I was taking a walk around the neighborhood recently, listening to a playlist of Christian music that I had created a few years ago.
But instead of feeling encouragement and resonance, I found myself experiencing the exact opposite.
Over and over, I heard lyrics like:
“I know I’m unworthy…”
“I don’t deserve your love…”
“I’m weak and poor…”
“I have not much to offer you….”
Words clothed in the guise of humble spirituality, but words I found completely discordant with the spirit within me.
In fact, they sound more like a spirit of slavery than a spirit of a child of God.
The Spirit of Slavery
A spirit of slavery sees God as Master and ourselves as slaves. It strives to please the Master through performance and what we can offer. It produces fear and burden. It focuses on weakness, brokenness, and unworthiness. It belittles us through shame.
Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
That’s what I hear in these lyrics.
Now, there is no shame in feeling shame sometimes. But in many Christian circles, this shame is actually required and commended.
We are told that we are supposed to feel unworthy of connection. We are made to believe that God is somehow pleased with this psychological self-flagellation. We are encouraged to approach God with a slave mentality.
But the spirit of adoption that God has given us flies in the face of this shame.
The Spirit of Adoption
The spirit of adoption sees God as a loving parent, and ourselves as glorious heirs. It reminds us that we are completely accepted in the Beloved One, just as we are. It produces carefree trust and joy. It focuses on our true identity instead of our false one. It fuels transformation through love and acceptance.
Instead of speaking shame over us, the Spirit says,
“There is now no condemnation.”
Instead of telling us we are weak, the Spirit says,
“You are overcomers.”
Instead of pointing out our ungodliness, the Spirit says,
“You are partakers of the divine nature.”
Instead of expecting us to grovel before God, the Spirit says,
“Approach the throne with confidence.”
A spirit of slavery sounds like the desperate, mortified monologue of the prodigal son who doesn’t really believe in his father’s unconditional love.
A spirit of adoption sounds like the toast of a beloved child who’s enjoying the welcome home party.
A Misunderstanding of Grace
Grace is defined as God’s favor that we don’t deserve. We assume that a correct response, then, is to feel undeserving. We believe that in order to not take grace for granted, we have to be constantly aware of our shortcomings.
But I want you to take a moment to imagine a loving parent-child relationship.
Picture yourself as a parent, offering your child the affectionate, accepting, understanding grace of one whose love cannot be earned or lost. Your child does not need to do anything to deserve your love because you delight simply in her being. She cannot do anything to exhaust your love because it was never based on her behavior anyway.
Now imagine your daughter always feeling like she isn’t enough. Imagine her believing that she could never live up to your expectations. Imagine your son afraid that his mistakes make him unworthy of your love. Imagine him constantly aware of what’s wrong with himself.
As a parent, I would be so grieved.
Yet for some reason, we think that this is what God wants from us.
This shame-filled response that we are taught to have is actually incongruous with God’s grace. This focus on being unworthy exposes our misunderstanding that God judges us by our works. It is the very thing that God wants to rescue us from—the belief that He deals with us according to our actions. God’s grace wants to take our works out of the picture so that we know His constant love is not dependent on our failures or our triumphs. He wants us to know our inherent worthiness—not based on our behavior, but based on our true identity.
He wants us to see ourselves as he sees us:
“You are chosen.”
“You are royal.”
“You are holy.”
We need to stop feeling unworthy of belonging. We need to stop behaving like the prodigal son who felt like the most he could hope for was to be welcomed back into the household as a servant. We cannot be content with this spirit of slavery that includes us in the Father’s house, but excludes us from his heart.
The extravagant grace of God shows us that he wants sons and daughters, not slaves. So let’s stop groveling. Let’s stop reminding ourselves how wretched we are. Let’s stop listening to messages that reinforce shame.
Instead, let us fully embrace the spirit of adoption and accept the ring, the robe, the sandals, and the feast that God offers us as His children.
I think I’ll start by deleting some songs from my playlist…