We hear about its destructive power. How it can weigh us down and keep us from claiming the fullness of our identity. It hobbles us, keeping us in smaller lives than God intended.
But shame has an important purpose. The problem is not letting it do its job, but holding on to it.
Christians Stuck in Shame
Let’s face it, we should feel ashamed of some things we do. If we never appreciate the wrongness of our actions, thoughts, or attitudes, we can’t repent, be cleansed, and move on in freedom.
Shame should bring us to the foot of the cross. But we let it keep us from its remedy; we hide like Adam and Eve hid their nakedness. When we can’t bear it any more, we confess. But if we don’t think we deserve to be forgiven, or if we don’t understand the Gods’ grace and mercy, we carry our shame beyond the cross.
There’s a huge difference between acknowledging our sinfulness to turn away from it, and taking on shame as part of our identity.
God never intended us to ignore our emotions. They point us toward problems in our life that need healing. As physical pain is to the body, so is emotional pain to our heart, soul, and mind.
But why are so many Christians stuck in the suffering of shame?
Part of it is overlooking the invitation to restoration through God’s painful gift of conviction, while listening to Satan’s lie of condemnation. We can fail to separate the wrongness of our sin from the value of our selves.
You are not your sin.
But it’s tempting to carry the burden of our perceived inadequacy beyond repentance at the cross. We know we don’t deserve redemption, right? We’re too small, too weak, too ugly, too bad, too…
We give temporal labels we’ve accepted more right to define us than we give God. We idolize our perception of ourselves over Truth. We give shame God’s rightful authority in our lives.
It’s backwards pride.
Read more about backwards pride in How to Grow through Giving Up, Part 4: Self-Denial or Self-Punishment? and Getting to Know the People of the Bible
What makes your sin exceptional? How is it more powerful than Jesus’ blood shed for you on the cross?
Too many Christians fail to move beyond their basic understanding of the stark difference between their thoughts and actions, and God’s holiness. They may not even realize that’s the meaning of the discomfort that drives them to Jesus, but accept a skewed view of who they are. Sometimes continuing in the self-defeating harmful behavior He wants to break the power of. Sometime staying in bondage to a pervasive shame of who they are.
We don’t just live smaller lives when we don’t embrace our identity as redeemed children of God, we trash our testimony. Who wants a faith that makes them feel bad? The world’s desire to shed shame by accepting and celebrating what the Bible calls sin has even crept into the church. We preach a stunted self-worth as meaningless as the world’s.
The Apostle Peter gives us the key to shedding an identity of shame to walk in the freedom of a right understanding of who we are in Christ:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:5-9, NIV
The world tells us to embrace what our hearts tell us. But our hearts easily deceived, and they mislead us.
Read more about believing truth over the heart’s lies in Who Can Understand It?
Let’s break down what Peter has to say about it…
He tells us the starting point is faith. You understood that you needed salvation, and the only way is through Jesus Christ.
Add to that goodness. You know those things you knew were wrong? Don’t do them. Do what you know is right.
To goodness, add knowledge. Who is this Jesus? What can we know about God? How did the Creator design us? Learn. From Scripture. With other believers.
To knowledge, add self-control. We’re responsible for what we know. As our understanding of God’s character and will develop, so should our behavior.
To self-control, add perseverance. We’re not just more responsible for what we know, we’re more motivated to please God as we’re transformed. But a life of faith isn’t always easy. Worthwhile, but not easy.
To perseverance, add godliness. When we approach our learning about God, and our obedience and service, with humility, we are transformed. It’s difficult to accept, but our character is more important than our comfort. As we persevere, we become more like Christ.
To godliness, add mutual affection. We’re all sinners. We all need grace. True humility understands it’s not better or worse than anyone else. It doesn’t need to put anyone down, or take from them… Just to clarify, taking is different from accepting.
To mutual affection, add love. When we love like Jesus, others’ good is as important as or own. We only want what’s best for the object of our love, and the object of Christian love is… everyone.
When we live this pattern (it’s more circular than a ladder of attainment, as we grow in each area and they develop us in the others), we are effective and productive in our place in the Body of Christ, both to edify fellow believers and draw unbelievers to the beauty of the Gospel through its glow in our lives.
Living this out clears our eyes so we see through the lies that bind us to unhealthy patterns, false beliefs, and flawed concepts of ourselves. We establish new, healthy habits, accept Truth, and become who we were created to be.
Peter gives us a model for learning to live out our faith practically, letting God fill out the details.
Are you living in freedom today?
For many of us, our lack of knowledge is a huge part of our problem. We simply don’t know who God is, or understand His character. We have vague images of God’s design for healthy humanity, and less clear ideas of how to live out His commands for our good in our absolutes-fearing society. We even doubt His rightness. Our doubtful, self-focused faith quenches God’s transformative power in our lives.
We’re left unsure. Knowing that we somehow aren’t right, but cutting ourselves off from God-imparted righteousness.
We need to pick up our Bibles, and read them with tenacious, humble hearts. Are you ready to be confronted by the Truth God reveals to you through His Word, and are you willing to believe it?
God’s commands don’t limit us; they free us.
Read more about how God’s commands don’t limit us but free us in Faith Like a Cheap Pair of Shoes.
Where to Start
If you’re not part of a Bible-believing and Biblically-encouraging church family, find a Bible-preaching local church. I know, it can be easier said than done. Get involved in a small-group Bible study. Set aside time for Scripture every day.
Read more about the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines in Spiritual Discipline: What Faith Alone Won’t Do
It’s important to both read the Bible, and study it. If you need a place to start, I’d love to have you join me in my devotional Scripture reading and writing plan, Listen When He Speaks. Participants can join our Facebook community for a daily opportunity to discuss the reading, how God is speaking to you through His Word, and how you’re living it.
Check out some of my favorite Bible Study Resources… Learn, Meditate, Memorize
Read more about living your identity in Christ in these posts: