And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
In September of 2014 something took place in my life that left me broken and unraveled. It was something so devastating that it rent my soul and drove me to my knees. Then while everything within me knelt from exhaustion, my soul panicked and gasped for air. It felt as if my whole being, throughout the depths of my heart, was withering under a scorching light. Yet at the same time the moment was saturated with such an alluring and rich warmth that I dared not leave. There in that state of frozen fear, mixed with captivating awe, I soon came to find that my soul’s gasping for air was not because it was suffocating; but because it was taking its first breaths of life. The light was not causing me to wither, instead, it was causing the first tender shoots of growth to come forth.
It was as an event that pressed against me with such purpose and intense pressure, that I had no chance but to have my very nature reshaped by it. So what was this painful and glorious experience?
Seeing the glory of God.
If you had asked me before September 2014, “Shawn are you saved? Are you going to Heaven?” with zero doubt in my mind, I would have given an emphatic “Yes!” I would then be quick to follow up with a confession of my sinful nature along with my need of God’s grace for salvation. I would explain that it is only by grace, through faith, in Christ alone, that I’m saved. I would add that I am totally dependent on the blood of Christ, His sacrifice in my place for my salvation. That He took my sin, and gave me His righteousness that I can have fellowship with God.
However, with all of that confession, the truth is I was lost. I was blind and crippled. I hobbled around this life thinking I was a child of God, yet in my heart I was fully denying Him. So what was going on? Why do I say that I understood I was a sinner, and that Christ was my only hope of salvation, yet I was still lost and under God’s wrath? To answer that, I have to go back to where it all started.
It was in 6th grade, one of my first times in a church, when I prayed a prayer asking Jesus into my heart. I remember reciting that prayer at a Wednesday night Bible study because of the reality that not everyone goes to heaven. I wanted to go to heaven, who doesn’t? And this seemed like the answer on how to get there. So I repeated a prayer after the minister and not long afterwards was baptized.
After that night, I attended that church from 6th grade through the majority of college. Sunday worship, Wednesday nights, summer camps, summer mission trips, winter camps, disciple now, see you at the pole, true love waits, back to school rallies, and on and on. In all those years I’d like to say that I was growing in my faith and walking with the Lord in those years, but I wasn’t.
In the years leading up to college I basically learned how to do church. How to act church, speak church, and even think church. I became a leader in the youth group and had people looking up to me. However, while this was all happening, I had no real desire for God’s word; rarely ever reading it on my own. The truth is, looking back now, church was simply a social activity for me; a place I felt like I belonged, and being admired felt pretty good too.
Also during that time, sin was tightening its grip on me, and with it, heaps of guilt. I knew God didn't want me to live in sin, but the sin kept growing. I tried to stop the emerging patterns in my life, but I couldn’t. As the sin grew, my shame and guilt started to feel like a straight jacket on my soul. I felt like I had to sit in my shame long enough to show God I was truly sorry for my sin, before He would forgive me and accept me back again. This emotional state defined those years of 6th - 12th grade. However, it would soon reach a whole new level.
In college, sin boiled over in my life, pouring straight out of a dead heart. Yet still filled with pride in my desire to be seen as a good Christian, I was still at church trying to lead. Even though people were looking up to me, the shame crushed me till all I could do at times was sit alone and cry. Thankfully it was during these moments that questions started forming in my mind, “What kind of life is this? Where is the victory I hear people talk about in the Christian life? Why does the Bible say we are no longer slaves to sin while I feel so bound to it?” When I would hear Romans 6:6-7, I would get furious and deny its truth.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. - Romans 6:6-7
I would scream this back at God when hearing those verses, “This is not true!" In a straitjacket of shame, I would hurl my anger at God for not being faithful to His word; for not setting me free from sin. The questions that came out of those moments were the questions I needed to be asking, however when the answer came, my ears were not opened to hear it.
