I’m about to get real…and honest. If you’re looking for a nicely packaged, sweet-smelling pretty Christianity, you won’t find it in this post. I’ve actually been wanting to write this post for awhile but couldn’t quite put a solid structure on it. But thanks to a couple of articles that have come across my radar awhile back and an article and unfortunate discussion thread I saw today, I was reminded of this post that sat as a draft for a couple of months. So I thought it was time to address something that I experience on a regular basis and know that pollyanna puffy cloud or otherwise trite formulas don’t quite cover it.
I came across this article a couple of months ago from the Resurgence blog, Jesus Over Shame. Jen Smidt writes of her battle with shame that she finally stuck a flag in the ground and marked that territory with Jesus.
If you are carrying the weight of shame, Jesus is calling you to give that burden to him and rest in the new identity he has given you. Because of shame, you may feel unqualified to speak truth into areas where you have influence. Whether you’re a Bible teacher, a neighbor, an employee, or a stay-at-home mom, you lead others. Don’t allow shame to silence you, but instead live in the freedom of Jesus’ grace, which eradicates shame. Don’t use shame to motivate yourself or those you lead. Point people to Jesus, who conquered shame.
Christian, from this day forward, choose Jesus over shame, every time.
That’s sounds quite simple, doesn’t it? After all, Scripture tells us that “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). And we must take serious that our sin debt has been paid by the one time sacrifice on the cross (Heb. 10:13). And my personal favorite, “he has cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Col 2:15). In Christ, we are certainly new creations (2 Cor. 5:21).
But I found myself uneasy about Smidt’s prescription. There was something kind of dismissive about it. It made me feel that those stabs of shame that frequently prick at my soul are there because I’m just not giving it to Jesus. If only I’d do that, then my problems and my pain would just go away. Well, I am and I do, but maybe I’m just not spiritual enough.
Or maybe I am and something else is going on. Unfortunately, I think this glossy finish Christianity ends up putting more shame on the the already shamed in feeling like their not good enough Christians. The problem is that life is not that simple, especially when you have holes in your life where sin and destruction had once been that leave visible un-restored areas. When I read this article from Kendra Dahl, Redemption for the Scars, I realized what it was. You see, even though Jesus took the shame of my sin, bearing it on the cross, then what happens with the consequences?
This could relate to our own sin or even the sin of others. In the author’s case, she tells of her past abortion, sexual immorality and having a child out of wedlock. Things turned around for her though. She repented, discontinued sinful patterns and entered a godly marriage with a man who loves her, by her account. You would think that these reversals and acceptance of the shame Christ bore on our behalf is enough. And still, even though things have been corrected it still pops up.
So imagine how much more prominent this shame is for those who circumstances have not been corrected and their life is an open book of past grievances. What if Dahl had remained a single mother? What of that nice Christian woman whose husband abandoned her to raise her kids alone? Or that godly couple with a wayward teen? Or that single person with reminders of past failures?
None of these scenarios preclude individuals who embrace God’s acceptance and unconditional love through Christ. Feeling that sting of shame doesn’t mean that person is unknowlegable about their Christian identity. But it does mean that life can be a bit more complicated than our formulas or dismissals will allow, especially when reminders slap you in the face. Reminders are powerful daggers. You can be chugging along just fine, then BAM! Something comes across your radar that pulls the shame to the surface as Dahl notes;
So many of us in the church bear invisible scars. And while over time they may fade into the background, they still bleed for some. They are a constant source of turmoil as we face haunting memories and fight to believe that there is enough redemption even for us.
And as I discovered today, when Christian leaders unwittingly draw caricatures of those whose life hasn’t lined up perfectly to an ideal Christian model (two-parent godly home; church going family, believing, well behaved kids, home-schooled or Christian schooled), it can have the impact of driving a nail right through those areas that haven’t lined up so well. Sadly, the ones who have not experienced mis-aligned lives have no clue of the impact this has.
I’ll also note that God uses shame for conviction of sin that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10-11). But that is different than experiencing the sting of past failures or failures of others that leave marks on our lives.
