How can I overcome condemnation? Part 1

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” John 8:2

Are you living under condemnation? Are you weighed down by guilt and anxiety about your past? Maybe you have done things which would embarrass you if they became public knowledge. You may have a criminal record or a moral charge or a domestic conflict that, to this moment, is private information. You may wrestle with a past that has been fractured and wounded by a mental or emotional breakdown. Futile attempts at suicide may add to the previous scar tissue and increase your fear of being labeled “sick” or “nervous.” It’s possible you live with memories of an immoral relationship, a financial failure, a terrible habit, a divorce or a scandalous involvement. You may be your worst critic of your past.

Many of us are driven by shame. We believe we are flawed at the core of our being. Yes, we hear preachers say that God loves sinners, yet we are convinced that we are still worthless and unloved. We live under condemnation whether it be of our own doing or the doings of others, including the master of condemnation – Satan himself (Rev. 12:9-10).

How can I overcome this condemnation that keeps me buried under a load of guilt and shame? For the next few days, Lord willing, we will look at John 7:53-8:11 to discover God’s remedy for the condemnation that often plagues us.

The first way I can overcome condemnation is to REST UNDER CHRIST’S GRACIOUS TEACHINGS (John 7:53-8:2). After Jesus had freely offered eternal satisfaction to the people gathered at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39), John tells us, “And everyone went to his own house.” (John 7:53). The religious leaders had criticized Nicodemus after His attempt to defend Jesus’ right to be heard. They didn’t believe a prophet would arise from Galilee. More than a prophet would arise from Galilee, however, and offer everlasting hope to that region. “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (John 8:1). The religious leaders slept comfortably and late, but Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had no place to lay His head in Jerusalem.

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” (John 8:2). The day after the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went into the temple and all the people came to Him. Why did all the people come to sit under Jesus’ teaching? Was it because He beat them up spiritually and emotionally and people love to be put down? No. I believe these people were tired of the demands of the religious leaders, and they were drawn to the gentle and forgiving grace of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:28-30; 12:20).

Notice that the Bible says Jesus “sat down and taught them.” Although sitting down was a normal rabbinic practice, I think it is very significant that John tells us this. Jesus did not stand like He did the day before in the temple (John 7:37). He “sat” among them to teach them. He was on the same level as His audience. He longs to connect with people so they can begin to see themselves as He sees them – someone who is infinitely loved and valued by God.

As they sat under His teaching and discovered the magnificence of His grace, they were healed from the malignancy of their guilt! How precious and broad is Christ’s love they found, yet how petty and narrow is man’s legalism (trying to keep the Law to gain God’s acceptance). How refreshing is the Lord’s grace! Yet how rigid is the legalist’s guilt! Christ’s grace was setting them free from their guilt and shame. And He wants to do the same for you. “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Christ did not come into the world to condemn us. He came into the world to cleanse. He did not come to rub our sin in. He came to rub our sin out.

We can be free from the plague of condemnation and shame by coming out from under shame-based religious systems. These systems may preach the love of God and that Christ died for our sins, but at the core of their teaching they believe: “You are bad, God is good, so try harder.”

As Christians we need to be under the grace and truth of Jesus Christ which teaches: “God is good, you are being restored, so come and be.” As we place ourselves under His teaching, we will begin to see the weight of condemnation lifted and the wellspring of Jesus’ grace settle into our hearts and minds so we can focus on being and not working to earn His love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am learning so much from You about who I am in the sight of God. I used to see myself as a worthless sinner who is saved by grace. But You are helping me to see I am a child of God who is infinitely loved and valued by You and my Father in heaven. Lord, my heart is deeply concerned about the millions of people who are under religious teachings that condemn and oppress broken people in need of Your healing grace. They have no hope of freedom from condemnation and shame. They need You Lord Jesus. Please show them how good and gracious You are. Help them to come to know Your saving grace that makes them a new person on the inside who is free from condemnation and shame. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Transformed from a tree of shame to a tree of splendor

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18

After Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by Satan and ministered in Galilee (Luke 4:1-15), “He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (4:16). Christ then read verses taken from Isaiah 61:1-2 which describe the promised Messiah’s ministry on earth hundreds of years prior. His gospel is for everyone, including “the poor” (4:18a). His gospel heals, not hurts “the brokenhearted” and “proclaims liberty,” not labor to those who are “captives” or in bondage (4:18b). When Jesus said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21), He was saying that He was the promised Messiah Whose gospel would bring blessing to those who are broken.

There is a progression in Isaiah’s description of the Messiah’s gospel preaching ministry that is relevant to those who are struggling with shame and the bondage it creates. All people have hidden wounds in their lives. They may be in the form of hurtful memories such as a mean word on the playground or abuse in the home. We try to medicate these wounds with behaviors, substances, or emotions. But Jesus came to “heal the brokenhearted,” resulting in “liberty” from that which we could not break free (4:18a). Shame imprisons us, but the Savior liberates us. His gospel grants spiritual “sight” to us so we can begin to see ourselves through His eyes and no longer be “oppressed” by shame-based lies (4:18b).

