We have all heard the words before, when we’ve done something that we were not supposed to do. The grievance may have ranged pulling your sister’s hair, taking money out of mom’s purse, or getting caught in a lie. Most likely, they were spoken to us by an adult when we were young. We probably took them to heart more than we knew.
“Shame on, you!”
Of course, the purpose of that speech act was to let us know that what we did was wrong and that we should have negative feelings associated with having committed that offense. Shame, can, of course, serve the helpful purpose of keeping us from sin and convicting of the sin once it has been committed.
But, shame has never been happy with that role.
It is recorded that when Adam and Eve stood before God in the Garden, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Yet, after rebelling against God’s economy of relationship, we are told that shame was ready for action.
7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Shame has long been sin’s strongest ally.
When we are struggling with sin, shame is there to whisper (or yell) in our ear that we should not only feel guilty, but we should not even think of telling anyone. Sin is like the school yard bully who says, “Go ahead, tell someone, I dare you! You’ll see what happens.”
In doing so, shame cuts us off from help, and forces us to keep carrying the burden all by ourselves. When that happens, we are weakened and face defeat after defeat in our struggle, alone, for days, weeks, months, even years, without hearing the good news of the gospel – that we are forgiven.
We come to believe there is no hope. We convince ourselves that we will be humiliated, shunned, avoided, looked down upon, and abandoned, even more than our private shame has already made us.
Sadly, we arrive at that conclusion through a fairly well formed set of historical data. The Church, which was redeemed from the penalty and shame of sin by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, has often fostered an environment of shame. Especially with certain sins. Right?
Shame on, us! But, only the kind of shame that drives us to quick repentance for creating barriers to forgiveness and the love of redeemed community to those desperately in need of experiencing the life changing love of Christ.
Of course, shame’s ultimate goal is to convince you that you are rejected by the Church, and that you are, therefore, rejected by Christ, and ultimately to get you to the painful finality of self-rejection.
Henri Nouwen writes, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Christ has entrusted the Church to being one of the primary vehicles through which His people hear the message that they are ‘Beloved’ without qualification!
The Church must always stand ready to be the first to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2)
We are reminded of the front-line role the church is called to play in helping people walk out of their shame when the Apostle James writes, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
If you are struggling with sin this morning, or have been living with the burden of past failures for a long time, please know that the first step towards your healing has already been done. Christ has already forgiven you.
And now for the hard part. Walk out of your shame and tell someone of your struggle. Ask for help!
Isaiah 61:7 speaks of the restoration of Israel this way, “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.”