So does Jesus take away all my shame? Surely he bore our sins and paid the penalty once and for all (Heb. 10:10-13). Believing in him secures our not guilty verdict. Surely, we can be refreshed in the security of his love and acceptance. In Him is redemption and forgiveness of sins and we should rejoice in that. But practically speaking, that doesn’t mean shame goes away. As one of my co-workers once said “the struggle is real”. Can we get real about the struggle?
Yes, and the struggle is real. I think we have such a distorted view of what the Christian life is supposed to look like that we don’t know how to address and deal with past and present sin in our lives because the church as a whole (and yes I am making a blanket statement 😉 ) doesn’t live out James 5:16. Many conservative/fundamental churches were so zealous about keeping licentiousness out of the church that they became so legalistic as to equate temptation with the actual committing of sin. Hence, performancism (I think I just made that word up) became the norm with a whole generation of Christians who didn’t know how to deal with temptation and finally gave up and gave in. Because, really, if the temptation is as bad as doing it, why not just do it? And then there we are hitting middle age with a huge load of guilt and shame over what we did even as a believer still unable to confess because we fear the judgement of those who should have been there walking with us and helping us through our temptation instead of condemning us as not being perfect.
I wish that was just my experience. *sigh* But, I do think that mindset is turning around to some extent. Good intentions do not always lead to good methodology, and it is so easy to fall into the trap of legalism. Jesus saved us from that too because He alone lived the sinless life we cannot, and bore the guilt and shame we deserve to set us free from sin and guilt and shame. And that’s why even we believers need the gospel every day, because the struggle does not end at salvation for us. It begins. 🙂
Thank you so much for being the first Christian writer who has ever “gotten it”! Gotta say, as a long-time Christian whose life has not at all turned out like the prosperity teachers preach that it should, I understand what it feels like to be that Christian who is on the outside looking in. I realize there are no east
Solutions, but trite responses from well-meaning perfect people somehow do not assuage me. And I am convinced that God is not pleased with these comments as well. Oh for more of us to really understand and empathize with the plight of others. It would be a whole different world!
Thank you, ladies! It’s so comforting to know that my stepping out on a limb resonates with others.
I appreciate your point of view here and certainly can empathise with it having grown up in an abusive family and spent 15 years in an abusive ‘christian’ religious cult. The pain of other people’s sin bearing down on you causes a great deal of shame. You see yourself as worthless and pointless. I have spent many times on my knees just telling God I wanted to ‘be invisible’ so I didn’t have to carry the shame anymore.
But I have also learned a great deal since I left that cult, and in the last few years in particular have had to re-learn the gospel. Over the last 5 decades of my life, I have travelled down a few false gospel paths which have taken me nowhere except to more confusion and loneliness. Shame has been an ever-present feeling in my life. It doesn’ t help when current cult members you meet in the street shun you or treat you like a leper. It is a constant reminder that you are bad and they are good, you are wrong and they are right, even though I no longer believe that about myself.
I have also found that shame has far-reaching consequences. It produces anger, and fear and they can dominate your thoughts and twist your heart and soul and harden your conscience. I don’t want to be this way anymore.
But since my journeys into scripture, and trying to understand the wondrous treasure God has given us in these powerful words, I have seen a great deal more than I ever did before, and I have been reading the bible over and over for 37 years. Now I understand scriptures like Romans 12:2 in a new way. We are actually transormed by a renewed mind. We can see things completely differently. I was deceived by lies and a false gospel, now I see the truth and it genuinely is setting me free.
For those of us with traumatised pasts, the pains and fears are many layered. It takes time to dig down and deal with it, and as long as we are moving constantly towards God, and not away from Him (been there), we will know a gradually increasing victory. Jesus makes us a new creation, but it is up to us to keep walking. It is hard work my friends. I love the fact that we have a responsibility here. Jesus doesn’t come along and just zap you and make you all better. It is a walk, a race, a battle, a road, which means we need to make a commitment to the gradual move towards change. Those preachers who don’t really understand this will make us look like ‘bad christians’ if we can’t just ‘be better’. THe number of times I have been told to “just put it all behind you”, or “give it all to Jesus”. Well, yessir, I do that every day, but I have still got some way to go, and my flesh is always going to interfere with that process. Not to mention the enemy of my soul who will send little fiery darts my way. I believe these are the the stabs of shame that prick at our souls. The enemy will always find a way to remind us how useless we are.