The biblical text does not tell us if Jesus read verse 3 of Isaiah 61, but this verse is a continuation of the Messiah’s ministry on earth. His healing grace will “console [not condemn] those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty [not a beating] for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise [not punishment] for the spirit of heaviness;  that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). Our brokenness brought great sadness to us, but Christ’s grace will “console” us, changing our sadness and the “heaviness” of shame into “joy” and “praise.” This inward transformation will make us a blessing to others, like oak “trees” flourishing in “righteousness” because of the outrageous love and grace of God.

The word translated “trees” is the Hebrew word אַיִל (ayil) which refers to a terebinth tree – a prominent, lofty tree much like an oak tree (Isaiah 1:29; 57:5). We may not think much of Isaiah’s reference to an oak tree, but in ancient times, people sacrificed to and worshipped their pagan gods in groves of oak trees. The use of the word “trees” (ayil) in Isaiah 1:29 and 57:5 is revealing.

29 For they shall be ashamed of the terebinth trees (ayil) which you have desired; and you shall be embarrassed because of the gardens which you have chosen. 30 For you shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fades, and as a garden that has no water. 31 The strong shall be as tinder, and the work of it as a spark; both will burn together, and no one shall quench them” (Isaiah 1:29-31). God would judge those who had forsaken Him to meet secretly among “the terebinth [oak] trees” to worship the false gods of the people around them. The reason they would be “ashamed” is because those who worshipped these pagan gods were required to participate in a wide variety of sexual practices, including orgies, adultery, prostitution, and the bloody sacrifices of children.

In Isaiah 57, Israel’s rebellion against God among the groves of oak trees included adultery and idolatry. 3But come here, you sons of the sorceress, you offspring of the adulterer and the harlot! 4 Whom do you ridicule? Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue? Are you not children of the transgression, offspring of falsehood, 5 inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree (ayil), slaying the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks? 6 Among the smooth stones of the stream is your portion; they, they are your lot! Even to them you have poured a drink offering, you have offered a grain offering. Should I receive comfort in these? 7 On a lofty and high mountain you have set your bed; even there you went up to offer sacrifices” (Isaiah 57:3-7). God summons the idolatrous Israelites who were acting as though their father was an “adulterer” and their mother a “sorceress” and a prostitute (57:3). They were mocking the righteous minority among them (57:4) and they burned (“inflamed”) in their lust for the “gods under every green tree” (57:5). Pagan gods were strewn among these oak trees. God’s people worshipped “the smooth stones” in the stream beds and offered sacrifices to the gods “on a high and lofty mountain” (57:6-7).

Then Isaiah says, “Also behind the doors and their posts you have set up your remembrance; for you have uncovered yourself to those other than Me, and have gone up to them; you have enlarged your bed and made a covenant with them; you have loved their bed where you saw their nudity” (Isaiah 57:8). The Israelites deliberately turned their back on the Lord and placed symbols of these pagan gods “behind the doors and their posts” to remind them of the gods they worshipped.

You may wonder what these symbols looked like? They were often highly sexual. For example, the goddess Asherah was the goddess of fertility. The symbol identifying her was a phallus. When God’s people are described in the Old Testament as meeting at the Asherah “poles,” it is talking about them gathering around a tall tower or temple built in the shape of a man’s genitalia.

What God is telling us in the book of Isaiah is that the “oak trees” were common places of unrighteousness – especially sexual sin and immorality. So when Jesus offers to heal broken hearts, free those in bondage, and transform them into “trees of righteousness” who will display His glory (Luke 4:18-19; cf. Isaiah 61:1-3), we come to a new and profound understanding. In the very place where the Israelites engaged in sinful, shameful, and degrading practices, He promises to make them oak trees of righteousness. And He promises to do the same with us.

God wants to meet us in the hidden places of our greatest shame and struggle to help us heal. He is not uptight about our sin and shame. His grace is far greater than either (cf. Romans 5:20). But most men and women who are struggling with shameful and degrading practices want to hide themselves from God and have lost hope. They have settled for the ongoing cycles of defeat and shame. But Jesus wants to transform them from a tree of shame to a tree of splendor. And He does this through His love. His perfect love casts out fear and shame (I John 4:18).

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). After defeating all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation (3:15), King Jesus will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

God wants to celebrate who we are! “He will rejoice over you with singing,” not condemn us or shame us. He wants to heal and quiet us with His love. He wants to transform our tree of shame into a tree of splendor so He is glorified. Will you place yourself in a position for Him to do that?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, even though I am afraid and ashamed, I invite You to do what You were sent to do. Please heal my brokenness deep inside of my heart, liberate me from bondage, open the door where others have locked me up and thrown away the key, comfort and console me in my grief, grant me beauty instead of the ashes of humiliation, the oil of joy in place of mourning, the garment of praise instead of punishment for my spirit of heaviness, that I may be called a flourishing oak tree of righteousness that is a blessing to others and magnifies Your name. In Your name. Amen.

