There is a growing and dangerous trend among Christians today that are choosing, yes choosing, Self-inflicted shame over Spirit-filled conviction. I’ve been meditating on this thought for some time and want to offer some counsel. I don’t sit above you on this issue. I sit with you, as a fellow Christian, that has had to deal with cycles of shame in my own Christian walk.
The Allure And Appeal Of Shame
Shame is the most baseline human feeling when encountering our own sin.
Most Christians believe that it is our #1 rule, for when we encounter our own sin, is to feel terrible about it. We think that ONLY Christians feel bad about their sin. But that’s not true. Young children, who are yet to be born-again, feel terrible when they sin. I’ve even met Atheists that feel awful for the ways in which they fall short of the glory of God (even though they’d never admit it). To feel shame over our sin is not a Christian thing. It is a human thing!
Shame is not a byproduct of our righteousness. It is a byproduct of our sinfulness.
Take a look at Genesis 3 and what happens IMMEDIATELY after the Fall.
 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. — Genesis 3:7–8
The moment that sin entered into the world and that sin separated mankind from God spiritually — shame was there. What drove their actions (which we will examine later) following their rebellion was shame based. Adam and Eve had not been given the Promise by God, yet. They had not placed their faith in God’s gracious gift to save them from their sin. But shame for their sin was ever present. It took charge. Shame came in and offered a different promise. A promise to fix this its way. A way that involves you. To the broken, fallen, sinful human — shame is really appealing.
The Promise of Shame
Shame is faith-based. It is just faith in you. Shame promises a way to fix your situation. Shame looks directly into your heart and says, “Trust me. Follow my instructions and we’ll get through this together.”
Let’s go back to Genesis 3:7–8 to see how shame leads us.
Once their eyes were opened and they saw their nakedness, the immediate response was to cover themselves. Just like any negative emotion, we don’t like feeling that way. We will do whatever it takes to remove that feeling from our psyche. So naturally, their first response was to cover the source of their shame — themselves. This is shame’s first specific request — “You’re going to have to get good at taking care of your own sin.” Shame is quick to tell us that we are the problem but even quicker to tell us that we are the solution. When you look at the Fall narrative, don’t you find it amazing how quickly they learned to sew fig leaves together to make clothes? How did they learn how to do that!? It’s not like they were making clothing for anything else. They’d never seen clothes before. It’s amazing how powerful shame can motivate us to action. The action of fixing our own mess.
The action of covering ourselves comes out in everyday life as, “I’m fine. I’m good.” It gives off the vibe of “I know it’s a problem but I’m dealing with it. I’ve got it under control. Nothing to see here.” In covering their nakedness, Adam and Eve didn’t want to talk about it any longer. They weren’t inviting others into their nakedness and sin. They wanted to show and prove that they were fine.
Once their nakedness was covered and they were able to appease themselves, they had One more in which to appease. In Genesis 3:8, the LORD God comes into the Garden and Adam and Eve’s immediate response is to hide. It’s like they knew that their attempts to fix themselves weren’t good enough. If they had been confident in them, then they may have shown them off to the Lord. Shame’s second specific request: “You’re going to have to hide from God until you can get better at fixing yourself.” We can convince ourselves and others that we are “good” but somehow we know better when it comes to God. Isn’t it amazing how shame works? Shame is the thing that leads us to cover ourselves to try to prove to ourselves and others that we’ve got it handled. But shame is also the thing that leads us to feel inadequate before God, not only for our original sin, but also our feeble attempts to cover it.
Shame tells us to cover ourselves, then makes us feel shame before God for covering ourselves.
 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” — Genesis 3:11–13
Shame’s third and final request, “You’re going to have to protect yourself at all cost.”
When confronted with their sin again, they had a more aggressive approach. In order to avoid feeling the shame of their sin again, they start to deflect the blame. They begin to justify themselves by condemning others. They even begin to blame God. Again, isn’t it amazing how shame works? Shame gets you to a place where you use shame, so that you won’t feel more shame. Shame prepares us for the day when we will be found out for who we really are and what we have really done. It says to us that, “When that day comes, be ready to give a justification for your actions. Deny, deflect, denounce — do whatever it takes to make sure that you don’t feel shame for your actions.”
Shame’s biggest false promise is that there is something that YOU can do to avoid feeling shame altogether.
The Point Of All Of This
The longer that I pastor and interact with those engulfed with shame, the more I figure out how difficult it is to reach them. They’ve been using shame as their primary motivation to be obedient to God for so long that they are addicted to it. They are terrified of what their life would look like without it. It is like every dependency issue out there.
It is REALLY difficult to counsel people that are dependent upon shame. Why?
Because they are really good at…
- Taking care of their own sin.
- Hiding from God, God’s people and God’s Word until they fix themselves.
- Protecting themselves against feeling shame for their sin at all costs.
Thus, we can’t actually talk about their sin and combat it directly.
When I attempt to counsel people through their shame, they think that I am just wanting them to feel bad. No, I’m wanting the Spirit to fill them with conviction. The problem is that there are some that are so filled with self-inflicted shame that they have little to no room for Spirit-filled conviction.
A Better Promise
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. — 2 Corinthians 7:10
Spirit-filled conviction offers up a promise too — salvation without regret. For some of you, shame has kept you on the outside of a true relationship with Jesus your whole life. You’ve never been born-again and you need to be. Some of you have been born-again, yet you live with regret and shame. You don’t have joy or freedom.