A good way to fight this, is to agree with him. Yes, I am pretty useless in my own strength. I can’t do it myself. Before the Cross of Christ, we are all levelled, all sinners, all without excuse and all equally weak and bound. In Christ, and through his Holy Spirit, we are strengthened, and each day. In Christ, I am a new creation, no longer a slave to sin, and seated with Him who has overcome our enemy. He proves to us that he is the great deliverer, the great provider. Even Paul the Apostle had a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. Each of us has something to remind us of the weakness of our flesh, but God’s arm is never too short.
wow! you have an awesome gift of communication! I hope you write much much more for the kingdom. blessings! good word by the way!
I don’t believe that Dahl was being dismissive of other people’s situations. She was identifying her sources of shame and when she personally let the reality of Jesus bearing our sin and shame she recognized she need not feel that shame anymore. A specific outcome in her life was a husband, etc. She’s not saying that others who stay single are bearing their shame. Whatever the painful realities of life are, the consequences of our behaviors, we can still enjoy the joy of the Lord and fullness of His promises, no matter what the state of being is; even in jail. Joseph enjoyed the favor of God in the lowest of places, no shame at all.
Scott, thanks for stopping by my blog. I think you’ve misunderstood what I meant by dismissive. While its great that Dahl writes that she no longer experiences pangs of shame, that does not hold true for others, especially when there are circumstances present in their lives that serve as reminders. I did not say that Dahl says others bear their shame only that she is not accounting for what others experience. We do have to be careful at imposing what we think others experience. Also, I don’t know that we can say Joseph experienced no shame. We really don’t know that, do we? Experiencing joy in the Lord does not mean that we do not experience pangs of shame. But what’s important is what we do with it, and recognize that in Christ is redemption and forgiveness of sins and that there is no condemnation. This is a daily exercise for some.
It seems the issue is that our shame has been removed from before the Father. In Christ it is before Him that we will never be put to shame. However, that knowledge of our security in Christ and His never ending love gives us the strength, yes even the courage to bring those past activities that shamed us before Him and others and lay them at the feet of the cross. As you said, as new creatures we don’t have to define ourselves by our past anymore, but we can define ourselves by our future in Him. This won’t stop the occasional pang of regret, but we can rejoice that the ultimate consequence of our past actions are securely covered under the blood of Jesus.
Many people,when they wake up to their ignorance and its actions,feel shame. Thats because of the new values of God. When you know better through God,you do better because of Him. But many religions teach we should feel shame even if we are sorry and have changed our lives…That we should be “martyrs” all our lives for past actions. This is so the religion can then manipulate that person to stay loyal to that Church,because they say they are mediators between God and people,instead of Christ being that. If we change our lives when we know better,then we are forgiven. The question is,do we forgive ourselves. If God “remember their sins no more”,then this is part of His forgiveness…and we must do the same. Guilt always needs punishment. If we dont let go of our guilt BECAUSE we are forgiven,then in some way we will feel we are not worthy no matter how hard we try. This is the point of “forgiveness”. We move on,we forgive ourselves as God has done,we let go of guilt and its need for punishment,learn from it and be free of the burden of guilt and shame. Many “Christians” wear the “badge of shame” as if their past actions show their true worth and we are nothing before God as worthless dust. Christ was willing to die for us because of our great value,not because we are worth nothing. When we come to know God and Christ,we act in harmony with out worth.
Forgiveness from God is a reminder of our worth,not of ignorance which led to many ignorant acts.
