answers. We were being accused of cheating – in front of the whole class!
There is something courageous and freeing that begins to brew within the heart of the innocent. I felt it simmering quickly and then rising to full boil. I became offended – not in a self-righteous way, but rather because I was confident I wasn’t guilty. You might accuse me of poor math calculations. You might even accuse me of not turning in a homework assignment, but to accuse me of cheating crossed the line. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Well, my heart most certainly overflowed out of my mouth that day. This timid little math student raised her shame-hung head and proclaimed, “I did not cheat! I don’t know how to do the problems, but I didn’t cheat!” To which Miss Mean Face responded, “Well then, show me how you got your answer!” I showed her, and she said, “That’s not how you do that.” With my courage on rapid-boil, I replied, “And that’s the problem! I don’t know how to do it. But, I DID NOT cheat.” She re-graded my test, and I got a little bit better than a zero. But more importantly, I gained her respect. She actually came to my desk a time or two to see how I was doing – a miracle I’m sure. I still never saw her smile, but she taught me a most valuable lesson. Innocence makes us courageous and free.
There are times when we are guilty. Guilt is healthy when it causes us to see our mistakes, and therefore gives us a chance to make things right again. Guilt comes from what we do, not who we are. That is shame. When we allow our self-talk or others’ opinions to cause us to feel unworthy, stupid, unloved, ugly, or useless, we have bought in to Satan’s shame game. We allow his lies to bully us into depression, substance abuse, perfectionism, or yes, even legalism. Shamed people consistently feel the need to either withdraw and escape or to prove themselves.
Adam and Eve knew shame the moment they chose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than remaining innocent within God’s loving care. Throughout the Old Testament men and women sought to do all they could to get back into God’s good graces. They viewed God as a scowling, moaning Mr. Mean Face whose red pen eagerly scrawled “Not Good Enough” across their every effort to please Him. God loved them too much to let them keep thinking that way.
Then came Jesus. His blood covered all our sins, and that’s a red I’ve fallen in love with. Every mistake you or I have ever made or will make can be covered when we fall in love with Jesus and truly believe that the Tree of Life’s abundant grace is for us. That’s a promise from the One who made you: “Whoever believes in [the Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18) Confidence in our innocence allows us to stand against the father of lies to courageously declare, “I AM INNOCENT! Now, leave me alone, Satan!”
If I could reach through this screen right now, I’d hold your face in my hands and say, “Give up trying to earn your way, Christian, and watch what God can do through you! Give up, non-Christian, because God is calling you to His desk – not to point an accusing finger, but to bless you with freedom in front of the whole world. He knows you inside and out, and He ONLY wants good things for you. Each one of you is His special possession. Faith in Him declares you innocent and covers your mistakes with the indelible, blood of Jesus. And that, my friend, is a very good thing! So, be courageous! Go! Run, skip, and play in His goodness! Others will see your joy and you will become contagious. When they ask what’s gotten in to you, raise that head of yours, and then declare the praises of the One who brought you out of darkness into His wonderful light! It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Come back next week for a few snapshots of freedom. Thanks for traveling down Perfection Road with me. Have a great week!