Believe it or not, Spirit-filled conviction delivers what it promises. Shame tells you to avoid conviction at all cost. I’ve even had people look at me and say directly, “I don’t have any problem feeling terrible about myself.” Is that you? That is not what Spirit-filled conviction does. That is not what being born-again produces. That is not what the Christian life is about. Shame deceives you into thinking that it is conviction. It is not. In fact, Spirit-filled conviction leads us to undo the course that shame has led us down. Look at what the LORD God does in the Garden.
Let Me Cover You.
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. — Genesis 3:21
The LORD God does not let them stay in the garments that they made for themselves to cover their sin and shame. Spirit-filled conviction does not let you stay in the, “I got this.” mode. The Spirit wants to show us that we don’t “got this”. It is interesting in the text that Adam and Eve are never condemned for their feeble attempt to take care of their sin. Shame uses it against us to drive us further into shame. The Spirit simply comes in and provides what is necessary.
There are also some interesting things that are implied in the text. Things that are central to Spirit-filled conviction that leads to repentance. First, they had to get naked again. They had to be naked in front of each other and God. They had to be confronted with their sin again. But then, unlike before, they are not tasked with the solution. Secondly, God from start to finish covers them. God provides the animal. God kills the animal. God crafts the skin of the animal for clothes. God then CLOTHES THEM. Do you see how kind He is in spite of our rebellion? Do you see how close He is to us in the moment of Spirit-filled conviction? He came close enough to Adam and Eve to clothe them. He didn’t throw the animal skin at them in anger and disgust. He came near. He provided everything necessary. He leaned in with kindness and said, “Let me take care of this for you. Let me cover you.”
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? — Romans 2:4
Hide In Me.
But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”Genesis 3:9
What a haunting question that speaks to so many depths of truth. The truth of the depravity of us that would choose to run and hide from a perfect, loving Being. The truth of how our sin separates us from God in so many ways. But it also speaks to the depth of God’s heart for us. “Where are you?” God knows where they are and what they have done. So why verbalize it? God wanted Adam and Eve to know that He was pursuing them. He wanted them to know His heart and intent for them. Why are you hiding from me, when you can hide in me.
There is probably no fuller word picture in the Bible of this concept than the word refuge. A refuge was the last line of defense for a city or village. It is also called a “hiding place”. When a city was being attacked and they had exhausted all resources and energy, they ran to their refuge. To be in the refuge meant that you had failed (a lot). Everything you tried didn’t work and now you’re here. To be in the refuge means your personal pride is crushed and you are admitting some level of personal defeat. You’re never alone in the refuge. You’re there with others who have failed. You are there with other survivors. You are led there by your defeats. But you stay there because of hope. The refuge was the ONLY hope left. You entered by faith in the refuge and a repentance of your own efforts to save yourself.
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. — Psalm 119:114
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” — Psalm 91:2
Adam ran from God because he was afraid and filled with shame. God knew exactly what Adam had done and still cried out, “Where are you?”. God pursued, not shunned, Adam and Eve. Spirit-filled conviction has us running to God, not away. Spirit-filled conviction has us clinging to God, not attempting to wriggle out of His grasp. Spirit-filled conviction does not lead you to put the Bible on the shelf for days, weeks or months. It doesn’t lead you to stop gathering with a local church body. It doesn’t lead you to stop opening up to your faith community about your sin. That is shame.
God entered into the Garden desiring for them to know that they can stop running. They can stop hiding from Him and hide in Him.
I Will Protect (Justify) You.
Shame leads us to become experts in our self protection. This protection manifests itself within self justification. We are trying to protect our soul and spirit’s eternal destination. We are trying to make ourselves good enough to enter Heaven. We are trying to deal with our sin in such a way that God will see us as righteous. For Adam and Eve, after the Fall, they were left with the problem of what to do with the sin and evil, that they had now been entangled. They grasped at straws, blamed the other, blamed the serpent and blamed God. None of which were sufficient to deal with the problem of our sin before a Holy God. God did not let this behavior continue for long. He began to solve the problem Himself. He condemned the serpent without hope of ever being reconciled. He, then spoke to Adam and Eve about the consequences of their actions, yet with hope of full reconciliation and justification.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. — Genesis 3:15
This passage foretells of a battle that would take place one day between the serpent (The Enemy) and the Offspring of Eve. A battle that would end in the wounding of the Offspring but the defeat of the Enemy and sin. God was promising the way that He would justify Adam and Eve once and for all. They would not need to justify themselves. They would not need to “prove” themselves to each other, to themselves or to God any longer. He would provide the means for their justification. Shame commands, “Justify yourself!” Spirit-filled conviction screams, “You’ve been justified!”
Jesus Christ was the means of our justification to God. Justification is not a verdict of “not guilty”. It is a declaration of innocence. For those who are in Christ, God looks at you and sees the righteousness of Jesus.
 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, — Romans 3:23–24
This justification that is offered by God is effective, sufficient, instant, and eternal for ALL who believe! We no longer have to worry and work for our justification. Now we are free in Him.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. — Romans 8:1
This justification is an act of His grace. Grace is the motivator that shame could never be. When you really begin to utilize grace over shame, as your primary motivation in the pursuit of Christlikeness, then will know how exponentially more powerful grace is over shame.
Grace allows you to go deeper into your own sin more than shame ever would.
Grace gives you the freedom to explore the root of your sin and idols more than shame ever could.
Grace empowers you to confront, expose, and fight your sin far more than shame ever could.
Oh I pray that you would be led by the Lord into Spirit-filled conviction that would undo the effects of shame on your life.
 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” — John 8:10–11