Shame. What comes to your mind when mentioning that word? It’s a word that needs no definition for all of us have experienced it in varying degrees. Inadequacies, deficiencies, past and present failures…all bring that curtain of shame down on us. The problem, I think, is that when it strikes, instead of identifying it appropriate to what it is, we ride the wave of where it takes us.
I’ve been learning a lot about this dreaded animal over the past year or so. Not so much that it exists but the insidious behavior it encourages and has encouraged in my own life over many years. On one hand, there are those that accept it and go along with whatever behavior says it deserves. If you’re inadequate you might as well live like it.
Well, the problem with that for Christians is obvious. We are called to be holy and live according to our position in Christ (1 Peter 1:15-16; Ephesians 4:1). Although, living out shame can explain a lot concerning the presence and pull of sinful, addictive behavior. But any amount of time reading the bible, in prayer or fellowship with brothers and sisters will propel the need to live right and be a “good Christian”.
I personally believe that in our humanity, we are hard wired to earn our righteousness through moralism. It’s why the common response to acceptability to God is “I’m a good person”. The good is a reflection of the perfection that God requires. So good should be good enough. On the contrary, behavior that misses the mark is seen as not deserving any connection to or pardon from God . All this points to one thing: we want perfection. Because in perfection is beauty, goodness and acceptability.
When we bring this paradigm into Christianity, something volatile can happen when shame appears. Those feelings of inadequacies and deficiencies can transform the quest for perfection, goodness and acceptability into a host of deflective and defective behavior:
- Criticism of how others aren’t measuring up
- Elevation of ourselves to show how we are
- Demand for perfection in others while ignoring our own imperfections
There’s a tug of war going on between what good we want and what good isn’t there. (Romans 7 anyone?) When the buttons are pushed, shame lashes out with it’s demands to be hidden, unrecognized and protected. This is the shame of shame, when it becomes a hard task master and makes immense, unattainable demands of ourselves and others that require the appearance of measuring up or at least to compensate for those areas of shame in our lives.
The truth is we don’t measure up, the shame is real and we do long for perfection. Only Jesus provides the perfection we crave. Only he became the spotless, sinless sacrifice to give us the acceptability we could never earn (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:1-4). Only God’s grace can override our deficiencies and failures. We don’t follow Christ by becoming what he achieved but by accepting what he did on our behalf. Only then true fruit flows, not in compensation for shame, but in consideration of our position in Christ.
This is also why I find shame based preaching so insidious because it only fuels inadequacies while leaving no other recourse than to just get it together and measure up. Shame needs the gospel or else it will mire in the behavior listed above.
So when Paul says in Galatians 2:20-21;
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
This is not a one time deal but a daily need. An authentic Christian existence depends on it. And that means acknowledging those areas that bring shame in our lives and honestly examining what kind of behavior it provokes.
So the next time you feel that urge to lash out in defense or harsh demands, ask yourself if you are protecting your shame because it’s pushing some buttons. Then drop the sword, turn to the cross, remember the resurrection and take your honesty before the Lord.
Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)