Living with false identities limits our destiny.
But we don’t have to stay stuck.
"GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?"
I remember yelling this at God in the basement of my house. I was on my knee’s, face buried in the carpet, more angry with myself than I’d ever been.
I’d tried to keep all the rules and failed again. I was caught in a vicious cycle: try harder, fail harder. Try harder, fail harder.
Shame had me by the throat. I felt choked. I had come to the end of myself.
But I found grace waiting for me there.
In that moment, I heard the Holy Spirit speak so sweetly and so clearly to my heart: “Richard, nothing is wrong with you and everything is right about you.”
That singular statement hit me like a ton of bricks. In a moment, it took a wrecking ball to my systematic theology and toppled everything I thought I knew about God. And about myself.
“How could that be true? I’ve failed so many times? How could anything be right about me?”
Desperate for answers, I opened up my Bible and immediately found myself facing down Romans 3:21-25:
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law… We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight… 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.
Romans 3:21-25 NLT
What I discovered that day changed my life forever. I had been living with internal lies and false identities that were keeping me from my destiny. They had accumulated over time. But they were the TRUE root of my sin issues and my distance from God.
When I dealt with the false identities I was carrying, I got unstuck. My relationship with God thrived. I escaped the vicious cycle. And I began to realize my destiny.
You can too.
The 4 False Identities
Woven throughout my story are four false identities I was carrying. We find these same lies detailed in Scripture. As I’ve helped people find freedom in the past, at least a few of these 5 false identities always surface.
- Guilt – I am my past.
- Shame – I am a mistake.
- Rejection – I am unwanted.
- Bitterness – I am wounded.
Which of these statements do you identify with the most? If one or more of these stuck out to you, then there may be some soul care required. You don’t have to stay stuck there.
It’s interesting to me that God the great “I am” identifies himself as “I am that I am.” In other words, he is not defined by any other reference point, past experience, attachment, label or modifier. He is what he is.
And we were made to be like him.
What if becoming like God involved returning to his original design for us? What if his process of freedom involved intentionally detaching these identities’ hold on our souls? What would it look like to be completely free to be “me” the way he made me?
Let’s answer that question together.
In this post, we’re going to confront the first two false identities (guilt and shame) and in the follow up post we’ll attack the latter two.
Put down the lie, pick up the truth.
I was amazed to discover that Paul the Apostle underwent the same struggle as us. He dealt with guilt from his past mistakes: he had murdered Christians and persecuted the church! We also find in Romans 7 the theme of self-hatred and shame when he say’s “O wretched man that I am…”
Here’s what’s beautiful: Paul not only shed these false identities. He left a simple pattern for us to follow. He wanted to know Jesus more than anything. But in this passage, he’s teaching us that you have to lay some thing’s down from your past in order to fully lay hold of Jesus.
The word “forget” in the passage of scripture above doesn’t imply suppressing memories or experiences or pretending like they didn’t affect us. Just the opposite.
It means to lay them down and no longer carry them anymore.
This is what we must learn to do. We’ve got to lay down the past and fasten our heart to the future Jesus has for us.
Let’s look specifically at how to do this.
Laying down guilt & shame
Guilt & shame are deeply connected. They both have to do with what we’ve done but they show up differently in our lives.
Guilt says, “I did something wrong. I’ve made mistakes.”
Shame says, “Something is wrong with me. I am a mistake.”
Forgiveness goes to the root of our Guilt. When we remember that Jesus carried our guilt on the cross, we can ask him to cleanse us from our past mistakes. And he will.
Even as you read this, you can receive his forgiveness for every sin, mistake and wrong thing you’ve ever done.
Forgiveness also goes to the root of our Shame. Oftentimes, shame is an accumulation of guilt, mistakes or consistent abuse by ourselves or others that leads to a form of self hatred or disgust.
Shame shows itself in the way we speak and the way we view ourselves, leading ut talk bad about ourselves and live with a low self image.
But when we realize that God places such value on us that he was willing to give Jesus over to torture and death to save us, shame has no place anymore. If God can forgives us, accept us and love us, we can learn too as well.
To completely break the power of shame, we also need to forgive others. When wrong’s were done to us, the path to overcoming shame involves forgiving our abuser as well.
Forgiveness is the simplest and most consistent advice found in all scripture that leads to freedom. That doesn’t make it easy. But it’s the medicine for a soul sick with guilt & shame.
I encourage you to try this exercise right now. Don’t take this lightly. This is not another trite prayer. This is activating the power of forgiveness.
EXERCISE: Laying down guilt & shame.
- Close your eyes to maintain focus.
- Begin to pray by thanking God for what Jesus did on the cross for you.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the root of any guilt or shame you are carrying: typically, they are memories.
- Invite God into the memories or spaces inside you that you carry guilt for or feel ashamed of.
- Visualize Jesus being with you in these memories. This isn’t fanciful imagination. The truth is he is all-present, so he was actually there. You’re actually envisioning the unseen truth.
- Have a conversation with Jesus about the mistake you made, the words that were said or what was done to you. Ask him to show you his heart for you in that situation.
- Receive God’s forgiveness. Ask Jesus for his forgiveness and cleansing over the situation, and take it for yourself and to give to others.
- Forgive anyone who hurt or abused you. This is often the hardest part. Say their name out loud and choose to forgive them as a choice.
- Forgive yourself for any wrong you may have done. Oftentimes, you may be holding disappointment, disgust or hatred for yourself because of guilt. Ask God to help you forgive yourself too.
- Reconcile with God. Sometimes, I like to envision myself giving Jesus a hug.
- Reconcile with others. If there is someone you have deeply hurt because of your actions, part of your healing process will likely involve going to them and repenting to them as well. As best as you can, make amends. Do your best to be at peace with all people. If this person is no longer alive or reachable, you may need to envision yourself repenting to them as well.
- Ask God (and close godly counsel) about whether you may need to confront your abuser and verbally let them know you’ve forgiven them for what they did. Seek wise counsel in this and pray about how to best approach it.
- Repeat this process as many times as needed for various memories or issues. I highly recommend involving a close trusted friend in this time of prayer.
My deepest prayer is that this article and this exercise will help you forgive and find freedom from guilt and shame.
Next week, we’ll cover the final 2 false identities and learn to deal with them as well.