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What is Shame?

If you Google it this is the answer you will find this: 

Shame is a powerful emotion that can cause people to feel defective, unacceptable, even damaged beyond repair.... You may sometimes confuse shame with guilt, a related but different emotion. When you feel shame, you're feeling that your whole self is wrong. 

Shame is the second recorded emotion in the Bible behind pride; Adam and Eve felt shame when they turned against God. 

I found this on the DesiringGod website; it is a very concise explanation of how shame affected Adam and Eve then and us now:

Shame has plagued us since Adam and Eve bit into the fruit and realized they were naked. Their first instinct was to hide from each other and God (Genesis 3:7-11). And no wonder. They now stood guilty before God and were vulnerable to each other and Satan in a whole new horrible way. Suddenly, they were sinful, weak, damaged people living in a dangerous world. They found themselves under God’s righteous judgment (Genesis 3:17-19); John 3:19; Romans 6:23), exposed to other sinners’ sinful judgment and rejection, and wide-open to the condemning accusations of the evil one (Revelation 12:10). We also live in this dangerous world and have the same instinct to hide ourselves.

As these explanations show, shame is a powerful sense that you are not right. The things you’ve done, said and thought have rendered you shameful; a genuinely awful person. Not fit to be around others, you just want to hide. You have a feeling you can’t come back from it.

It comes with a whole gang of negative emotions; a menacing group that are armed to the teeth with their own weapons to mentally and spiritually crush you.

They are:

  • Fear 
  • Guilt 
  • Depression 
  • Desperation 
  • Pride 

The list goes on.

However shame is the key that opens the door to all these emotions. 

I have seen people overcome with shame; many in addiction as they move into recovery have a crippling sense of it. Whilst still in the madness of their addictions; shame is one of the tools the enemy uses to keep us in the madness.

Who else wants us broken? 

Who else wants us ruined and open to all these other negative emotions but the enemy?

Amazingly there is another who wants us in this state, it is us... 

The psychological effect of shame on us is that we feel 100% we deserve to feel this way. 

Pride is a key element in this:

  • “We are not living as we should be” 
  • “We have let our friends and family down” 
  • “Why can’t I manage like everyone else?” 

Pride always accompanies shame.

So far I have spoken a lot about emotions and what we feel. Now I want to spend time looking at the facts; reality as God sees it and wants us to see it as.

The Bible is very clear, we are made as emotional beings with a great depth of feeling but we are not to be controlled by them.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
​Galatians 5:17
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6

All of the above verses speak of how we are called to take control of our emotions and feelings instead of being overcome and controlled by them.

We are instructed to trust in God; to not fear and to overcome our emotions or desires to stop us doing what we want, or to stop us feeling things as the enemy wants! 

The verses are just a few taken from the Old and New Testament, there are many more! 

The overriding teaching is that although to feel is important, to be controlled by feelings, emotions and desires is not good for us.

In fact it can be crippling; spiritually, mentally and physically; for we are not just one of these states, we are all three always!

However some might rightly argue

“But it’s too difficult the weight of shame is too much. It’s not easy to let go of shame...” 

No it isn’t, but the Bible has an answer; in fact it has many. 

Nearly all of our shame comes from our sin. Either real or a misplaced sense of what we have done and said to others, how we have behaved or decisions we have made; to our loved ones, to stranger’s and to ourselves. 

The reason it hits us hard as we start recovery is because we then realise what we have done against God. It is not a sin to feel Shame in fact any well adjusted person cannot help but feel Shame. It is however a sin to hold onto it. 

Jesus gives the route out of shame. The teachings of the Bible show us how to give it up.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
​1 Corinthians 10:13 
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
1 John 1:9
“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.”
Isaiah 54:4 
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 Revelation 21:4 
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 
Romans 3:23 

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 
Romans 10:13 

He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. 

Micah 7:19 

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
Acts 3:19
As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.
Psalm 40:11-12 
The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:8-12

The way out of shame is to believe in the Word of God, to choose to identify in His teaching and promises. To accept His truth over the lies we tell ourselves, the way out of shame is to throw yourself into God.

The above verse list starts with 1 Corinthians 10 v 13: 

“There is no temptation that has overtaken you that is not common to man” 

​ You could replace the word temptation above with sin, desire or shame. 

We are not alone in how we feel, God is not unaware of our problems; or the things we have done. He knows what we have done and He wants us anyway, He has a way out for us; the way out is Jesus.

