Shame is a huge topic that cuts to the core of our common humanity. Shame keeps us in bondage to sin and self defeat. As famous TedTalk author and research professor, Brene Brown puts it, it’s a vulnerable emotion that must be dealt with openly, honestly, and with sensitivity.
According to Dr. Brown, shame can be identified as feeling bad for what or who I am, while guilt is feeling bad for what I’ve done. Since shame has more to do with identity than behavior, the steps to find freedom and overcome shame has everything to do with understanding our identity as humans.
Shame attacks every people group, including Christians. Nevertheless, it is the biblical framework that ultimately frees people from bondage because it addresses this problem at the root level.
For this short blog, I will tackle how Christians can overcome shame.
- Understand the main characters: God in three forms (the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit), created humankind in His image. Male and female God created them. There are other spirits on this Earth (Satan and his minions of fallen angels) versus the Holy Spirit that believers can be indwelled with.
- Understand the biblical narrative: God created humans to dwell on this Earth. But humans were created with free will–the ability to make choices including to accept or reject God. Sin entered the world through deception of the serpent (Satan, a fallen angel). God allowed Satan to tempt this world. God plans to restore those who put their trust in Him, but to a different world–one that is free of sin, disease, and corruption. Believers (those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior and therefore indwelled with the Holy Spirit) are not of this world.
- Identify the real struggle: The deceiver will tempt us, isolate us, instill fear in us, give us half truths, accuse us, and try to turn us against one another and away from the truth of God’s love. According to Ephesians 6:12, these are all spiritual battles, not of flesh and blood (or people or political parties).
- Put on the armor of God: Christians are equipped with the biblical language and premise. We can fight evil (ungodly spirits) with the Holy Spirit. We have the keen understanding that we’ve been bought with a price–the blood of the unblemished Lamb. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, God’s created beings. Therefore, let no one boast in self righteousness. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for a redeemed child of the Most High King. The armor of God (Ephesians 6: 13-17) that can be utilized by believers include the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, feet that carry the gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit (the word of God).
- Be grateful for Christ, stay submitted for your protection. These are action words and choices that each believer can make no matter the circumstance. We will unlikely behave in guilty ways when we are constantly seeking and submitting to the Judge. We may make mistakes that wound others severely due to our shortsightedness, but our human learning curve is not a cause for shame according to the Bible. Furthermore, when we adopt a grateful posture and see how blessed we are to be called children of God, it’s difficult to be also disgruntled or entitled. John Piper gave a wonderful sermon on what it means to be bought with a price and to stay submitted to God’s righteousness.
- Receive forgiveness of sin: We’ve been unconditionally forgiven by the ultimate Judge. Whether or not the offended party forgives us, we can let go and trust God. When we’ve been falsely accused by someone, rather than react in defensiveness, anger, or blame, we can extend grace. This is the grace that is based on the deep understanding that while we were still sinners, Christ died on the cross for us. And the longer we walk with God, the more we realize how much the work on the cross was needed for us. We feel God’s acceptance and forgiveness. Kim Jaggers writes about how the cross is enough for our most shameful sins.
- Seek reconciliation with whom we wronged: Reconciliation is not a head matter but a heart matter. It is not about agreement or approval, but connection. We can put our self righteousness, pride, and hurt aside to care for another image bearer despite our differences. We are not in denial. We are not justifying our sin with someone else’s sins. We are not seeking man’s approval. We let go of the need to be right or to be affirmed. It’s hard to blame others when we understand God’s character and goodness transforming the people around us. It’s even harder to feel shame when we see God working in our own life.
Those who are without the biblical worldview can still be helped to overcome shame. In my counseling office, I sometimes meet nonChristians–wonderful, loving people of other faiths or no faith in a higher power. I still lean on my identity as the redeemed, forgiven child of the most High God when I provide empathy, validation, and encouragement to these folks. Based on the understanding that God loves all his children, I can help my clients find forgiveness for themselves. Based on the truth that we are all fallen human beings prone to sin, I can normalize my client’s struggles, validate their feelings, and encourage each person to pick up and move on just as I have moved on.
After all, Psalm 103:11-12 reminds us that “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.”
In my book, East Meets West: Parenting from the Best of Both Worlds, I ponder the question, can the East truly meet the West? Without the meaning of the cross, can our differences with each other ever be bridged?