Of all the novels I read in high school and college, perhaps the one that impacted me the most was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, the book tells the story of Hester Prynne, who is required to forever wear the letter “A” on her dress after she is discovered to be an adulteress.
Think of what it would be like if this kind of punishment was enforced today. What if everyone who has engaged in sex outside of marriage was required to wear a scarlet “A” for Adultery or “S” for Shame?
But many of us deal with different kinds of scarlet letters. Perhaps it’s a scarlet “F” for Failure or Fat, “R” for Rejected, “I” for Inferior, “U” for Unemployed, or “D” for Depressed or Divorced.
You get the picture. Life’s scarlet letters can be customized to fit your personal situations. If we’re not careful, our negative experiences can become our identity.
Yes, many people—even many Christians—are carrying around internal guilt, inferiority, and shame that are not much different than Hester Prynne’s cruel punishment. Unable to believe God has truly forgiven them, they still are wallowing in their past mistakes.
I love the gospel of Jesus Christ, because it’s a message of redemption and happy endings. No matter how you’ve messed up your life with poor decisions in the past, God can set you free and give you a glorious future.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the story of Rahab, a prostitute living in Jericho. This woman had a history far worse than Hester Prynne. She undoubtedly had engaged in sexual relations with hundreds of men, if not thousands. Rahab must have been seen as one of Jericho’s most notorious home-wreckers.
Yet this Canaanite harlot end up in the Hall of Fame of Faith (Hebrews 11:31) and even in the family line of both King David and Jesus (Matthew 1:5). What an amazing turnaround!
Despite growing up in a pagan environment, Rahab had heard of the God of Israel, and faith grew in her heart that He was the true God. So when Joshua sent two spies to scout out the fortified city of Jericho, she hid them on her roof and lied to the king’s soldiers about the spies’ whereabouts.
Quite the opposite of wearing a scarlet letter for her sordid past, Rahab ended up being saved by scarlet of a different kind. The spies agree to spare her life if she hung a scarlet cord from her window so the Israelites could find and protect her (Joshua 2:17-21).
Do you see what a beautiful picture this is? The scarlet cord represents the blood of Jesus that later would be shed on the cross for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Like Rahab, none of us can stand before God on the basis of our own good deeds or righteousness. As the old hymn by Robert Lowry says:
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
So there’s no need for any of us to keep wearing a scarlet letter of guilt and shame for things we’ve done in the past. This is a new day. When the devil comes to condemn you, you can hang the scarlet cord from your window and tell him the blood of Jesus has cleansed you, just as if you had never sinned.
By taking a step of faith, Rahab changed the whole trajectory of her life. Not only was her own life transformed, but her legacy has now impacted countless generations.
I’m believing God for the same kind of transformation to happen in your life. But first you must ask Him to show you whether you’ve been carrying around some kind of scarlet letter because of past mistakes or traumas. If so, the good news is that you can claim the promise of Isaiah 1:18, cleansed of your sins and made “white as snow.”
And be clear on this: Your Heavenly Father doesn’t just tolerate you or begrudgingly accept you. He wholeheartedly LOVES you and offers you an incredible new identity:
The Lord will hold you in his hand for all to see—
a splendid crown in the hand of God.
Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City”
or “The Desolate Land.”
Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight”
and “The Bride of God,”
for the Lord delights in you
and will claim you as his bride (Isaiah 62:3-4).
Amazing love, isn’t it? You are “God’s Delight,” and He beckons you to live your life as His beloved bride. You can throw away your scarlet letters, once and for all.