Jesus dealt with shame in incredible ways. He spoke with love and truth to the woman at the well, who lived in shame over her many relationships

(John 4:4–42)

He healed the woman who had been haemorrhaging for 12 years. 

(Matthew 9:20–22, Mark 5:25–34, Luke 8:43–48) 

He went to those that felt the shame of being physically and spiritually unclean. He turned the shame back on the accusers of the adulteress woman. 

(John 8:1-11) 

He lifted the shame of collaboration by calling Zacchaeus and Matthew to follow Him

(Matthew 5:8, Matthew 9:9-13) 

Jesus is our way out of shame. 

If we return to the verse list above, the list ends with Psalm 103:8-12. In these verses we read of his mercy, that even though Jesus may not like what we have done; when we turn to Him he does not deal with us by giving us what we deserve. 

He deals with us by giving us what we need to heal, Grace and mercy. 

This Psalm has the great verse: 

“as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” 

As humans living in towns and cities with boundaries, countries with borders, land masses limited by sea; on a planet that has a barrier of atmosphere. In a solar system, living lives that seem finite; we put limits on everything. 

 For a long time I did with this verse. 

We can see with our technology hundreds of thousands of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars. Each one of those stars with its own planetary system all hundreds and thousands of light years away. I am convinced if we were to stand on a planet in the furthest galaxy, using the technology we have we would see the same again hundreds and thousands of light years away into the distance. 

This is what is meant by: “As far as the east is from the west" 

Jesus removes our sin and shame so far from us that it equates to being completely removed, if we let Him that is. 

This is the crux of how the enemy uses shame; he tricks us into believing Jesus will not help us, that we don’t deserve help or that we are too bad to receive any. 

Right in the middle of the verse list we have the tool of our escape, a simple word and a simple action that can seem like the hardest thing in the world to do; only it isn’t. Just where it should be, it is our one job; the teeny weeny thing we must do. To see our shame lifted, to see it removed from us...

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
Acts 3:19

Repent. We will come back to this later. Let’s get back to the feeling of Shame, if shame is negative is it always a bad thing?

I would give the answer yes, but it has some positives. In my own experience and the experience I have gained leading Cornerstone for 10 years; working with those in addiction, poverty, homelessness and with mental health; shame is a catalyst, it can push people to Christ. 

At some point they (I include myself in this) decided they cannot stay like this, there must be more? How do I get my life back? 

Then the journey begins and the healing starts... 

It starts with the realisation God is real; that God loves me and has called me. All I have to do is repent, believe in Christ and follow His teaching. 

Jesus says “His burden is light and his yoke is easy” 

There you go! Shame is eliminated everything sorted... Or is it? 

Well in truth it should be but we are complicated creatures and there are some factors that get in the way; we are going to look at the main three:

1: Bad Teaching

I have the privilege of travelling around the Borough of Bexley, speaking at different churches every month and meeting Christians from many different backgrounds and denominations.

I am constantly amazed at how many people are well established in the church; they have been saved for decades and carry with them a deep sense of shame. Add to this pride, guilt, fear, anxiety and depression. 

They are not living in victory. They are not living life to the full as Jesus promised. 

In fact they are firmly rooted in the wrong belief that they are sinners and one day God will make it all better.

This I believe largely is the issue, but not completely. We will see the next point lies at the feet of us that teach.

  • How is it possible that people can grow old in the church without maturing in Christ? 
  • Why is it that they are not being challenged? 
  • Why are these negative feelings not being challenged with the truth? 

Sadly the wrong teaching it appears to me stems from fear; fear that if challenged people will leave and so numbers will go down.

Fear that people begin living in victory, full of the Spirit; that these Christians get all kinds of “radical ideas” and we wouldn’t want to stand out.

If we want to see people free then we must preach freedom...

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” 
John 8:36

We cannot worry if people don’t like to be challenged. However how can we love people and not tell them the truth?

There is a sickness in the world firmly rooted in the church: 

We care more about friendships than we do our friends.


It is clear people are not going to like what we say if we are saying what Jesus said since they didn’t like it when He said it; in fact He was crucified for speaking the truth. 

Paul is clear in Galatians when he says: 

“If I still wanted to please men why would I be preaching the Gospel” 

Teachers have got to be willing to challenge others, challenge ourselves and preach freedom. 

Do we believe that when Jesus said “It Is Finished” that He meant it? We as teachers have to believe this for ourselves. Or we will never be able to help others believe the truth of it. Our teaching facilitates people to choose Jesus; to choose to believe He is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He will do.

