I am currently working through Beth Moore's, Believing God Bible study, with an awesome group of ladies. Today's lesson set my mind to thinking about the labels that we wear in our day to day life. Labels that we allow to define us, and to keep us from walking in grace with ourselves and others.
Perhaps you have read the famous tale penned by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, it tells the story of Hester Prynn, who finds herself pregnant with a child she conceived through adultery. She is forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her clothing as a mark of her past mistake and present shame. Reminds me of another woman caught in the act of adultery, maybe you are familiar with it.
The story is just 11 short verses right at the beginning of John chapter 8. Jesus has traveled to the Mount of Olives and at the first light of day, the Pharisees bring in a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery and they remind Jesus, as if He has forgotten, about the laws of Moses. They are trying to trap his but Jesus is smarter than that.
He bends down and writes some unknown message in the sand and then He says to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (verse 7). Then starting with the oldest, most seasoned sinners, one by one, each of her accusers slip away. Jesus then asks this scorned, shame-filled woman, "Where are they? Has no one condemned you?" (verse 9). She tells him that no one has and then some of my favorite red letter words are spoken, "Then neither do I condemn you...go now and leave your life of sin." (verse 11).
I can relate to both of these women, not in the area of adultery, but with wearing the label of shame. With being in front of the whole world and having everyone see the mistakes you have made. So many things mark my past. I am unsure of where to even begin in sharing them. These are areas I like to keep tucked away in the darkest corners of my heart. The problem is, these labels don't stay tucked in. They creep out at the most inopportune times to remind me of my shortcomings...to shout to the world around me how inadequate and imperfect I really am.
The abuse I suffered as a child, marks me with the labels of shame and victim. The rejection from my parents throughout my lifetime marks me as unlovable. The unanswered cries for help marks me as forgotten. So the scarlet letters "S," "V," "U," and "F" are pinned to my daily attire.
These are all labels forced upon me, but even worse are the labels I have chosen for myself. These are the labels I have the toughest time finding grace for. Labels I have received because of the choices I have made: the struggle with alcohol in my early teens that lead to many poor choices, the failure to forgive others when I know I should marks me as unforgiving, my lack of trust in others marks me as controlling, the list goes on and on. Add the letters "P.C," another "U," and a "C" to my already crowded clothing.
Maybe you are wearing labels to, whether by your own choosing or by no choice of your own. Labels like: Divorced, Single parent, recovering addict, adulteress, abortion haver, terrible parent...the list truly is endless.
But I am forgetting two of the most important labels we should be wearing. Two labels that erase all other labels. REDEEMED and CHOSEN. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, the old (labels) is gone and the new (redeemed/chosen) has come. Now friend that is some seriously great news!
The problem is applying that truth to the day to day. In my mind I think my junk is worse than other's mistakes. I bet Rahab could relate. Do you remember her? Her story is way back in the book of Joshua chapter 2. She is the prostitute that helped hide the Israelite spies who had been sent to check out the promise land. At risk of her own life, despite the label of prostitute that she wore, she hid the spies and helped them escape certain death. An unlikely hero for sure. But her story doesn't end there. If you jump ahead to the New Testament book of Matthew the first chapter, you will get another look at our hero. Matthew 1:5, "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab..." There she is, right in the lineage of Christ...and she is the mother of Boaz, the man who foreshadowed Jesus' rescue plan by rescuing Ruth after her husband had died. Does that make you as excited as it does me? God used Rahab, a harlot of harlots, to make up part of his son's earthly inheritance, talk about a life redeemed! He changed her "P" to an "R."
I think we can get our best instructions on peeling off these labels from Ephesians chapter 4 verses 22-23, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self (and those scarlet letter labels), which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds." Oh friend,isn't that where the battle lies, "in the attitude of your minds?" We allow satan victory day after day over us because we struggle to forget what is behind and press on toward what lie ahead. (Phillipians 3) We allow our past to define our present. Sometimes our shame keeps us from being honest and open with others. We say to ourselves, If they only knew where I have been, what I have done..." May it not be so! God has so much more in store for us if we can just allow the attitudes of our minds to readjust.
Tenth Avenue North has an awesome song entitled, You Are More, that reminds us, "You are more than the choices that you make, you are more than the sum of your past mistakes...this is not about what you've done, but about what has been done for you." My favorite line says, "You've been remade," but I like to sing it, "You've been renamed," because despite all my labels, earned or assumed....I have been renamed, REDEEMED and CHOSEN, and if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, then so have you! And though we may deserve to wear a variety of scarlet letters, Isaiah 1:18 sums it up best:
Come now, let us reason together,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool
Now that is something worth shouting, "Hallelujah" for! If you would like to hear more or have questions please feel free to contact me, I will get back to you as soon as I am done peeling off all these stinking labels :)