The other day I attended a seminar where the speaker talked about the value of shame. He lamented the loss of shame in our culture as a way of guiding people to right behavior. To be fair, there was a context to his statement, but I still didn’t like it. It’s like spelling a word wrong for a long time; then, when you finally learn how to spell it correctly, you misspell it once in a while just to remind yourself. I just don’t see any value in shame in the life of a believer.
I have believed for years that guilt and shame are similar in purpose to pain. Pain is good, right? You don’t want to be alerted to the fact that your hand is on the burner by the smell. Pain tells you instantly that something is wrong. It would be nice to be able to turn off that message when your brain gets the point, but pain continues as long as something is wrong. If you do burn yourself, you may have pain until the healing is nearly complete and then have sensitivity after.
Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away when it should. Phantom pain and chronic pain don’t necessarily signal that something is wrong. Pain may be the result of something like crossed wiring in the brain. The cause of the pain is gone, but the brain doesn’t understand that.
Guilt and shame point out to the lost person that something is wrong. They are given by the Lord of love as a way of moving people to Him. When we are in pain, it is hard to think of other things until that pain is removed. When we feel shame, we find ourselves driven to healing. When Jesus told the “heavily burdened” to come to Him, what burden do you think they were carrying? They were carrying the shame of their inability to please God and their sins against Him. We understand that.
But, when they came to Jesus, He took away their burden. He told them that His burden was light. In other words, they didn’t need to carry around their shame any longer. They were forgiven.
When you came to Jesus and He washed away your sins, did He leave the shame? Why would He do that? No, the shame washed away as well. No more sin, no more shame. If the shame remains, it doesn’t come from the sin. It comes from wrong thinking. It comes from a lie that tells you that you are still responsible for the sins that have been washed away.
But, you say, what about the sins we do today? Shouldn’t we feel shame because of them? First, I have never seen shame bring a believer to victory, nor do I think it is possible. Victory comes when we understand who we are in Christ, not when we continually focus on what we have done or are doing. Truth brings victory. When I see myself, who I really am, as free from that sin and no longer needing what I think it will provide, then I will have victory.
Also, I like to ask this question a lot: How much sin is on your account right now? If you are a believer, the answer must be—none! Jesus has washed it all away. Even the sins of the present and the future. Nothing is on your account, holding you back from full communion with the Lord who loves you. And, remember: no sin, no shame.
Two more thoughts: I have written a couple of posts about 1 John 1:9 and whether we must confess our sins in order for them to be forgiven. We do not. I believe that is a statement of simple fact. When you came to Christ, you confessed and He forgave you. The need for continued confession seems to be very similar to the feedback loop in the brain that makes you feel pain when you shouldn’t.
Nothing of this minimizes the risk and consequence sin brings. There is nothing good in sin for the believer and we should avoid doing the things God calls sin. There are many earthly consequences to sin. God did take care of the spiritual consequences, but you still hurt yourself and others through sin.
The only reason shame clings to you as a believer is because you don’t let it go. Take it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet. Don’t pick it up again. Then hear His voice of love and acceptance.