If we are not believing and teaching freedom how do we expect people to be free? 

This leads me nicely to the next point.

2: Unbelief

Now this one is a killer; I have met countless Christians who believe in Jesus, only they don’t...

They believe in God but not in His Sovereignty; preferring to hold on to certain things or deal with stuff in their own strength.

They believe Jesus died for them and took their sins, only they don’t. 

In fact their belief is more like:

  • “I believe Jesus lived and died probably for you but definitely not for me. I’m just too bad...” 
  • “I believe Jesus healed people but stuff like that doesn’t happen today...” 
  • “I know Jesus said He came to set the captives free. I know He said He came to give me abundant life, but that isn’t meant for me...” 
  • “I know the Bible says I’m a saint, no longer a sinner but how can I be as I still sin..?” 
  • “I know Heaven is real but I’m probably not going to make it as I’m a sinner, the Bible says there are no sinners in heaven...” 

I preach freedom, in fact I only preach two things; freedom in Christ and remembering the poor. I teach this in many different ways but basically that is it.

To preach these two things we have to study the Old and New Testament; bringing the Bible into modern day relevance.

I still have people who believe the above statements or ask again and again the above questions, even in our fellowship; so I am not unsympathetic to how hard it is to facilitate people to come to an understanding of their freedom in Christ.

​ God has chosen to limit Himself when it comes to free will, and as the saying goes: 

“There are just some fish that aren’t going to get caught" 

We can choose not to listen and so choose to believe a lie; no amount of teaching will change that. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in, where God turns up and tears down walls. 

However we work with Him by preaching freedom, we give Him the opportunity through word and action to show up and get involved.

In conclusion to this point I will sum up the truth: 

Jesus took all of our sin and shame on the cross. When he died he said “It Is Finished". 

It was 2000 years ago your shame, pride, addiction etc was dealt with; He took it from you 2000 years ago.

Remember I said earlier we would come back to that word repent? Well it fits here: 

God’s job is to change us; He does that now through the Holy Spirit, His word and the sacrifice of Jesus. 

Through revelation and the Word, God shows us the truth of what Jesus did and how that sets us free. Our job is to repent and follow Jesus! 

Too many Christians believe a lie that their freedom is somewhere in the future, waiting for God to do something he has already done.

Jesus said “It is finished”, that was his job. Our job is to live in that truth! 

Each day submitting more, understanding more, daily becoming Christ-like; that is what belief looks like. 

You do that and you will feel the shame fall away. 

If you don’t do that you stay a captive to shame forever, praying for something to happen that happened 2000 years ago. 

Believe in him. Do not accept the lies. The truth will set you free! 

That takes us nicely to the third reason.

3: The enemy

Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), he works on your emotions.

If you base what you believe about yourself or God on how you feel, you will never see freedom; our feelings go up and down. 

God is a constant, unchanging; the same yesterday, today and forever.  

The enemy uses our emotions to pull us away from believing in that constant. Therefore we are no longer believing in the spiritual facts rather we believe the “emotional feelings.”

  • This is why it’s so important to capture every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5). 
  • Run every feeling of doubt or shame past the words of Jesus. 
  • Expose the lies to the scripture. 

Shame has NO PLACE in a follower of Christ.

It stops us from fulfilling our potential in Christ. The enemy wants you stuck in the shame that Jesus has already freed you from.

If you are struggling with shame take a look through some of the verses I have listed. Think on the stories of Jesus I point to. 

Most importantly remember there are no sinners in heaven. If you are in Christ your place in heaven is guaranteed. When you chose to believe in Christ the Holy Spirit came to dwell in you. 

The Spirit of God cannot be in a sinner.

  • His presence makes you holy, it makes you a saint. 
  • Your status in God’s eyes has changed; clothed in Jesus we are saints. 
  • We are saints that sin but we are no longer sinners. 
  • There is no shame in being a saint. 

Speak this truth over yourself. Hand your shame to God and leave it with Him.

Remember: “who the Son sets free IS free indeed”

It doesn’t matter if you “don’t feel free”. The Biblical facts say that you are; they never change. 

The promises of God say that you are free! You beat shame and you have the tools and biblical weaponry to dismantle, pride, fear, guilt, anxiety, depression and addiction. 

Shame is the key that opens the door to all these other emotions. 

So repent, believe and live free. 

So be free...

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