Of course there is a difference between guilt and shame. Knowing that Christ removed our guilt does not necessarily remove feelings of shame. Knowing your forgiven is different than feeling shame over what we deem not to measure up. Has nothing to do with forgiveness. I love what my pastor said this past Sunday in an excellent message on 1 Cor. 1:25-31, we may feel shame but we don’t need to fear shame. I think that’s right. We don’t fear because of our position in Christ, knowing that he removed our guilt but I think I said that in the post. Also, I think we need to account for the already-but-not yet tension we live in. If everything was made right in the here and now, what tears would he need to wipe away in the new heaven and earth when he sets everything right?
I am grateful to see that I am not alone in all of this-I struggle with guilt/shame on a fairly regular basis-like you said “just moving right along then wham! I believe that 1 of the greatest tools that satan uses is to make a person feel like they are the only one-such a freedom comes when you find out that everyone -not just you- goes through these issues and struggles-just like he said ” no temptation has come upon you that such is not common to man-we are all in the same boat/battle from one degree to the other-and I believe that the more open and honest we are about what we struggle with – the ligature loosens from around our necks and we can breath again. Satan is a legalist and well versed in the law and that is what he hits us with but I also believe that the Word is capable of uprooting/tearing down these strongholds in our minds/souls-my struggle is more about where I am in areas of my own life in the present day-my difficulties of letting go of destructive habits-seeing how the enemy uses people in my day to day life just continually nipping at my heels and forgetting to remember that “I wrestle not against flesh and blood-my war is with the enemy who uses people to get at me.
Our God will never use shame/condemnation or guilt-the Holy Spirit “convicts” and that word means to “convince” not to sentence someone as guilty. I have a choice every single day to choose to place what He says about me or to listen to the garbage-it can be hard to choose rightly when your emotions have now engaged and are in the process of dragging one down to a pit-no matter whether I am already slipping into the pit, if I choose to start “stirring myself up in my most holy faith” by speaking to myself what He says then no pit is deep enough to swallow me -He will pull me out.
I do believe that His word and truth can and will be made flesh in me as I give it room to do so-is it easy? not by a long shot-but it is a heck of a lot better than lying in a pool of tears and despair si no? This is a process that we all must choose to either walk through or stay on the side of the mountain, set up camp and die there-I refuse to do this as tempting as it can be at times.
These end times are going to cause a lot of shaking and we need to be anchored in Him and His Word.
the only time this type of oppression goes on with me is when I am slow to run to Him and just get in His presence versus sitting there and entertaining my stinkin thinkin,
Once again good to see that I am just a normal believer going through what any other believer would-I am not just somehow uniquely messed up.
I really appreciate Christians who are “real” and ask the hard questions. My thoughts while reading through this post are this: Shame is an emotion, like fear and pain. Many emotions come from what we believe about God, ourselves, and others. Paul tells us to transform by the renewing of our minds. Jesus took away our sin, but it is up to us to actively take captive every thought and to engage in deciding what we choose to believe. When I am hit with shame, I self-check to see if God is exposing something unfit in my life. Once I have dealt with that and have taken it to him, I remind myself what I have chosen to believe about His word. I choose to focus on this “belief” because emotions, such as shame, can lie to us. I deal with pain and fear similarly. That doesn’t mean they go away. It means I live in response to my beliefs and convictions, rather than being controlled by my emotions. This is what works for me, hope it helps someone else.
Lisa, thank you for bringing this up, I would like to put my two cents worth in as well because this subject is relevant in my life. I also have had lets say an unconventional walk with Christ, but I have come to realise that a lot of the pain I suffer is self-inflicted because my shame is not from not living up to others standards it comes from not living up to my own. It has nothing to do with God, He paid the ultimate price for my sin and sees me as perfect, and yes there are times I feel shame and need to confess. But this large inadequacy and self-hatred I feel and yes this usually comes from those pesky consequences that is my own doing. My own standards from wherever they have come, family, church wherever I have adopted and made my own and in failing these do I feel the pain, not conviction of sin but the harsh self-imposed penalty of ‘sinning’ against myself.We don’t have to be perfect and churches should not preach that, we just need to be us, and God will use us wherever we are at. Other single mothers will feel much more comfortable with you, or whatever, there are people who will relate to you way better than a ‘perfect person’ whatever that is … Jesus … no one else. Give yourself a break and begin to love yourself as your Creator loves you right where He found you and leave the circumstances to Him, it is for His glory we live. He alone knows how to display His glory in you. Plug in and shine you already have all you need, may God bless you.
