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Filled with Shame

Filled with Shame

Hello Family,

I hope your summer is going well. I’ve been praying for you this week, that God would strengthen your heart and deepen your trust in him so that you will not be afraid of bad news nor the uncertainty of this world (Psalm 112).

According to a report in the newest edition of Christianity Today (July/ August 2017), the feeling that plagues Americans the most these days is shame. Whereas guilt used to be the negative emotion from which most people suffered, now that has been surpassed (at least among the broad category “All Americans”) by shame.

Despite the fact that many conflate these two concepts, guilt and shame are actually different experiences. Guilt tends to be the lingering discomfort or spiritual duress we feel when we have wronged someone else. For example, when David sinned by sleeping with Bathsheba and arranging for her husband to be murdered, he was wracked with guilt and confessed to the Lord his anguish of spirit; he writes, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. … Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51).  Guilt is a consequence of behavior.

Shame, however, is an emotion that is self-directed and can be independent of a particular action toward someone else. It reflects how we feel about ourselves. Shame is the belief that for some reason—perhaps a personal trauma, embarrassing experience, or the labeling by someone else—we are inherently undeserving of love and too bad to be accepted. For example, a person who has been abandoned in marriage can feel as though she is too flawed to enjoy meaningful connection with another person. This is the experience of shame.

I’ve written before about the nature of guilt and how the gospel provides the antidote, but it is also true that the gospel is the only power that can sufficiently eradicate ungodly shame from our lives. The repeated witness of the apostles is that what matters most (and one could argue exclusively) is not how I see myself, but how God sees me. Not how good I think I am, but how good God thinks I am. Not how worthy of love I believe I am, but how worthy of love God thinks I am. And the answer to these questions—how does God see me? How good am I? How worthy does God believe I am?—are answered at the unflinching Mountain of Shame, the hill of the cross.

In his book called, Crucifixion, Martin Hengel says, “The cross was not just any kind of death. It was an utterly offensive affair, ‘obscene’ in the original sense of the word.” It was so obscene that the erudite people of Greek and Roman societies, we’re told by historians, would not even utter the word “cross” in the company of other sophisticated people. Even so, while it may not have been the topic of conversation among the socially elite, a crucifixion could certainly attract a crowd. A crucifixion was never a private event. It was staged for the dual purpose of scaring people into submission of authority and bringing shame to the one being punished. The Roman government would often hold crucifixions during major festivals in order to maximize the number of gawkers. It was a way of ensuring the most amount disgrace, scorn, and public contempt.

Jesus endured the shame of the cross so that we could be forever rid of shame. Put more directly: Jesus’ shameful death covers our shame. His faithfulness to the Father and obedience unto the cross restore our honor with God.

The same David who lamented over his disobedience and corresponding guilt also felt shame. He, too, wondered if he was worthy of being loved. In Psalm 31, he writes: “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!” It is the righteousness of Jesus that we yearn for. To be reckoned as perfect before God. Approved of. This is a universal longing of all of humanity. And that righteousness and approval are ours by faith in Christ’s finished work. When we turn from our sin and believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, God erases our wicked past, cleanses all our impurities, and stamps us as honorable. Forever free from shame because of Jesus.

Are you worthy of being loved? The answer at the cross is a resounding, “Yes.” In fact, you are so worthy of being loved that God gave his best to bring you to himself. While shame may encroach with the message, “You will never be loved. You’re too broken,” at the cross the Father bellows, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. Here is the indisputable evidence.”

For his glory,

Pastor John