Overcoming the weight of shame

27 Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works. 28 My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word. 29 Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.” Psalm 119:27-29

The Lord has been teaching me a lot about shame the past few months. Having grown up with shame-based lies in America and having served as a missionary in a shame-based country for several years, this issue of shame has weighed heavily on my soul. In this devotion I will address shame in a Christian’s life.

It is important to understand that shame is not from God. When God made the first man and woman, they were naked and unashamed before the Lord and one another (Gen. 2:25). Even after Adam and Eve sinned, God did not come to condemn them with shame, He came to cover their sin and shame (Gen. 3:9-21). For example, when Adam told God, “I was afraid because I was naked” (3:10). God replied, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat” (3:11)? God never told Adam and Eve they were naked. This was the natural consequence of their sin. Satan also reveals our shame to us when we sin (true shame) or don’t sin (false shame). His accusations against believers produce shame in their lives. The Devil uses shame to isolate Christians from God and one another. Like a roaring lion who focuses on those who are isolated and weak, Satan focuses on believers who are alone and weak (cf. I Peter 5:8).

Guilt says, “You did something wrong.” Shame says, “You are wrong.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and keep us from drawing near to God and one another.

In my devotions in Psalm 119 this morning, the Holy Spirit showed me some truths that I can apply to my battle with shame. The Psalmist writes, “Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works” (119:27). We need God to help us “understand” or discern the pattern (“way”) of His commands (“precepts”). Take time to invite God to help you understand how to apply His Word to your deep struggle with shame. The Lord wants us to focus (“meditate”) on the “wonderful works” He is doing deep inside of us rather than on our sin and shame. Shame tends to focus on behavior and external reformation. God’s grace and truth focus on the heart and inward transformation.

As God leads me to deal more deeply with my shame, I discover that my “soul melts from heaviness” (119:28a). The word “melts” (dalaph) means “to drip or leak because cracks are not mended.” The idea is that our soul is broken and unable to retain what God gives us. Shame keeps us from believing the truth about God’s love and acceptance of us. As a result, our soul is broken and weighed down with the “heaviness” of sadness and shame. And a cycle of shame develops whereby we mess up, confess our sins, and then try harder, only to repeat the same sin because we continue to believe the shame-based lies that fuel our shame. And we stay bound to this cycle of shame. We cannot break this shame cycle until we deal with the wounds that the shame-based lies are attached to. It takes God’s Spirit to heal these wounds to our souls.  

Few things are more unbearable than the heaviness of shame. It is a burden that God never intended for people to bear. Yet Satan will use shame to keep us from becoming the people God intended us to be. What is God’s remedy for this weight of shame in a Christian’s life?

“Strengthen me according to Your word” (119:28b). We do not have the strength to overcome this weight of shame on our own. Only God has the power necessary to win this battle. The word “strengthen” (qum) means “to arise or stand up.” In the context, this refers to God giving us the ability to arise from the depths of our sadness and shame by means of His “word.” The strength we need to overcome shame comes from the truth of God’s Word. If we do not make our home in God’s Word, we will not win this battle with shame. No amount of willpower or “trying harder” will overcome the weight of shame. We must invite God’s Word to do that for us. How?

“Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously” (119:29). Shame is based on lies the enemy has attached to past wounds in our lives. Lies that say:

“I am bad or unworthy.”

• “No one could love me as I am.”

• “I cannot depend on others to help me.”

• “I am defined by my sin and shame.”

We must ask the Lord to expose and remove the pattern (“way”) of lies that keep us enslaved to the weight of shame. And then ask Him to “grant me Your law graciously,” not harshly. Ask the Lord to gently replace the shame-based lies in your soul with His liberating truth. Truths that say:

“I am loved and cherished by God.” Psalm 27:10

“I am totally loved by Jesus just as I am.” Romans 5:6, 8

“I can depend on others to help me through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

“I am defined by the Light and Love of Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:2, 8

Prayer: Precious Father God, please give me the understanding and discernment to permit Your Word to speak to my deep struggle with shame. Help me focus on the wonderful work You are doing inside of me rather than on my failings and shortcomings. I confess that my soul melts from the heaviness of my sadness and shame. Please strengthen me as only You can with Your Word so I may arise out of this pit of shame. I pray Your Holy Spirit will expose and remove the shame-based lies that keep me bound to this cycle of shame and replace them graciously with Your liberating truths from Your Word so I may become the person You created me to be. Replace my false identity that is based upon shame-based lies with my new identity in Christ that is based upon Your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Coming clean with God

“So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’” Genesis 32:27

I learned something significant this morning during my devotions. When Jacob was wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Hosea 12:4) before going to meet his brother Esau, the Angel of the Lord said to him, “Let Me go, for the day breaks” (Genesis 32:26a). But Jacob said to Him, “I will not let You go unless You bless me” (Genesis 32:26b). The Lord then said to him, “What is your name” (Genesis 32:27a)? Why did God ask Jacob this?

