The Lost Art of Feeling Proper Shame

The Lost Art of Feeling Proper Shame November 7, 2018

Shame is often presented as this ever-looming enemy – one we need to simply cast aside as we pursue true happiness and joy in this fleeting life. Psychological studies abound on how shame is simply a measure wherein another individual is exercising control over you – you just need to escape it and move on. Others might advocate for some causal benefits of it which allow us to navigate social mores more easily, yet the emphasis is still placed upon coping mechanisms rather than effecting substantive change. Since the foundation of these coping mechanisms are not built upon biblical precedent, the best hope people adopting them have is simply shifting from a less socially acceptable idol to a more socially acceptable idol.

Unfortunately, many in the Christian world also leave no place for shame. Instead, the cry is that we ought to move along with our merry little lives and avoid any and all types of shame. “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus” has changed to, “There is no shame in Christ Jesus.” However, shame itself is proper, when executed correctly and in accord with Scripture. I have my suspicions that much of this is derived from many Christians being intimately wed with popular psychology, rather than deriving biblical methodology to deal with issues of the soul. While that is a discussion worthy of a full post all on its own, it is worthy of mention here.

To be clear at the onset: I am not speaking about shaming an individual without warrant. Shame should be felt by the man who has left his wife and three children for a younger woman. It should be felt by the murderer, thief, liar, philanderer, brawler, drunkard, gossiper, etc. The nature of shame itself, though incredibly unpleasant, catalyzes the process of turning from sin as we continue to grow more uncomfortable in our own flesh. Shame can and should be connected to sinful belief and practice; it should not be employed upon the self-condemning individual who simply needs encouragement and reminder of God’s ever-present and unchanging faithfulness.

More clearly, shame is a vital component of repentance, as it is the gift of God in bringing to light the affections of the heart, which are inharmonious with Christian living. For that very reason, it can be a powerfully motivating tool when aptly used by an individual – yet at the same time, it can be wielded like a sword in the hands of a hapless maniac. However, the one who refrains from highlighting the necessity of one’s shame in the midst of the scourging of the Lord can likewise inflict perilous wounds.

I sense one of the greatest damages we can do to the individual who needs to repent is to minimize the shame of their sin and lack of godliness. The Spirit of God is working through this very act, yet when we encourage rather than rebuke, downplay rather than exhort, and diminish rather than admonish, we often short-shrift the process of repentance intended to bring about healing and restoration. I am by no means advocating that we ought not to encourage an individual when they are feeling downcast – yet if God’s primary aim is our holiness rather than our happiness, we do our brothers and sister a great disservice by uplifting them when they need to be downcast and weep over their sin.

This is a pivotal time where the Spirit of God is at work; they have not yet grieved Him and are not yet with a seared conscience – yet often we swoop right in and aid them on their way to becoming the enemy of God (Is. 63:10; Heb. 10:29). Yet notice I made explicit mention of shame connected to a lack of godly character. It is not enough that one feel shame connected to their sin; they must feel shame over their lack of righteousness. These are similar themes, yet what I am highlighting here is the “put off, put on” model of Scripture, wherein repentance is defined as not only the forsaking of sin, but actively putting on righteousness by abiding in the fruit of the Spirit (Rom. 13:11-14; Eph. 5:11-6:9; Gal. 5:13-26).

Thus, the philandering husband needs to not only stop philandering; he needs to learn self-control and how to love women as much more than mere objects. The gossiping and slandering worker not only needs to cease from all malice; she needs to put on kindness, and cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, which is well-pleasing to the Lord. The angry father not only needs to halt his anger; he needs to put on patience, self-control, and love.

In all belief and practice of unrighteousness, shame is a vital component aimed to bring one to God, who is able to restore them to the full fellowship of His love. It is the reconciliation of confession, repentance, and then restoration, for the Spirit of God convicts men concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16:7-8). Thus, shame is the hand-maiden of conviction, and ultimately, a tool to bring the indignant and wicked to their knees.

Shame is not, as some have maintained, the tool of Satan, but the method of deliverance by the very hand of God. It is God who shall bring men to shame and famine in times of evil (Ps. 37:18-19). He shall indeed even bring some to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2). Yet for the righteous, He shall lift their head and not bring them to shame (Ps. 3:3, 31:17), because he endured the cross, despising the shame, so that many sons would be brought to glory (Heb. 2:10, 12:2).

Thus, we ought not to flee from shame when it is properly applied and felt, for the Lord disciplines His children in order to bring us to repentance (Heb. 12:6; Rev. 3:19; Ps. 94:12; Pro. 3:11). For those not undergoing the scourging of the Lord, we must continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him in His coming (1 Jn. 2:28). In all of these things, we see it not only strengthens the resolve of the righteous, but brings the wayward back to the path of obedience and blessing.

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  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Thank you for this article about a vital and timely subject. I agree that many evangelicals in America have basic misunderstandings about shame. I believe that these misunderstandings come in part from popular psychology.

    Regarding “Shame is not, as some have maintained, the tool of Satan”: I agree that it is not always his tool, but are there not times when it is? Does he not want us to be ashamed of our Lord and of His Good News (Mark 8:38; Romans 1:16)?

    Regarding “we often short-shrift the process of repentance”: I think the author means “we often short-circuit the process of repentance”.

    I agree that “we do our brothers and sister[s] a great disservice by uplifting them when they need to be downcast and weep over their sin”. We can serve them better by weeping with them over their sin (Romans 12:15).

    I suggest the author write other articles about what the New Testament says about shame and how it has been employed in the service of God (e.g. what is said in Luke 14:9 and Romans 6:21).

    • Gilsongraybert

      Hi Salvatore, thanks for taking the time to read it and for the kind words. With your first question, I suppose I am aiming to draw a distinction between shame and being ashamed, though I didn’t make that point clearly above. With short-shift, I’m using that in a similar manner as Webster’s second entry of usage: little or no attention or consideration (i.e. we are stopping abruptly in consideration of the full, often lengthy process of repentance). I sense part of this is simply that we’re conditioned to think that repentance takes as little time as forgiveness should (immediate). Thanks for your suggestion at the end, that would be a profitable study, and Lord willing, profitable for readers as well.