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.