Earlier Jacob had sought his brother Esau’s blessing from his earthly father, Isaac. When he entered his father’s presence, Isaac asked him, “Who are you, my son” (Genesis 27:18b)? Jacob deceived his father and said, “I am Esau your firstborn” (Genesis 27:19a).

Now Jacob is wrestling with God and God dislocates his hip (Genesis 32:25). And when God asks him for his name, he comes clean with his heavenly Father and says his name is “Jacob” (Genesis 32:27b). Up to this time, Jacob had been a manipulator. At birth he grasped his twin brother Esau’s heel and was given the name “Jacob” which means “heel-holder” (Genesis 25:26). Later Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing, and Jacob’s name came to mean “supplanter”“one who takes the place of another by trickery.” His name took on the meaning of a “cheater, deceiver, schemer.” So when he told God his name, Jacob was being honest with God about his character flaws. He is saying to God, “I am a cheater and a schemer.” It’s like Jacob is saying, “Lord, I don’t want to pretend any more. I want to present my true self to You. Here I am. Take me.”

Aren’t all of us like Jacob? Because of the hurt and shame in our lives, we deceive ourselves and others to protect ourselves or to get our way. So God has to dismantle these layers of self- protection. Like He did with Jacob, He may have to dislocate our hip to bring us to the end of ourselves. Or He may bring about a different type of crisis. It may be the loss of a job, our spouse, our children, or even our own health. Whatever it takes to bring us to the end of ourselves. God does not do this because He is cruel. He does this because He loves us and He wants to liberate us from the layers and layers of shame and self-deception.

When Jacob came clean with God, the Lord changed his name to “Israel” which means “God’s fighter” (Genesis 32:28). After all, Jacob fought with God and men, and prevailed not by trickery, but by persistent faith. God knew Jacob’s potential; He saw beneath his self-sufficient, crafty exterior. God said, “That’s not the real you, Jacob. You are actually an Israel. You are My fighter.” God saw the fighter in Jacob, and the former cheater began to become the man whom the entire nation of Israel was named after.

The good news is when you believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life, God gives you a new identity. Beneath all those things you know about yourself that you don’t like, God sees an Israel. He sees “His fighter.” He sees what you can become. He sees potential because He gave you God the Holy Spirit to empower you to live a victorious Christian life. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” Romans 8:11 [NLT] God the Holy Spirit in you gives you the desire and power to do what is right, “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like Him.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 [LB] You are now God’s fighter, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37 [NKJV]. You now have the potential through Him who loved you to live above your circumstances instead of underneath them.

Prayer: Father God, forgive me for pretending to be someone I am not, for hiding behind layers and layers of lies and manipulation. You know everything about me and still love and accept me. Because of Your amazing love for me, I come to You as I am. Help me to see myself through Your eyes now. I am Your fighter or conqueror through Jesus who loved me. Thank You for giving me the Holy Spirit to empower me to live for You above my circumstances instead of underneath them. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Despising Shame

I was reminded this last week that we live in a shame-based culture in the State of Iowa. Just ask Iowa State fan Carson King. At the televised Iowa/Iowa State football game on September 14, 2019, Carson held up a beer sign to raise money for more beer. But as the money poured in, he decided to donate the money to the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital to help fight cancer. At the time of writing this article, Carson had raised $1.5 million to help children battling cancer. But this last week a Des Moines Register reporter thought it necessary to call our attention to some indiscreet racial tweets that Carson had made eight years ago when he was 16. That reporter is no longer with the Register because readers revealed some of his own controversial tweets. [i] Why did this reporter seek to shame Carson in the wake of this good deed that he was doing for those less fortunate than him? Perhaps he wanted to build himself up by tearing Carson down. May be he wanted to avoid his own shame by shaming Carson. Whatever his reason was, I am led to talk about despising shame.

To begin, let’s look at the perfect example of Someone who despised shame. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

The author of the book of Hebrews is writing to Christians who are being pressured to return to Judaism and give up on their Christian faith. He compares living the Christian life to running a long distance race. He challenges them to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1b). He instructs them to run this race successfullyby “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Until recently, I have overlooked the phrase, “despising the shame.” I have been asking the Lord to show me what this phrase means. Why did the author of Hebrews include these words when he tells us to look “unto Jesus” as the Supreme example of living a life of faith?

When he writes that Jesus “endured the cross” by “despising the shame,” does this mean that Jesus despised the shame or humiliation of crucifixion or did He despise the shame of the sin of the world that was placed upon Him as our Substitute? Or is this referring to something else? How do we apply this to our own Christian lives? To address these questions, I will first define what shame is and is not, then look at how “shame” is used in the Bible followed by focusing on what it means to “despise” shame, and conclude with ways we can apply this to our Christian lives.

