The cycle of shame is always, and only, broken by the Word of grace.
In John 8, Jesus rescues a woman who was caught in the act of adultery from her accusers who were prepared to stone her to death. When her accusers had left, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The order of Jesus’ statements is important. I do not condemn you. I love you. I accept you. Now, leave your life of sin.
Love comes first! God’s love is never a reward for the deserving – it’s life-giving power to the undeserving. If we are going to be set free, if we are going to be healed, love must come first. Only then will we be empowered to leave behind our sin. God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to die for the ungodly while we were still in our sin. There is no condemnation left for you once you accept the finished work of Jesus.
If there is some mistake in your past or some sin in your history that keeps rearing its ugly head, the answer isn’t to pay penance or prove yourself worthy by elevating your righteousness. Such moralistic attempts to “feel better” only leave you feeling more ashamed. What will break the cycle of condemnation? More shame?
The love of God sets you free. Ask God to expose the traps of shame that keep surfacing in your mind, then look upon Jesus’ smiling face. Listen to your Savior’s voice. “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”
Jesus sets you free by rejecting condemnation on your behalf. And that’s the Gospel!