"Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood" (Isaiah 54: 4)
"Shame on you". Few words pack such a sting. To put shame on someone is to assign humiliation to them and utterly dismiss them. In some cultures, "shame is worse than death" (that phrase, in fact, is a Russian proverb). But what, exactly, is the nature of shame? How does it affect us? What is the remedy?
Although guilt and shame share some of the same moral and spiritual characteristics, some have drawn a distinction between the two. Guilt, they say, is the conviction that something you have done is bad. Shame, by contrast, is the conviction that you are bad. The normal cure for guilt is to make ammends for what you have done beginning with an apology or a confession. This can go a long way towards relieving guilt's persistent pangs. But how do you apologize for what you are?
Forgiven, But Still Ashamed?
It has been my experience that we can experience forgiveness from guilt - the guilt of our sinful actions, attitudes and behaviors - without experience total release from shame. Many Christians know what I am talking about. If you ask them if they believe or feel that God has forgiven them for what they have done, they will say: "yes!". But if you ask them if they are at peace with who they are inside - if that mercy from above has penetrated to the way they see themselves within - they will struggle to answer in the affirmative for, although forgiven, they still feel their shame. This is not only unnecessary but it diminishes what is available in the finished work of Christ as expressed in His gospel.
Transformed Through Worship
In the Bible, shame is connected with idolatry. To worship false gods is to empower a shame-based life. These gods may stand in for actual demonic principalities and powers or they may be projections of self-worship. In either case idolatry is a degrading endeavor that sets us up to experience an ever-deepening sense of shame.
By contrast, the Bible portrays the worship of the true and living God as ennobling, life-giving, and liberating. God is not the one who changes as we worship Him "in Spirit and in truth" - it is we who are changed "with ever increasing glory":
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever‑increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3: 18, NIV).
Therefore, one of the key ways to experience release from the grip of shame is to worship God from our hearts and, in so doing, allow Him to affirm our place at His table as fully-adopted sons and daughters.
The cure for shame is not only to accept forgiveness for sins, but to be renewed within by the grace of God. It is to see ourselves the way He sees us. It is to be transformed in our essential self-image by the gift of His holy acceptance of us through Christ.
The passage in Isaiah 53 that describes the devastating humiliation of the Suffering Servant Messiah demonstrates that He not only took the punishment for our guilt upon Himself, but also the root of shame and rejection of the self that our fallen nature has produced. From His humiliation comes our exaltation - not in vanity, but in saving grace!
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8: 9). ng grace!
As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let's make sure and praise God for not only the forgiveness of sins, but the release from shame His gift of Grace provides!