SHAME VERSUS GUILT

Before we can despise shame we must identify what shame is not and what it is. Many people confuse shame with guilt. Guilt is the conviction we experience when we have violated God’s standard of holiness. In short, guilt says, “I have done wrong.” For example, when a person hates, lies, lusts, steals, or commits adultery, he or she has a sense of guilt for having done wrong (cf. Psalm 32:1-5; Romans 3:1-20; James 2:10). The Bible teaches us that sin and its subsequent guilt can lead an unsaved person to believe or trust in Christ alone as his or her Savior, resulting in cleansing and forgiveness (cf. John 16:8-11; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:22-24). God uses our guilt to convict us of our need for Him.

The Hebrew word for “ashamed” (cf. Genesis 2:25) is בּוּשׁ (bosh), which means to fall into disgrace, to be embarrassed or humiliated. The Greek word for “shame” (Hebrews 12:2) is αἰσχύνης (aischynēs) which refers to disgrace. According to some theologians and psychologists, shame is a feeling (or belief) that we are bad, defective, flawed, and worthless. Guilt says, “I have done wrong,” but shame says, “I am wrong.” Instead of focusing on what a person has done (guilt), shame focuses on who the person is. It says that at the core of our being we are bad, inferior, and unacceptable. Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Let me try to illustrate the difference between guilt and shame. When I say, “I feel bad about yelling at my children when they misbehave,” that is guilt. But when I say, “I am a bad father,” this is shame.

We can feel guilt and shame at the same time. But shame is more relational. We can feel shame as a result of our own actions and the actions of others. There are two types of shame: true shame and false shame.

True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-8, 10).

False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can actually experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” For example, a child who was sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I must be bad for that to have happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”

NAKED AND UNASHAMED

When God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and joined them together as husband and wife, the Bible tells us “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25; cf. Mark 10:6-9). Before Adam and Eve sinned, they did not experience shame. Therefore, shame was not part of God’s original design for humankind. To be “naked” and “not ashamed” suggests something more than not wearing any clothes. These words describe Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and with one another. They were able to be completely open with the Lord and each other without holding anything back or hiding their true selves. Adam and Eve were fully known by God and each other and they were okay with this. This enabled them to experience uninhibited intimacy with God and with one another. They knew that they were totally accepted and loved by God. There was nothing to fear and nothing to hide from the Lord and each other.

Prior to the Fall, they did not experience any self-consciousness regarding the uniqueness of their personhood as man and woman. For example, Adam probably did not doubt his masculinity or his ability to impress Eve as a man. He was not concerned about his biceps being big enough or being a good enough lover for Eve. Nor did Eve wonder if her beauty was enough to attract Adam or if her ideas were as significant as his. With an unwavering assurance, both of them knew that who they were and what they offered to one another was more than just good enough – it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

AFRAID AND ASHAMED

But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6), they experienced shame for the first time. The complete innocence and vulnerability they once had with God and one another were now lost. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7). They were now self-conscious and ashamed of their nakedness before one another, so they tried to remove their shame by covering themselves with fig leaves. They went from holding nothing back from one another to hiding and covering their true selves.

When they put their own desires ahead of God’s will for their lives, they may have realized they could also put their own interests ahead of the other’s. Would Adam be able to trust Eve after she violated God’s trust? Would Eve be able to trust Adam after he did the same thing? Once transparent and vulnerable with each other, Adam and Eve now covered their physical nakedness and the nakedness of their souls with fig leaves. Instead of trusting each other, they were afraid of being hurt by one another, so they chose to protect themselves by hiding under the cover of fig leaves.

But their sin and shame also adversely affected their closeness with God. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). Instead of being open and vulnerable before God, they now hid themselves from His presence when He pursued them. God is presented in this verse as pursuing His fallen children by walking in the garden in the cool of the day as if this was something He had always done to connect with them. We might assume that God came to them to punish and shame Adam and Eve for the wrong they had done, but notice that God does not seek to shame His fallen children. He seeks to restore them. “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). Why would an all-knowing God ask Adam a question to which He already knows the answer? Because the Lord wanted a confession from Adam. “Where are you in relation to Me?” God asks. Would Adam and Eve believe He is still the same loving and merciful God that He had always been prior to their disobedience? Or would they believe the lie of the serpent who implied that God could not really be trusted (cf. Genesis 3:1-5)? The Lord did not abandon Adam and Eve when they sinned and felt ashamed. He seeks them out to restore them to fellowship with Himself.

But instead of trusting the Lord, Adam and Eve were now afraid of Him. “So he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:10). Their sin and shame now became a barrier to His loving and merciful pursuit of them. Not only were they self-conscious of their nakedness before one another, they were now self-conscious of their nakedness before God. By covering themselves with fig leaves and hiding themselves among the trees of the garden, Adam and Eve removed themselves from being able to receive God’s love, grace, and mercy which He was freely offering to them. Their faith in God had now changed to fear. Unfortunately their shame pushed them away from the Lord instead of drawing them near to Him.

