Forgiveness is God’s answer to our sin. The word gospel means good news, and that is what the gospel is. It is good news to know that we can be saved from our sin and deserved judgment. We receive that forgiveness through accepting God’s gift of grace he gives in Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, he received our judgment that was our due. God judged our sins upon Jesus so that he could forgive us. God forgives us, not because we deserve to be forgiven, but because of his grace and mercy.
However, have you ever noticed that many Christians still deal with a sense of shame long after they have been forgiven? There are hurtful memories of experiences where they experienced shame in their earlier years that still haunt them. Shame is one of the most powerful negative emotions a human being can experience, and it leaves a scar that is a constant reminder of that dreadful experience.
God’s answer to our shame is his unconditional acceptance. Most people have never known unconditional acceptance. The acceptance they have known has always been predicated on performance. Many have been raised in homes where they were compared with others; when they didn’t make the grade, they experienced shame. Some carry deep scars from the shaming experiences experienced at the hands of bullies or even neglectful or uncaring teachers. Others have worked in environments where they have been publically shamed for not achieving the boss’s expectations.
God wraps his arms around us and tells us that we are accepted and that acceptance eradicates our shame. This is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son of a father rebelled against his father and asked for his inheritance even before his father’s death. The father surprisingly complied with the request. Upon receiving his portion he left and traveled far and wasted his money and resources. His life spiraled out of control until he hit bottom. While feeding pigs he “came to his senses,” and said to himself, “‘How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father” (Luke 15: 17-20).
Most likely this son had been gone for years, and though the father had never gone looking for the son, he never gave up hope that he would return. Luke beautifully describes the scene, "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
The picture of the father running to the son and throwing his arms around him and kissing him is one of acceptance. The son gave his speech that he had rehearsed at the pig pen, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” However, he did not give the whole speech because the father interrupted him with this response of acceptance, "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:21-25).
This is a picture of how God responds to all sinners who go home. We long for acceptance, and in the Father we have it. The shame of our past and the scars we carry are covered by his acceptance. Even though we don’t deserve to be a son or daughter, the Father receives us as such and accepts us into the family.