No one likes to reveal the wounds of their heart, personal failure, or the skeletons in their closet. Many tell themselves lies everyday to hide from these things. They lie to themselves by saying they are fine when in reality they are not. They tell themselves they are at peace when frustration rules their mind. They say I am healthy, but still limp along in life. Why do we do this?
There are many reasons why we are not always truthful to ourselves or others, but one reason is the shame we carry around in our hearts. Shame is a powerful emotion. Christians and non-christians alike attempt to run and hide from their shame. Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is produced by something we did whereas shame is the negative feelings about who we are. The dominate self-thought of shame is worthlessness. It’s when I have made a mistake, becomes I am a mistake. Shame is birthed into our psyche when we feel our life is not measuring up to the standards we set for ourselves or by those imposed upon us by others. We lie to ourselves and to others to hide our brokenness and defectiveness. The feelings of shame from personal guilt is a healthy emotion and motivates us to make helpful corrections in our lives. But that is not what I am writing about here. Sometimes people get stuck in unhealthy shame that hinders their personal and spiritual growth.
There is such a thing as misplaced shame. This is the shame we should not be feeling bad about. Its when the things you feel shameful about are not dishonoring to God. It can even be bad things in your life that you had no control over or no fault of your own. Misplaced shame often is experienced by Christians for sins that have already been forgiven by Christ. There are also the times when we carry shame for present sins in which we believe have crossed the line to receive the forgiveness and healing of Christ. The bottom line with misplaced shame is that we believe our failures are bigger than the Grace of God. “But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant” (Romans 5:20 NLT). God’s grace is always bigger than our sin, our guilt, or our shame.
Once we confess our sin, God is faithful to forgive our sins. We are free to live in right standing with God. Shame for the sins we have been forgiven of or the bad things in our lives out of our control can be very destructive to our life. If we do not deal with this misplaced shame it will rob us of the joyful relationships and ministry God has intended for us to enjoy.
There are many people written about in Scripture that could have surrendered to their sin and shame and rendered their lives ineffective for God. But they did not surrender to their shame. The result, God forgave them and used them mightily for his purposes, There is Abraham who was a liar saying his wife was his sister allowing her to be put into a compromising situation. Moses who was a murderer. Jonah an ungrateful and unwilling prophet. Jacob a con artist. Rahab a prostitute and David who committed murder and adultery. Then when one looks into the New Testament we see God calling Zacchaeus a cheating tax collector. Jesus hung out with the unaccepted of society. He even called those rough around the edges to be his twelve closest friends. We read of Peter who Jesus selected and used as the church’s first organizational leader and voice.
The most amazing story of Jesus using someone who most of us would not choose because of their past is that of Paul. Paul was a religious man with a corrupted theology about God. He saw Jesus as a fraud and his followers as delusional. Paul thought Christians were the enemies of God. As a young man, he watched the execution of Stephan, an outstanding deacon- leader of the early church. From that moment Paul became hell-bent on destroying the movement of Jesus and his followers. The Bible and other historical sources tells us Paul was a persecutor, abuser, and murderer of Christians. Paul was a bad man. He even calls himself the chief of all sinners. After Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and transformed his heart, there must have been much self forgiveness to rid himself of the shame that gripped his heart for all his wrong doing. We read Paul writing about this when he penned the following.
For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Corinthians 15:9 NLT)
You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. (Galatians 1:13 NLT)
I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. (Philippians 3:6 NLT)
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16 NLT).
It does not matter what you have done (things forgiven) or what has been done to you, don’t let your misplaced shame defeat you. God has a plan for you and he won’t disown you. This is why he came and died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father– to get glory from your life. Paul also said these word about his present in the context of his past.
I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. . . I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:6, 9-14 NLT).
Paul and so many others in Scripture were failures, sinners, and misfits, but Christ through his atoning work, forgiveness, and grace did miraculous work in their lives. It is so unlike us, but God chooses to use the messed up and broken people to advance his kingdom. So trust Christ, He forgives. Forgive yourself, then press forward. Forget the past, and look to a bright future serving Christ.
He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12 NLT). Your shame is gone in Christ.