MODERN-DAY FIG LEAVES

Like Adam and Eve, we also try to hide our shame from the Lord with modern-day fig leaves. We may hide behind expensive cars, motorcycles, or homes. Some of us may take refuge behind our vast theological knowledge, ministries, or positions of leadership. We may hide behind our busyness, humor, sarcasm, or superficial interactions. Others may try to cover their shame with religious efforts and rituals. Whatever fig leaves we choose to hide behind, we are going against God’s design for us by refusing to present our true selves to Him and to one another. This never leads to the abundant life God meant for us to experience.

GOD WANTS TO COVER OUR SHAME

As we already saw, God did not pursue Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden after they had sinned to shame them. He came to them in the garden to restore them to fellowship with Himself. God is full of lovingkindness in our failures. He is not looking for perfect people. He wants His children in a process that He can use to mold and train them. Failures have never hindered God – this is clear in the beginning of the Bible to the end. He seeks to restore sinful people.

Since Adam and Eve could not remove their sense of fear and shame by covering themselves with fig leaves, God graciously provided the proper covering. He “made tunics of skin” through the death of an innocent animal (Genesis 3:21). Blood must be shed. Imagine how Adam must have felt to see one of the animals he had named and cared for being killed on his account! Never had Adam and Eve known death. This was serious business and this was to be God’s way of dealing with sin and shame throughout the ages. By providing a covering with animal skins, God provided forgiveness through the “shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22). God later provided forgiveness through the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Those animals were shadows of the Babe who was born on that first Christmas morning. He would be called “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Like that first animal that was sacrificed for Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ would also be innocent and without sin because He was and is God (John 1:1, 14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). And like that first sacrificial animal, Jesus was born to die for the sins of others (John 1:29; Romans 5:8; I John 4:9), that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Like Adam and Eve, our human efforts or works cannot remove our sin and shame (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). Religion cannot take away our sin, guilt, and shame. Only Jesus Christ can take away our sin, guilt, and shame (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Titus 3:4-7).

This is called grace. Grace is receiving what we do not deserve. We do not deserve forgiveness or everlasting life. But because of God’s grace, He offers us His forgiveness and everlasting life freely if we will believe or trust in Christ alone (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). The moment we believe in Christ, God declares us to be totally righteous before Him so there is no more guilt or shame (Romans 4:5). All our sins are removed beyond our reach as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). They are cast out of our sight into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). Nothing, including our guilt and shame, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39)!

The voice of shame will tell us that we are defined by our sins and the sins of others. But the voice of God says when we believe in His Son, we are defined by being in Christ so that all His beauty, goodness, holiness, and righteousness are what God sees when He looks at us through Christ (cf. Romans 4:5; 10:11; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:6).

God does not shame us. He did not shame Adam and Eve, but He did ask them to give an account of their actions (Genesis 3:11, 13). And He asks us to admit or confess our sins after we become Christians so He can forgive us and cleanse us of all our sins and restore us to fellowship with Him (Psalm 32:1-5; I John 1:9).

During His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh (John 1:1, 14), did not shame broken sinful people. The Bible tells us, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). He did not come to condemn, but to cleanse. Christ did not come to shame, but to save.

For example, when He met a despised tax collector named Zacchaeus who was shamed by his own actions and the actions of others, Jesus invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house to accept and love on him even though others tried to shame Jesus from doing this (Luke 19:1-7). When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well who had five failed marriages and was currently living with a man who was not her husband, Jesus lovingly offered her everlasting life as a free gift (John 4:1-18). Even though Jesus knew all about the shameful things she had done, He still loved her and disclosed His true Self to her (John 4:19-26). No one had ever treated her with such dignity. He accepted her as she was, but He also showed her need for God’s free gift of eternal life. She was so impacted by His love and grace, she invited others to come see Him (John 4:28-29). When Christ encountered a woman caught in the act of adultery, He refused to condemn and shame her by extending His forgiving grace to her (John 8:11). Instead of shaming a prostitute, He completely forgave her which led her to lavishly love on Him (Luke 7:36-50). Christ was not embarrassed by the brokenness of others. Nor did He shame them. He accepted them and forgave them.

Listen to these Scriptures which testify to the fact that God does not turn away from brokenness:

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite [crushed]  spirit.” Psalm 34:18

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not  despise.” Psalm 51:17

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted.” Isaiah 61:1

“I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen   what was sick.” Ezekiel 34:16

The prophet Isaiah reminds us concerning the Messiah, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus quoted this verse after He healed a great multitude of people who followed Him (Matthew 12:20). The Messiah did not deal harshly with those who were already hurting nor did He extinguish what little hope a broken heart possessed. He comes along side of them to strengthen them with His presence rather than step on them to advance His own plans. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him. Unlike the religious leaders of His day, Jesus had compassion for the weak and vulnerable. He extended gentleness and humility to the harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36) as well as to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28). He used His supernatural power to heal, not to punish or shame. Jesus spent much of His ministry fighting sickness and shame, not asking “Why?” or condemning with “Who sinned?”