I was at my first Passion Conference during college, and I remember hearing a deep, true, full view of the gospel and its implications. I latched on to the fact my sin was paid for. I don’t have to sit in guilt and shame anymore. There is grace, and grace means I’m forgiven! I finally felt free from my guilt and my shame. I felt like I could let go of my sinful behavior and move forward. Finally freedom! I could point to the cross of Christ every time I felt guilty, shameful, or unworthy. I grabbed hold of the truth that my sin is separated from me as far as the east is from the west. This was everything I needed to hear!
However, nothing changed.
You see, sin didn’t leave, in fact it kept growing. Same fights; same failures. Over and over it continued. No matter what I tried, what promises I made, what boundaries I tried to set, it kept growing. It was in those days I found a new response to my sin. Rather than sitting in shame I found myself saying, "get up, accept the forgiveness given to you, and try harder, because you want to show God how much you love Him for what He did for you." This may not sound bad at first, but armed with gratitude and reliance on forgiveness, I kept failing in my fight against sin.
So I asked again, is this the Christian life? Because rather than finding the transformation and freedom the Bible speaks of, I feel into a cycle:
Shame From Sin --> Affirm Forgiveness --> Gratitude --> Fight Sin w/ Gratitude --> Fail --> Back to Shame
On and on it went, this cycle was my life from college until September 2014. Looking back on those years now I can see the reality of the situation. While my mind and lips could articulate the truths of the gospel, in my heart I only wanted to have my guilt removed while I still embraced, loved, and nurtured my sin. All I hated was the guilt it brought, but the sin itself still looked good.
What it boils down to, is I wanted God’s forgiveness to remove guilt, without really wanting God. I had no desire for His glory. I thought I did, I told people I did, but the continual growing pattern of sin in my life gave light to the reality of what was in my heart. I was more passionate about keeping sin hidden while reminding myself I’m forgiven, rather than wanting to kill the sin. For years I was trapped in this cycle, believing 100% I was saved, because I simply knew the truths of the Gospel.
Looking back, that's a scary place to be. I had all the knowledge of Christ, but there was never change in my heart, never submission to Him, never power to fight and overcome sin, just the gathering of knowledge in my head.
Until I saw the glory of God.
For years sin was more attractive and desirable than God’s glory, simply because I hadn’t seen it yet. However, when God unveiled my eyes and I saw His glory, a choice had to be made. You see, my eyes were opened not to the forgiveness of God, but to the holiness of God and it broke me apart. I came undone in His presence. I died under the weight of His glory.
It was no longer about wanting the guilt of my sin taken from my conscience, it was about the dead heart that was producing sin within. It was a matter of life and death.
I had to ask myself if God was this holy and justified in His wrath against me, and yet this beautiful in the giving of His son to satisfy that wrath, would I do whatever it took to get to Him and then want to serve Him with my life? I would, and that was the moment of my true repentance. That was the moment that I honestly saw God as more beautiful and more desirable than my sin. That is when I saw His glory, and it brought about a change in me.
So what was that change? The cyclical path of shame and gratitude was removed, and replaced with a linear path of victory:
Unveiled Eyes --> Death to Self --> Desire for Joy in God's Glory --> Fight Sin With Joy --> Succeed
Finally, I could honestly say that I believed God was more desirable than my sin. That I want to reflect Him, and not just His mercy or forgiveness toward my sin, but His holiness. I’m no longer in love with the idea of God, or the idea of forgiveness and guilt removal, but am in love with God Himself.
Sinful patterns are breaking in my life! What I wondered why I could never do, is now happening. It's still a fight, a very hard fight, and I am by no means perfect, but the fight is different now. No longer do I swing wildly with the wooden sword of gratitude, though I am deeply grateful to my Savior. However now, with superior delight in Christ, I am using the honed sword of the Spirit to cut roots of sin and I am finding victory in my life.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Have you seen His glory? Have you seen how beautiful He is? I hope you have.