Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Shame

As we consider the shame side of the pride/shame cycle, let’s turn to Hebrews chapter 12.  “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).  One of my favorite phrases about what Christ has done for us is “despising the shame”.

Death on a Roman cross was the epitome of shame.  A naked man publicly put to death on a stick of wood.  Its cruelty and shame would have us turn away in horror.  But instead of turning away, we are called to “fix our eyes” on our dying Savior.  And when we do, we see the suffering Son of God rejecting the shame put upon Him.

Jesus did not accept the shame of a cruel death on a cross.  Jesus did not embrace or believe the shame.  Jesus refused the shame.  What Satan meant for shame, God turned into glory; the glory of the Lamb of God “enduring the cross” for the “joy set before Him” of bringing us to salvation.  Jesus rejected the shame.  Jesus despised the shame.  Jesus threw aside the chain of shame.

Can I encourage you to do the same?  How many of us are caught in the pride/shame cycle feeling the pain and shame when we disappoint God, ourselves, or those around us?  How many of us carry labels from today or our past meant to induce shame?  How many of us believe, accept, embrace, and live into those labels of shame; even those labels from years ago?  How many of us still hear the words of shame from the authorities in our lives and feel them haunting us to this very day?

Perhaps a parent expressed a constant disappointment in you; an incessant drumbeat of you are not good enough.  Maybe an employer or teacher in your teen-age years told you that you would never amount to anything.  Or an unwise spiritual leader in your life called you out as a stubborn child, a slow learner, or disobedient.  Maybe an unappreciative spouse has let you know in no uncertain terms that you have let them down.  Whatever the shame you carry from your past or present; reject it, destroy it, send it packing, do not accept the shame.

Does that mean we have no guilt for our past and present actions?  What about our contribution to those labels?  After all, maybe we were stubborn, selfish, unresponsive to correction, and earned the shame we received?

At this point it is critical to understand the difference between guilt and shame.  I have written a previous post here that goes into great detail about the distinction.  Yes, you and I are guilty.  You and I have done things in our past and present that were wrong.  You and I have sinned.  And when we sin, we are to confess our sins and we will be forgiven of our sins.  Guilt is, “you have done something wrong.”  This is a true statement.  Shame is, “you are something wrong.”  This is not true or correct.  Do you see the difference?  Guilt refers to our actions.  Shame addresses our identity.  And shame is meant to leave you in a hopeless state, feeling and believing you are worthless.

When you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, your sins were forgiven and your identity changed.  Your “you are something wrong” was done away with forever.  You were set free in Christ from the shame of your past or present never to go back to that identity again.  By the resurrection power of Christ who lives in you, the shame you were labeled with is no more.  You have been set free from its power in your life.  You are free to let it go.

When we sin we have true guilt to deal with because “we have done something wrong”.  But never listen to Satan’s accusations from your past or present that “you are something wrong”.  It is just not true.  Christ walked through that shameful death for the purpose of redeeming each of us back to God’s presence as proof of the worth He places on us.

Now I recognize that this advice is a short answer to a what can be a very complex problem.  Please talk to a trusted friend or counselor if shame is crippling your experience of the joy of your new life in Christ.  But Jesus’ example leads the way to an important starting point.  Jesus shows us, by rejecting the cruelest shame a man could experience, that shame is not who you are.  You are holy.  You are righteous.  You are wonderfully redeemed.  And that redemption has removed your shame.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Pride

A dangerous side effect of legalism – reducing the Christian life to a set of rules – is pride.  Paul says as much in Colossians 2:18 calling the rule-promoters “inflated without cause by their fleshly mind.”  An inflated ego is a hallmark of legalism.  And it is driven by the flesh, not by the Spirit.

When we set up a rule-following system as the picture of Christianity, we almost always fall into a comparison mode that has no spiritual value.  How am I doing today compared to yesterday?  How am I doing at keeping the rules compared to person A, B, or C?  Are my community’s rules more godly than the church down the street?  Do you ever feel these comparisons?

These comparisons are fueled by pride.  They are motivated by a need to find my identity and worth in my performance.  When I am doing well in meeting the standard that I have set up for myself and others, I feel a sense of pride in my accomplishment.  When I feel like I am “measuring up”, I tend to become critical and judgmental of others who are missing the mark in my view.  Far from being a positive, this pride is a red flag that I am operating in the flesh, as Paul refers to it, rather than in the Spirit.  In my flesh-driven pride I am effectively saying, “My worth and righteousness are found in Christ plus my rules.”