Christian leaders can add to the shame of the broken and bruised by being harsh and demanding. But not Jesus. Christ is always available to empathize with us and understand us when we are hurting (Hebrews 4:15). He knows exactly what to say and do when we are vulnerable so He can lift us up and set us in a broad place. He is on our side. He is not against us (cf. Psalm 118:5-9; Romans 8:31-39).

DESPISING THE SHAME

When the writer of Hebrews points out that Jesus “endured the cross” by “despising the shame,” to what was he referring? The word “despising” comes from a compound Greek word, kataphronéō, which means “against, down” (kata) and “to think” (phronéō).” Literally it means “to think against” or “to think little of.” Jesus was able to endure the embarrassment or humiliation of the cross and the sins He bore by “despising the shame” associated with them. He simply did not pay attention to that shame because it was not His. This shame was of little consequence compared to the surpassing “joy that was set before Him” when He would sit “down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ endured the pain and shame of the cross because of the joy that awaited Him on the other side when He would sit down on His everlasting throne next to His heavenly Father (cf. Hebrews 1:8-9).

Hebrews 2:9-10 also sheds some light on this idea of despising the shame. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” The shame that Jesus endured to cleanse us of our own shame (2:9) was nothing compared to His great love for us (2:10; cf. Romans 5:8). Christ endured all that shame for us so He would “not be ashamed to call” us His brothers and sisters (2:11). He has replaced our shame with a place of dignity and honor in His family.

Christ endured being abandoned by His closest friends, being falsely accused, being beaten, mocked, spit upon, stripped down to His undergarments in public, and nailed to a cross like a terrible criminal to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Matthew 26:47-27:44). Worst of all, Jesus endured being rejected by His own Father in heaven when the sins of the world were placed upon Him because God is holy and righteous and cannot be around sin (Matthew 27:45-46). Did Jesus enjoy this shameful treatment associated with His crucifixion? No!!! He despised or looked down with contempt toward the shame associated with His sufferings and our sins. Jesus is showing us that just because something bad happens to you does not make you bad.

Like Jesus, we may have experienced shame by being falsely accused. During our childhood we may have been told, “You are no good.” “You cannot do anything right.” “You will never amount to anything.” Or like Jesus, some of us have been abandoned by those closest to us. Perhaps a parent abandoned you physically at an early age or they abandoned you emotionally. They lived in the same house with you, but they did not provide the emotional nurturing and support you needed. Like Jesus, you may have been beaten physically by those in authority over you. As a result, the voice of shame told you that this happened to you because you are bad. You may have been mocked and verbally mistreated and the voice of shame said you deserved this. Like Jesus, we may have experienced the humiliation of being put on display with minimal clothes on (or no clothes on) in front of others.

Or may be you have been shamed because of your commitment to follow Jesus. Perhaps you have been abandoned by those closest to you, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, or stripped naked all because of your love for Jesus. Please realize that Jesus understands how you feel because He has been through something similar (cf. Hebrews 4:15). Knowing He understands and sympathizes with us can embolden us to approach Him in prayer for His supernatural assistance. So instead of looking to our own shame whether it is based on our actions or the actions of others, we are to look to Jesus who despised the shame when He endured the cross on our behalf (Hebrew 12:2).

APPLICATION

How can I despise shame as I run the race that is set before me (Hebrews 12:2)?

Before you can run in this race called the Christian life, you much first enter this race by…

 1. Believing or trusting in Jesus to give you eternal life and remove all of your shame. If you are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ, you can begin that relationship with Him now before it is too late for you. The Bible tells us that all of us have sinned against God and deserve to be punished forever in hell (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But God loves us so much, He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for our sins and rise from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus wants to set us free from shame because He took on the shame (and sin) that belonged to us so we would not let our shameful past keep us from coming to Him in faith. He covers us with His own righteousness when we place our faith in Him so we do not have to live with shame any more: “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11; cf. Romans 4:5; John 3:16). When you believed in Jesus, you were covered with His righteousness and beauty so that God sees nothing in you that is worthy of condemnation or shame (cf. Romans 4:5; 8:1a, 31-39; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

After you come to Christ in faith to save you from hell, you can…

 2. Look to Jesus instead of your shame to live the Christian life. Jesus despised or did not pay attention to the shame associated with His sufferings and our sins (Hebrews 12:2).He thought little of that shame compared to the surpassing joy He would experience when He would sit down on His everlasting throne next to His Father (cf. Hebrews 1:8-9). He did not let that shame keep Him from finishing His race successfully and nor should we let our shameful past or the shame-based lies we believe keep us from finishing the race set before us. The Bible tells us, 4 I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed” (Psalm 34:4-5). Keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus and your face will not be ashamed.

This involves ignoring the voice of shame in our Christian lives which tries to bully us from finishing the race Christ has called us to run. Shame tries to scare us by exposing our vulnerabilities and reminding us of our failures. When shame tries to intimidate us, pay little attention to it. The Bible says, “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore” (Isaiah 54:4). Christ removed all our shame at the cross so you can forget that it ever was, and focus on Him.

