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 have an advocate in Christ Jesus who announces us forgiven (I Jn 2:1).  Guilt says, “you have done something wrong.”  This is a true statement when we sin.  Shame says, “you are something wrong.”  This is never 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 because “we have done something wrong”.  (And that guilt has already been removed by Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice which we will address next time.)  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, turn away from this path, 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.

Living Free – Throwing Off the Chain of the Law

One of the first chains we are to throw off in our quest to live free is the chain of the Law.  Many of the earliest believers in Jesus were of Jewish background and they needed clear direction regarding their new relationship with the Old Testament Law.  The apostle Paul explains on several occasions that the short answer to the question of the Law is that we have literally died to it.  It is no longer in effect.  It is no longer influential or applicable to those who have embraced the gospel.

At the beginning of Romans chapter 7, Paul illustrates our death to the Law by comparing it to the death of a spouse.  “Just as a woman is free to be joined to another man after the death of her husband…you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.  For while we were in the flesh (i.e. prior to our conversion and still under the Law), the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.  But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:3-6).

Our break with the Law is as severe and final as death itself.  The Law died as a part of our life and we were married to a new groom, Christ Himself.  And the consummation of our new marriage is the Spirit of Christ coming to live inside us.  Rather than the “oldness of the Law”, we move, serve, and love in the “newness of the Spirit”.

Paul expounds further on this topic in his letter to the church at Galatia.  The book of Galatians is essentially a treatise on our death to the Law and our new freedom in Christ.  Here are just a few highlights of the book:

“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:23-26).

You became a son of God by faith in Christ, not by keeping the Law.  The Law was preparatory in nature and having finished its job of pointing us to Christ, it is no longer needed.  Or to quote from the passage, “We are no longer under a tutor [the Law].”

Another highlight:  “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  This is the only thing I want to find out from you:  did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain?  Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:1-5).

The Christian life is lived by faith, not by works of the Law.  Paul’s argument for freedom from the Law throughout Galatians is that just as you were saved by faith apart from keeping the Law, so the Christian life is lived by faith, not by works of the Law.

Here is another:  “But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.  But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:4-5).

The Judaizers, the false brethren, taught that despite being saved by Christ’s death, the Christian life requires adherence to the Law.  This confusion is understandable given the transition from Law to grace that is only now, in New Testament times, being explained and taught by the apostles.  But even in this transition period, requiring new believers to follow the Law is such a grievous and oppressive error that Paul says, in our vernacular, “We did not even give them the time of day!”

And finally:  “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1).  It is an interesting comparison between the “yoke of slavery” and the “yoke of Christ”.  Jesus called His yoke “easy and light” (Mt 11:30) and invites us to join Him in it.  We are to embrace the yoke of Christ and reject the yoke of slavery.

The yoke of slavery is the burden of living under the Law.  The burden of trying to keep the Law.  The yoke of Christ is light because with Him living His life through us, He is doing the heavy lifting.  Christ is in the yoke with us providing the power to move ahead.  As for the yoke of slavery to the Law, Paul says to no longer be subject to it (Gal 5:1).  In other words, “Throw off your chains!  And start by throwing off the chain of the Law!”

Now, given that most of you reading this post are not from a Jewish background and the Law is now 2000 years in the rear view mirror, is the chain of the Law really a problem in today’s church?  I believe it is.  But it has taken on a more subtle form than the Law vs grace situation of Paul’s day.  What we are facing today is a New Testament form of the law.  And it can be just as dangerous and oppressive as its Old Testament counterpart.  We will talk about it next time.

Living Free

I love this quote by hip-hop artist Lecrae in his new book Unashamed, “I had finally been set free, but I was about to find out if I could live free.”  Did you catch those powerful two words, “live free”?  That, my friends, is the Christian life in a nutshell; learning to live free, learning to live in the freedom that we already have in Christ.  That is really the question at the heart of living the Christian life, “Can we learn to live free?”

When you and I embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we were instantly set free; free to enjoy the fullness of Christ in us.  We were immediately set free from the penalty of sin.  “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven all of our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which were hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14).  We have been set free from the penalty of sin, fully alive in Christ.

But we have also been set free from the power of sin.  Our freedom from the power of sin has both an immediate and ongoing aspect.  In the immediate sense, we were instantly indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11) who infuses us with godly character and a desire for righteousness (Eph 4:24).  We instantly received a new heart inclined toward God (Ez 36:26); inclined toward His laws and ways (Heb 10:16).  We were instantly released from sin as our master (Rom 6:6) and were set free to obey a new master, the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 6:13).

But even with all these (and many more) instant changes, learning to live into all these “set frees” is a lifelong process.  This is the ongoing aspect of a life set free from the power of sin.  As God continues to mold, shape, and change us from the inside out, we learn more and more how to experience the freedom we have already been given.  We learn how to experience the supernatural presence of Christ in us.

One of the first steps to learning to live free is to identify and throw off the chains that hold us back, the chains that place us in bondage.  What are some of these chains?  Over the next few weeks, we will be learning what the Bible says about throwing off …

  • the chain of the Law
  • the chain of legalism
  • the chain of pride
  • the chain of shame
  • the chain of guilt
  • the chain of fear
  • the chain of worry
  • the chain of selfish ambition
  • the chain of idolatry
  • the chain of our own unworthiness
  • the chain of sin itself

Now on a scale going from bondage to freedom, where would you say you land in your experience of the Christian life?  If you are more toward the bondage end, do you have an idea why?  Are there spiritual authority figures in your life who want to place or keep you in bondage?  Is there a family history that keeps you in chains?  Is there a besetting sin that is holding you back?  Are you actually more comfortable in a trapped, enclosed negative space?

After all, on a strictly human level, freedom can be scary.  Freedom can be dangerous.  Freedom can look like life unscripted.  I can measure and see the edges of the box I have been placed in or put myself in.  Freedom, on the other hand, cannot really be measured.  It has a limitless quality to it.  And that can be frightening.  But the freedom wrought by Christ’s death in our place, is the freedom embodied in Him and lived through Him.

Over the next several weeks, we will literally scour the New Testament to see what “living free” looks like.  We will learn that freedom does not equal autonomy.  It is not a personal freedom untethered and loose.  It is a freedom to walk in Christ’s ways.  And we will also come back to those pesky chains.  What does God want us to do with them?  Won’t you join us?