The flip side is also true.  When I do not perform well, I am overcome by a sense of shame.  “How could I have performed so poorly?  How could I be such a terrible person?”  When we put both sides together, we find that legalism puts us in a never ending cycle of pride and shame based on our performance and comparison with others.  We always can find someone who is “doing better” or “doing worse” than us, leading us invariably into feelings of pride or shame.  We will address the shame side of the pride/shame cycle next time, but for now let’s come back to the pride.

We destroy pride by understanding how unworthy our human efforts were in our receiving the gift of the gospel and how worthless they now are in living out the gospel.  When we embrace the gospel message [the good news of a life set free], not just in our once-for-all salvation decision, but also as a way of life, we learn that our worth and acceptance by God has nothing to do with our performance.

When we seek to “prove ourselves” or “justify ourselves” by showing God (and others) that we are good enough, we are not living into the grace of the gospel message.  We have been justified by faith in what Christ has already done.  And God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s work, not our own.  There is nothing you can do to make yourself more acceptable to God.  Hear me on this, never more acceptable to God than the first moment of your new birth.

I think a useful term here is “functional trust”.  We have the appropriate Bible knowledge to say our trust is fully in Christ.  But on a functional level of how we live our lives, are we trusting the work of Christ or in our performance to earn God’s daily grace?  Living the gospel is transferring our trust – intellectually and functionally – away from ourselves and resting it in Christ.

So throw off the chain of pride by living into all of Christ’s promise of a life set free.  If you see a performance-based prideful effort in your walk with the Lord, confess it to Him, and see His life breathe a sweet joy into His instructions.  One of the greatest freedoms Christ is offering is the freedom from pride; the freedom from always having to protect our image.  A life set free is not about our accomplishment.  It is about Jesus’ accomplishment on our behalf.  This is living the gospel.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of Legalism

While most believers recognize that we are set free from the Old Testament Law, there is still the danger of a New Testament version of the law that creeps into our thinking, our churches, and our approach to living the Christian life.  Our attempts to keep things as black and white as possible, as well as looking for a holiness that we can measure, often lead to a new set of rules to follow.  This rule-following approach to living the Christian life is known as legalism.

In Colossians chapter 1, the apostle Paul summarizes the mystery of the gospel, “Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:25-27).  The mystery of the gospel is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Paul then goes on in Colossians chapter 2 to expand on what “Christ in you” looks like.  And his focus is clearly on Christ and our connection to Him.  Observe how many times Paul refers to you as “in Christ”.

  • “Your faith in Christ” (vs 5)
  • “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (vs 6)
  • “Being built up in Him” (vs 7)
  • “According to Christ” (vs 8)
  • “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (vs 9)
  • In Him, you have been made complete” (vs 10)
  • In Him, you were also circumcised in the removal of the body of flesh” (vs 11)
  • “You were buried with Him in baptism” (vs 12)
  • “You were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God” (vs 12)
  • “He made you alive together with Him” (vs 13)
  • “Having triumphed over the rulers and authorities of the world through Him” (vs 15)

In this chapter, describing so many aspects of “Christ in you”, the emphasis is clearly on Christ.  When we fall into legalism, the focus is on us.  Are we following the rules?  Are we measuring up to earn God’s acceptance?  The Christian life is uncovering, exploring, and experiencing who we are in Christ and living into that identity; understanding what it means and looks like to have Christ literally living His life through us.  When we reduce the Christian life to a set of rules, we are missing the power and mystery of who we are in Christ.  We are missing the God-sized faith growing times of responding to His Spirit’s message to us moment by moment.  Our focus should always be on Christ.

We know the apostle is comparing who we are in Christ to rule-keeping because of how he closes out chapter 2 in verses 16 through 23.  Paul writes, “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or a festival or a new moon or in keeping the Sabbath – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one defraud you of your prize by delighting in and promoting self-abasement, which appears pious but is actually fueled by pride.  When you died with Christ, you died to these elementary arguments – which are really just teachings of men – over what to handle, taste, and touch” (Col 2:16-22).  These rules are really just the teachings of men.

Paul then finishes the chapter in verse 23 with a fascinating conclusion that not only is legalism the wrong approach to living the Christian life, but at its core it does not even work in moving us toward the holiness we desire.  “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23).

Ouch!  The very thing that we think will stop sin in its tracks – a severe adherence to rules – is of no value in the big picture of our relationship with sin!  Look at Paul’s words.  “The appearance of wisdom … self-made religion … no value against fleshly indulgence.”  Legalism is a self-made religion with nothing to fuel the Christian life.  Can I encourage you?  Throw off the chain of legalism.  Pray for God’s Spirit to move your focus onto Christ and His life in you.

Looking ahead, legalism not only enslaves us, but also has a deadly side effect.  Do you know what it is?  We will talk about it next time.