By Rob Beames
Nearing the end of my commute home from work, I noticed how nice the straight line of trees along one side of the road leading to our subdivision looked. Almost every one of them had nicely-shaped, full branches. They were just planted a few years ago, and I hadn’t imagined they would look so good so soon. But then last week, the talk about widening our road became a reality, and one morning I noticed that those trees were now just ugly trunks, standing erect and sawed off at their branches.
I thought, “Shame on them! Was there no way to replant those trees?” I would have loved to have one in my front yard. It’s all done in the name of progress, I suppose.
For some of us, this might seem to be a fitting illustration for the Biblical rebirth. Even if we don’t think of it quite like this, we may be living as if we were stripped of our former glory when we got saved. Now all that’s left is the naked truth about us and, well, it’s shameful.
Paul wrote frequently about regeneration as a key principle of the Gospel of Christ, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3: 4-8).
We see here that spiritual renewal is not a result of anything we do; it’s only because of His mercy that we were made into new creatures and now oriented toward Him. We are also note that the washing is done by the Holy Spirit. Although we do contribute to our change, we are not the primary cause of it. The Holy Spirit makes us a new person when we trust in Christ alone to save us. This doesn’t remove our responsibility to change, but it does remove the guilt associated with our failures.
Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the concept of becoming new in John 3. This famous text formulates the very idea of what being a Christian means for many: being born again. And yet we also compare our spiritual renewal to how a baby has to gradually learn to walk, talk and think. While conforming to the image of Christ may take time, that does not negate the complete transformation that does take place when a person accepts Christ into his heart. Nicodemus had trouble grasping the concept of how an adult man can be made into a new person with unlimited potential for growth – a mysterious truth that has to be accepted in faith. Challenging as it may be, we also need to capture and apply this truth of instantaneous, spiritual change of the new birth.
Maybe some of us feel like those sawed-off tree trunks in my neighborhood. Everything that made us who we are is for the burn pile now and slowly but surely we’ve got to re-grow some fruit-bearing branches. While it is true that God does cut away our dead branches, spiritually, He does not saw off all our branches in the moment we let Him in. Rather, he makes us new creations, instantly! It would be like those trees in my neighborhood being replanted into a new spot and now bearing beautiful branches. That’s regeneration!
Just as regularly as we change clothes, we should also be reminded of our new position and identity in Christ. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Of course, we are still a work in progress, and we often don’t act like our new selves – shame on us…in a way. Even in our failures, we must not forget that God only sees the righteousness and holiness which is ours by faith. It’s not fair, but it’s precisely why absolutely no shame remains on us. Our shame was placed on Jesus Christ in full. Shame is not generously poured out on us. No, through Jesus we are drenched in the Holy Spirit, not shame. By faith, we can set aside the shame we feel, along with our old way of life, and put on our new identity in Christ. As Christians, we no longer bear guilt and shame. We are 100% complete because of the perfect work and death of Jesus.
Do you lack devotion and love for Christ? Shame on you. No! (Haven’t you been paying attention?) All of our shame – past and future – was on Him.
Knowing this, you can stretch yourself however His love beacons you. You can’t? Well, then, shame on you. No! (Getting with the program now?) His Holy Spirit has transformed you and will continue to change you as you patiently and persistently struggle with your sinful nature. There is now, therefore, no condemnation – nor shame – for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Do you struggle with inferiority? Do you attend too many self-pity parties? Do you too quickly run away from challenges, or just remain passive when you know you ought to act? Shame on you. Not at all! (I bet you saw that one coming.) There is no shame on you any longer. All the shame that should have rested on you crushed Jesus on the cross. When we trust in that fact alone, and stop considering our constant failures as we strive to be like Him, then we are able to break free of these inhibiting patterns of self-loathing, passivity and guilt. We can start to become the person God has created us to be. We can start to do the good things we were created to do in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:10). We can do even greater things than we can imagine as we start to realize that we no longer bear shame, as it was washed away by Christ the moment we trusted in Him.
Shame on you? (Say it with me, now…) No! Jesus washed away all our shame with His blood. Praise God that He loves us that much! We can now make the talk a reality. Now, we can live for Him, and no longer live in shame.