Hi Lisa. Greatly appreciate your honesty and feel with you in your pain. My comment is not intended to be negative, condemning or critical. My sincere apologies if my wording suggests otherwise. You say that Jesus ‘…took the shame of my sin, bearing it on the cross…’ Derek Prince Ministries say that He took our shame on the cross. I’m not sure that He did either. The Cary Cox Ministry says that He was put to shame for our sin. That might be true but it does not address your issue. He bore our sins on the cross but (Heb 12: 2) ‘scorned’/’despised’/’ignored’/’thought nothing of’/’disregarded’ [to quote different versions] our shame. Shame is not the sin but a symptom of the sin. Like a doctor treats the cause (a cold) rather than the symptom (a sneeze), thereby ‘ignoring’ the sympton, so Jesus deals with the cause (sin) rather than the symptom (shame). The sin monster has been slaughtered and so can no longer fuel its shame symptoms, ie the manipulated remnants of our cluttered memories and emotions relating to our once-unforgiven sins. These can be ‘disregarded’ by them being ‘offered up’ to God as being redundant.g I am not suggesting that that in itself is simplistic or easy. It can be a heavy experience calling for experienced anointed ministry and prayer support. But that, with respect, Lisa, is different from assuming that He took our shame upon Himself. I hope that is of help. It certainly was for me. Once again, my apologies for any perceived judgementalism – it is not there in my heart.
“I’ll also note that God uses shame for conviction of sin that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10-11).”
Shame is used by shame-based organizations, families, churches, etc., as a means to control and keep an authority over the people. To keep them trying and trying to measure up to a standard, failing, and then trying again….meanwhile they are keeping the lights on at the church, keeping food on the pastor’s plate, and keeping the grass cut outside. God, however, does use guilt and sorrow [2 Cor. 7:10-11] to show us where we are hurting ourselves or others, but He never uses shame. Shame, is thinking that we are defective as a person. That we are not worthy of salvation or good enough to receive God’s grace, love, mercy, etc. I praise God that the gospel found me and that I know what Standard I will never live up to, and who I will try to follow….out of love, not fear. That is Jesus Christ. He is the way that believers are never “defective” and never “not worthy of God’s grace”. It is because of Jesus Christ that all Christians everywhere SHOULD be shame free. However, shame is what keeps churches in business. — “In a Christian world without shame, many pastors would have little to preach about. In a Christian world without shame, many Christian authors couldn’t find readers. In a Christian world without shame, many of the people who now flock to our churches to receive more lashes every week would find that the relentless love of God does not demand more of them but less — and then eventually leads naturally and easily to the “more” we are all seeking in our tortured efforts. But we’re shame-based people. Taking something we haven’t earned is — well — shameful. We must deserve it and if we don’t deserve it, we must reject it. That is why the lavish grace of God, freely available to all people, languishes on the shelf.” – David K Flowers
Psalm 119:6 Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.
“You see, even though Jesus took the shame of my sin, bearing it on the cross, then what happens with the consequences?” He took the evil consequences as well, Jesus bore all our sin and and all its evil consequences on the cross. God did so much more on the cross than perhaps we realise. ” We cannot Lord thy purpose see, but all is well that’s done by thee.”
shame is the belief “I am wrong” guilt is the belief “I’ve done wrong” There is NO SHAME in Christ- We are made perfect in Him. that does not negate our “feelings” of shame, but feelings are a mirage and a lie of the enemy to make us think we are NOT who God says we are.
That’s why HE nailed shame to the cross- so we don’t have to bear it anymore.
the word can be easily misunderstood- but there is NO SHAME FOR A CHRIST FOLLOWER!
great message great message,pray for me mario p