I was born with a tender conscience that kicked in quickly when I blew it. Having a tender conscience was good as the discomfort of guilt I experienced often motivated me to make God-honoring decisions in my life. It also stirred in me the desire to quickly confess sin. and to apologize to others I wronged.
However, there was also a downside to having a tender conscience. It made me prey to a few manipulators, who realized they could just poke at my conscious and get what they wanted, even when it was detrimental for me and allowed them to continue down selfish, sinful paths. It also allowed abusers to silence me, when they implicated I was responsible for their actions. It took a few years of counseling to figure out what guilt was healthy and mine to confess and what guilt I needed to let others assume and deal with themselves.
I experienced a lot of freedom from healthy guilt when I was saved. But before I knew it, guilt began to return. Sometimes it was normal, convicting guilt that led me to confess sin. Other times it was toxic guilt that spiraled me into a pit of dark shame. Looking back, I realize the tender conscience I was born with, didn't just make me easy prey to manipulative people and abusers, it had made me easy prey for the Enemy, who used lies to turn healthy, God-given guilt into toxic shame—a type of shame that was destructive and designed to keep me stuck and afraid to turn to God when I needed Him most.
At first, I didn't even realize the Enemy was attacking me. Then God planted us, as a young couple, in a Bible-teaching church, where I grew leaps and bounds in my faith. We had many conversations there about God and Bible doctrines that included things like the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. The more I knew about God and His holiness, the more I wanted to become like Him. Yet, the growing understanding of God's Holiness was also changing my concept of sin. I no longer viewed it as just something I did. I also saw it as things like ungodly attitudes, selfishness, sinful thoughts, and inactions. For awhile, I kept it all in balance, confessing sin and growing in my relationship with God.
Then I found a book that a spiritual inventory in it. I don't remember what book it was or even the questions on the inventory. But it was a long one and it included a list if sins a mile long, inappropriate attitudes, a list of generational sins one might have, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I mentioned the inventory to our pastor, who suggested I bring it by his office so he could see it. So, I took it to him and as he read it, I could feel my face growing hot, imagining him seeing into the ugly garbage of my soul that I believed was listed on that list. When he finished reading it, he set it down on his desk shaking his head from side to side and quietly said, "I hate this kind of stuff" He indicated that he understood how a list like that mixed with a tender conscience could leave me reeling in shame. He also explained that he believed our God was big enough to convict us and bring to mind sin He wants confessed. He also indicated He believed our God was not a God who buried His children in shame.
Looking back on that time, I realize a lot of us go through this as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God's holiness and our sinfulness. When we accept Christ, we understand God's grace in the moment and are thankful Jesus' blood covers the sin of which we were aware. But, as we grow in our understanding of God's holiness, the depth of our sinfulness becomes more apparent and it's easy to buy into the lies of the Enemy as he tries to convince us God's grace isn't big enough to meet us where we are really at, that Christ's death wasn't really sufficient to cover the depths of the sin we continue to uncover, or that God's love isn't deep enough to encompass the real messy us. Oh, we would say we believe God's grace is big enough, Christ death sufficient, and God's love all-encompassing, but if we are living shamed-filled lives, isn't there a disconnect between what we say we believe and what we are living? The truth is that Jesus' death was and is and will always be sufficient enough to cover sin--what we knew in the past, what we perceive in the present, and what we will uncover in the future.
It is not God's desire for His people to live stuck in toxic, suffocating shame. But, it is His desire that we continue to grow in the understanding of His holiness. And, as our understanding of that increases our awareness of our sinfulness, He desires our view of grace and what Christ did on the cross to expand as well. When that happens, we become believers who live loved and who are filled with humility and gratefulness instead of shame. We want to remember there is not a sin so bad Christ's blood cannot cover it. Because He loves us, God convicts us. Because he hates us, the Enemy condemns us. All we have to do to silence the Enemy is adopt a bigger view of our God and His grace.