3. Replace your shame-based lies with the truth (John 8:31-32). Try to identify which of the following shame-based lies apply to you and then ask God the Holy Spirit to replace them with the subsequent truth and apply the truth to the depths of your soul.

If you come from an ABUSIVE (emotional, physical, sexual, verbal abuse) family of origin, you may believe…

Lie: “Nobody would love me as I am.” Truth: “God loves me regardless.” Romans 5:6, 8

Lie: “I could never be forgiven.” Truth: “I am totally forgiven in Christ.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: “I am bad because of what happened to me.” Truth: “I am precious to Jesus because of what happened to Him.” Matthew 13:44-45; I Corinthians 6:19-20

Lie: “I am an unacceptable person.” Truth: “I am totally accepted in Christ.” Romans 8:1a; Ephesians 1:6

Lie: “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” Truth: “I can learn to depend on healthy people to help meet my needs.” John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:2

If you come from a CODEPENDENT family of origin, you may believe…

Lie: “I must be liked and loved by everyone.” Truth: “I am likeable and loveable, but not to everyone.” Jesus was perfect, but rejected by men – Isaiah 53:3

Lie: “I am responsible for the feelings of others.” Truth: “Every person is responsible for his or her own feelings.” Proverbs 23:7a

Lie: “Feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are wrong.” Truth: “Feelings are neither right or wrong, they are just feelings. How you respond to your feelings can be wrong.” Ephesians 4:26; Philippians 4:6-8

Lie: “I need everyone’s support to be healthy.” Truth: “Some of my burdens I must let God carry and some of my burdens I am to share with others. I need His wisdom to discern the difference.” Psalm 55:22; Galatians 6:2, 5;  James 1:5; I Peter 5:6-7

If you come from a PERFECTIONISTIC family of origin, you may believe…

Lie: “I am what I do.” Truth: “I am a child of God based on what Christ has done.” John 1:12; I John 3:1-2

Lie: “I can never be good enough.” Truth: “In Christ I am good enough.” 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:6

Lie: “I must be perfect to be accepted and loved.” Truth: “I am totally accepted and loved by God regardless of what I do.” Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 1:6

Lie: “I must be perfect.” Truth: “It is good enough to do my best and not be perfect.” Colossians 3:23-24

Lie: “I should never be angry, anxious, depressed, or lonely.” Truth: “Anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are signals to draw close to God.” Psalm 4:4-5; 42:5; 72:21-26; Philippians 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 4:16-17

Lie: “Failure is the end of the world.” Truth: “Failure is an opportunity to learn.” Luke 22:31-34; Hebrews 12:11

4. Look to the reward of ruling with Christ in the future. Christ was able to endure the cross and despise the shame by focusing on the joyful reward of ruling next to His Father afterward (Hebrews 12:2; cf. 1:8-9). Likewise, the Bible promises a great reward to those who hold fast to their Christian faith. “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (Hebrews 10:35; 11:6). This great reward includes ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth if we remain faithful to Him to the end of our lives on earth (Hebrews 1:5-13; 3:1, 14; 4:1, 11; 9:15; cf. Luke 22:28-30; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21).

Like Jesus, Moses also despised the shame that can accompany faithfulness to God by looking to his future reward. 24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). By faith Moses despised the shame (“passing pleasures of sin”) of ruling in Egypt so he could lay hold of his future reward of ruling with Christ.

When I ran track in high school, I trained hard because I wanted to win a medal in my race. Even though I had failed to win a medal in previous races, I still prepared for the next race thinking I could win. In other words, I despised the shame of failing to win in the past by thinking little of it. Keeping the thought of winning a medal in the front of my mind as I trained and eventually competed in the race, motivated me to do my very best and not give up.

The same is true in our Christian lives. To earn the reward of ruling with Christ, we must live faithfully for Him to the end of our Christian lives. To do this, it is important to train our minds to imagine Jesus rewarding us at the Judgment Seat of Christ, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Instead of focusing on our past shame or the shame that can accompany following Christ, focus on Jesus who endured the cross, despising the shame that we deserved, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God so we could sit with Him in His future Kingdom on earth if we remain faithful to Him. The more we look to Jesus now, the less true shame we will experience when we stand before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ after His coming for us. “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (I John 2:28).

5. Fight shame with God’s grace. The Bible says, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20). Whether we have spent more time in jail or in church, God’s grace is available to forgive our sins and remove all our shame. His grace includes everyone. When people start deciding who is deserving of God’s grace and who is not, they are cheapening His grace. The fact is none of us deserve His grace. We deserve God’s justice and punishment (Romans 3:23; 6:23a). So instead of pointing the finger at others, let’s give them God’s grace so they can discover that God is the God of second chance (Acts 20:24; Ephesians 4:32). His grace is in the business of forgiving and restoring guilty sinners so that all their shame is removed!


[i] https://fox61.com/2019/09/27/iowa-reporter-who-exposed-racist-tweets-no-longer-at-the-paper-after-readers-revealed-his-own/.