"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8
I hate getting on Facebook. Along with our entire social-media culture, Facebook has created a generation of individuals who feel absolutely no shame about anything and don’t believe there’s anything wrong with it. They can cuss out total strangers with no consequences. Then, they can post half-naked pictures of themselves drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Finally, they can write a note about how “Yea…I’m pregnant and no, I’m not married but I am looking for a boyfriend.” And they can do it all without feeling an ounce of shame about the fact that everyone and their brother (and mother and sister and grandparents and second-cousins, etc.) is watching the whole debauched ordeal as it unfolds. We live in a ‘Judges’ kind of world. “Every man [does] that which [is] right in his own eyes.” And we don’t care what you think!
Many well-intentioned people within the church have, by trying to make people feel loved and accepted, destroyed even a healthy sense of shame. When people were sinning in the church at Corinth, Paul didn’t say, “God still loves you no matter what. It’s ok, we all mess up.” He REBUKED them. Read 1 Corinthians 5-6! In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul goes so far as to say, “you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat” (1 Corinthians 5:11). He tells them that they shouldn’t even have lunch with someone who calls himself a Christian but is any of the above (that’s a lot of people we’ll be missing at Sunday’s potluck…)! He continues to rebuke them in chapter 6 and even says that he’s saying all of these things “to shame [them]” (1 Corinthians 6:5). Paul WANTS these people to feel shame! His desire is for them to realize their own depravity and repent! This message is not sufficiently preached today. This is the reason that, today, young ‘Christians’ can have premarital sex and then go trumpet the fact that “We had been planning on getting married before we got pregnant so we know this is totally part of God’s plan for our lives!” To that I ask, “Have you no shame?” I understand that people make mistakes. I also understand that people can slip-up and sin. The scary thing about our culture is that we’ve eliminated the idea that anything should cause people shame.
Remember the story about Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? What did Adam and Eve do after they broke God’s commandment? They hid in shame! Shame serves several very good purposes that I want to look at:
1. Shame reminds us that we’ve sinned and only God can cleanse us.
2. Shame deters us from sinful actions.
3. Shame leads to us seeking God.
Shame reminds us that we’ve sinned and only God can cleanse us…
In Jeremiah 6, God laments the fact that many in Jerusalem “have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them.” These people had no idea that they were in sin. They were greedy and self-centered and they didn’t even see it as a bad thing. When we lose our sense of shame we can no longer see our sin. This is an extremely dangerous place to be in because we must repent and plead with God to have our sins cleansed. John writes the following in his first epistle: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. The thing is, we must confess our sins. And one of the primary ways that God reminds us of our sin is shame.
Shame deters us from sinful actions…
“Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Paul uses these words in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. He repeats his statement from earlier in the letter: I speak this to your shame! He wants this church to look at everything he has said (all of his commands, encouragements, etc.) and realize that it is not doing what it is supposed to. He wants it to feel an immense sense of shame before God. Then, he wants the church to “awake to righteousness, and sin not.” Shame helps us awake to righteousness. If I’m about to get involved in some sinful activity, I need to be reminded that I’m going to have to face my parents/children/friends/pastor and ultimately God. I need to realize that by sinning, I’m willfully doing something that will be looked down upon. That way, I may decide that the sin isn’t worth it. But, when we (as a church) eliminate shame, people can sin more comfortably because they know that no one will look down upon them. That’s a problem.
Shame leads to seeking God…
My prayer for the coming generations within America is summed up in the 83rd Psalm: Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. When we have an overwhelming sense of shame, it drives us to seek God. If I have no shame, why should I seek the Lord of Heaven who can both cleanse me and take away my shame? Being reminded that I have willfully sinned and rejected God will drive us to seek his forgiveness. This is one of the most important reasons that eliminating shame is a very dangerous thing.
Now, some readers may believe that I’m too harsh or that I’m not showing enough love. Let me temper my thoughts with the following conclusion. We are all capable of sinning and we all have sinned. Those are two inescapable facts. If someone who has led a life of wickedness comes to our church doors, we shouldn’t turn them away. We should embrace them, encourage them, and love them. We shouldn’t make them feel shame for their past. Instead, we should remind them that God has provided a way to eliminate any shame they may feel and to set them on the narrow path. But, once they’re on that narrow path, if they freely disobey God, we must speak to their shame. We need to follow the same guidelines that Paul set forth in 1 Corinthians 5: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’