“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8, NIV)
One of the very first things Peter says to Jesus captures a huge issue for many of us. After a night of fishing and catching nothing, Jesus blesses Peter, James, and John with more fish than they can handle—and all Peter can see is how short he’s fallen of God’s perfection.
Which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. It’s not unusual for us, either, to react this way when we first encounter Jesus; and we always need to remember the truth in Peter’s words. But Jesus didn’t come just so he could “go away.” Instead, he calls us to lay down a life that’s often consumed by shame over who we are or what we’ve done.
The things we’ve done—and the evils done to us—are done. We can’t undo what happened, but we can undo the hold of those things upon us. We can own our sin without it owning us. Jesus’ response to Peter, James and John confirms this: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10). Jesus calls each of us to lay down our shame, and follow him forward instead.
If we continue to base our identity in our past instead of allowing it to die, we will never approach God—or more to the point, we’ll never let him in; God is already approaching us. Instead, we’ll do just about anything to fill the hole that the Spirit should be occupying. We believe we need to be successful, popular, powerful, constantly entertained, or occupied, because what we are and what we have isn’t good enough. That’s where the power of temptation lies: in the idea that who God created us to be, and what he’s created us for, isn’t good enough. That God got it—and us—wrong.
This brings us full circle: Letting go of this old, false self, and embracing who we were truly meant to be in Jesus, is what this laying-down process is all about. We’re called to acknowledge our guilt and move on, not to take up permanent residence in our shame and hurt.
In a (hopefully not blasphemous) sense, Jesus has carried and shared in our guilt all the way back to the garden of Eden. The fall could have been prevented—but it wasn’t. Like the first Adam, Jesus chose to look on instead of stopping those events from occurring. But let’s not forget another incident, in another garden several thousand years later, which Jesus also could have stopped from happening but didn’t. Jesus stopped in Gethsemane—and saw through at Calvary—what began in Eden.
The cross removes our guilt. All of it. However, it leaves responsibility. Jesus says to us, just as he did the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). And, to “take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21, KJV).