Updated: May 5, 2018
Our first parents--Adam and Eve--felt it when they became aware of their nakedness. This was, of course, after their disobedience to God. The stinging feeling of shame is a common experience in our broken world. It has been since Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with leaves. And everyone experiences it to some degree. But some believers struggle with shame and regret everyday. As a result, they endeavor to cover and hide themselves just like Adam and Eve. Doing anything they can to overcome their shame. As believers, how do we fight shame and walk in freedom and wholeness?
Shame is a painful emotion. It makes us aware of our guilt, failure, shortcomings, and past transgressions. It can give us a sense of worthlessness; as if we have no value to God or other people. Shame can make us feel totally and utterly unacceptable. It can be so overwhelming that you refuse to look into the mirror some mornings; hiding from looking into your own face.
It's important to understand that the line between shame and guilt is a fine one. Guilt is not horrible. Guilt is understanding we are liable to punishment because of something we've done. When we sin, it's the guilt we feel that helps lead us back into God's arms through repentance. But shame is a general feeling of worthlessness because of who we are. It's more than something you feel because you made a mistake. Shame is feeling as if you are the mistake.
How Shame Holds Us Back
Living with shame can cripple our lives and spiritual growth. If we are not careful, it can propel us into darkness and despair. These are only a handful of the ways shame can hold us back as believers.
It pushes us towards dishonesty. Shame can make us feel as if we have to be dishonest. We think no one would love us if they knew the truth; if they knew the "real" me. We feel as if we have to present ourselves in a way that meets people's expectations--like we have to give people the version of ourselves that they want. At some point in doing this, dishonesty will rear its' ugly head as the way to accomplish all this. In the end, we walk away feeling even more shameful because of the lies we have told.
We feel unqualified/disqualified. Shame can hold us back from having and fulfilling our role in the body of Christ. The Lord gives each believer different giftings and a role to fulfill in their local church. Shame can keep us on the sidelines when God wants us in the game.
Never good enough. Shame can make us feel small, irreversibly flawed, and as if we are never good enough. We can find ourselves apologizing constantly and believing that we are incapable of pleasing God and other people. Mix all these things together and you have the perfect recipe for trying to please the Lord through works-based efforts. Rather than rest in Christ and accept his perfect sacrifice, you will be tempted to try to earn your acceptance through your own actions/deeds.
Back to our old sins. At some point, it will seem very appealing to go back to our old sins as a way to comfort and numb ourselves. We can think, "I still feel horrible about doing it in the past, I might as well do it right now!" Shame can keep us connected to our old life; it can keep us looking backwards instead of forward.
Our culture seeks to remove shame by celebrating it. Rather than call something they might feel shameful about wrong or sinful, they convince themselves it isn't. It's an old trick. Thinking you can deny sin to take away the sting of shame. And it still doesn't work. As believers, we must be careful that we do not fall into this same type of corrupt thinking.
See, we fight lies with truth. That's what the Bible teaches us to do and that is what Jesus did when he was tempted by Satan. We fight the lie of shame with the truth of the gospel.
And the truth is, we have been completely and totally forgiven. Every sin that leaves us feeling a sense of shame has been covered by the blood of Christ. Jesus wore our shame on the cross so we wouldn't have to. He is also capable of removing the shame we feel because of the sins committed against us. The gospel says that we are totally and fully known, yet we are totally and fully loved.
As shameful as we may feel, we underestimate how sinful we are.
It's actually worse than we can think or imagine. And simply feeling shameful about our sin does nothing to fix us or appease the justice of God. Our shame keeps our eyes on ourselves rather than on Jesus--the only one who can fix our shameful and sinful condition. As difficult as it may be, we fight shame by looking to Jesus. We ponder his perfection rather than our own imperfection. We think of his willingness to sacrifice himself rather than our own stubbornness. We meditate on what was done to him for the sins of the world rather than on what has been done to us. When we focus our hearts, minds, and eyes on Jesus, he will always be there to defend and guide us.
He will never discard you or put you to shame. Never.