'There was a beautiful welcome from God'

Steve’s story | Before God I feel no shame at all

“I grew up in a progressive church where I heard a lot of morals. The other kids were good kids and I felt that compared to them I never lived up. I had undiagnosed ADHD and I couldn’t sit still – I was the outsider and the misfit. Back then, I used to get into fights with the neighbouring kids. I knew it was wrong and I often felt a weight of sin.

But at that church, sin wasn’t mentioned. It was explained away. ‘We’re only human.’ ‘We must be kind to ourselves.’ And the Bible, according to them, was not God’s Word. It was human words about God. For them, Jesus lived as an example, his death was an act of love, but he did not die as a substitute for our sins.

But I knew myself. I was a messed-up teenager, a shadow of a person, hiding away. I had intrusive thoughts and shame in my heart. I was later diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which explained some of the issues. There was a lot of self-loathing. I used to self-medicate with alcohol to get to sleep. I might have called myself a Christian, but I had no understanding of God’s grace, no foundation of hope, no certainty. I didn’t trust God’s Word.

By a miracle, I made it to 21.

That year, I became very drunk at a friend’s 21st. I’d been having a terrible year and I had suicidal thoughts. One of my friends found me in the bathroom, and said, ‘Steve, your life is a mess. You say you’re a Christian, but you don’t know what it means. There’s so much more to it.’

“It didn’t matter how I felt about myself or what I had done … There was such kindness in Christ.”

She talked to a mutual friend who invited me to his church. I heard the Gospel of grace for the first time. Christ died for my sins. There was a beautiful welcome from God, and reconciliation and forgiveness. My deep sense of shame and guilt were covered by Jesus. God saw me, he knew me, he accepted me in Christ, and he loved me.

Everything changed from then on. I started to meet with the minister to read the Bible. It just made sense. A key verse ever since then has been 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”

It was all about my identity. It didn’t matter how I felt about myself or what I had done. I was redeemed in Christ! I was a new creation. I was welcomed into the church family. There was such kindness in Christ.

After I finished university, my church leaders encouraged me to go to Bible College. It wasn’t easy. I almost dropped out. Becoming a Christian had given me certainty and hope, but it hadn’t stopped the mental illness. I still struggled with OCD and anxiety. But the difference was that I knew who I was in Christ, welcomed by my Father, with a full assurance of His grace.

“Before God, I feel no shame at all. I know I’m in a completely safe place.”

My favourite story in the Bible is about the bleeding woman. She was hiding, unwell, the outsider. She carried so much shame. That day, she crept forward and touched Jesus’ cloak. And Jesus knew everything about her. He knew her heart. He called her out, publicly, fully healed and forgiven. He called her ‘daughter’. He gave her so much honour.

That’s how I feel. I sometimes still feel shame around other people. I know I don’t have a huge capacity, even as a minister. There’s a feeling that they might find me out or see me as insufficient.

But before God, I feel no shame at all. I know I’m in a completely safe place.

Looking back, the progressive view that I grew up with said that we were only human and to just be kind to ourselves. That thinking leads nowhere. Underneath, we know we’re all broken and we need to confess our sin to God. We need his forgiveness. And we need to be able to bring our shame and say, ‘Here I am,’ without fearing laughter or rejection. Amazingly, Jesus has dealt with our shame and God accepts us completely.

Now, I have assurance for my soul. I can hold onto God’s goodness. I’ve been a pastor now for 18 years. There’s no way that would have been possible without God’s grace. It’s God’s story. His hope in my darkness has meant everything.”

Steve’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.

2 Cor 5:17

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