By Caitlin Meadows
Shame on you! is something we say to someone who behaves poorly. It’s our response to a person caught red handed and unapologetic. In effect, we’re telling them: “What you’ve done is wrong and you should feel guilt, regret, and humiliation.”
In these types of situations, we want the offender to claim guilt so that he or she can take responsibility for whatever offense was committed. We want justice, which in many cases is an honest apology. However, the response is rarely acceptance and apology. Rather, the response is often to hide, lie, or justify whatever offense he or she committed.
These impulses toward self-preservation typically only make matters worse. As Israel Steinmetz put it in his recent article, Why Confession is a Must for Christ-Followers, “Deception brings forth death. Truth-telling is powerful. Truth-telling brings life.” Though contrary to our natural impulse to deceive, the antidote for sin is telling the truth. Which means being honest with ourselves, with God, and with a trusted Christian confidante.
But most of us don’t need to be shamed. Even if we attempt to deny it and skirt around taking responsibility for whatever we did or didn’t do that caused it, we feel it deeply.
As followers of Jesus, He re-creates each of us into leaders right where we are to advance His Kingdom. Yet even as followers of Jesus, we are not immune to feeling shame. Whether inspired by long past events or more recent, Christians are often confronted with the silent, burdensome nag of guilt. While we know the correct response is to talk it out- to confess, we also do well to increase our understanding of this negative internal response.
For healing and growth in the life of everyday Christian leaders (you and me), we need an accurate understanding of shame.
FOUR TRUTHS ABOUT SHAME THAT CHRISTIANS NEED TO KNOW:
IT CAN BE JUST AND UNJUST.
“The biblical criterion [for misplaced shame] says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God no matter how weak or foolish it makes you look in the eyes of unbelievers…The biblical criterion for well-placed shame says, DO feel shame for having a hand in anything that dishonors God, no matter how strong or wise or right it makes you look in the eyes of men.” – Battling the Unbelief of Misplaced Shame
WHEN JUSTIFIED, IT IS TRUE AND POINTS US TO REPENTANCE. BUT, WHEN UNJUSTIFIED IT IS FALSE AND POINTS US TO CONDEMNATION.
“If I have sinned against God and offended Him, or if I have sinned against another and hurt my relationship with them, I should feel a sense of shame. Shame is a healthy heart-response to the fact of a torn relationship. If, however, my sense of shame does not reflect reality, then there is a problem. If I have not actually done anything to incur someone’s disfavor, but I believe I have, this could lead to false shame. Or if I wrongly believe that my actions have led to an irreparable breach, then I might react to my sense of shame by hiding myself—much the same way Adam and Eve did in the garden after eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:7-8).” – Guilt vs. Shame: Why Definitions Matter
FALSE SHAME IS OFTEN THE DEFAULT RESPONSE OF AN ABUSE VICTIM.
“At first it makes no sense that this [abuse] should be happening, but then guilt takes over. You feel responsible. You are told you are responsible… Bad things happen to me because I am bad. A sense of order is established. By latching onto your guilt, you are really attempting to take back control of your life. If I am guilty of causing the bad things that are happening to me, then all I have to do is change my behavior, my looks, my weight, to stop causing the bad things. To children this is a very logical conclusion. It is a way of asserting that they really do have some control over the way they are being treated… Tragically, the abused child accepts guilt and endures shame to buy hope, hope that he or she can control the situation.” – How Emotional Abuse Leads to Guilt and Shame
JESUS COVERS ALL OF IT.
“We can therefore put to rest our guilt, and our shame, forever. Jesus took on our sin, giving us his robes of righteousness, and he bore the weight of our deepest shame—the longing for relationship with our Creator God… So what does it mean for us as Christians who have the Spirit of Jesus dwelling within us? We are free from shame. We are no longer excluded, left ‘outside the camp’ and left alone in our shame—whether it’s shame as a result of our own sin, another’s sin against us, or a characteristic culturally deemed as shameworthy. What the Spirit desires—the freedom for which we have been set free (Gal. 5:1)—is opposed to the slavery shame tries to force on us.” – When Shame Haunts You
FREEDOM AT LAST
After the first sin was committed, Adam and Eve responded to their shame by hiding from God. Ever since, humans have done likewise. “But just because pride moves us to hide our shame in the wrong places doesn’t mean that our instinct to hide is completely wrong. It isn’t. We do need a place to hide, but we need to hide in the right place.” 1
There is a right place to hide – Jesus Christ.
You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” – Psalm 32:7
I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” – Psalm 34:4-5
Shame beckons despair and isolation. But there is hope! Because Jesus Christ died a shameful death as the ultimate innocent sacrificial lamb. He became the enduring atonement for our sins. And in His righteousness, He rose back to life and returned to sit at the right hand of the Father where He continually intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). We are covered with His righteousness because He covered Himself in our shame. We can run and hide in Him and through Him enjoy relationship with our Heavenly Father. This is the free gift Jesus offers us. This is freedom.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” – John 3:17