Overcoming Shame

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Genesis 3:7-12

Have you ever noticed that humanity swings from shame and guilt about sin to pride and blame about the same sin? We see it start all the way back in the Garden of Eden, and it is still happening today.

Here’s the pattern:

  1. We sin.
  2. We feel guilt about sin. Instead of surrendering to conviction and repentance, shame begins to tell us we are our sin. Shame makes us want to hide.
  3. Then we reach a breaking point with shame and we realize we can’t hide anymore.
  4. Instead of repenting, we pridefully embrace our sin (essentially agreeing with shame that we are our sin) Instead of hiding, we are proud of it. We stop calling it sin. We call it our identity.
  5. We blame others for making us feel ashamed in the first place.

This is the pattern we see with Adam in the Garden. As a pastor I have seen this pattern play out over and over again in every possible sin you can image. Can you see it? Let me give an example. Promiscuity:

  1. We sleep around.
  2. We feel guilt about our sin. But instead of surrendering to conviction and repentance, shame begins to tell us we are our sin. We begin to believe we are promiscuous. That is who we are. Shame makes us want to hide.
  3. Then we reach a breaking point with shame and we realize we can’t hide anymore.
  4. Instead of repenting, we pridefully embrace our sin (essentially agreeing with shame that we are our sin) Instead of hiding, we are proud of it. We stop calling it sin. We call it our identity but with a new name. We call it sexual freedom.
  5. We blame others for making us feel ashamed in the first place. We attack the purity culture and anyone that would disagree with a lifestyle of multiple sexual partners. We call them oppressive and repressive.

We see this same pattern in the LGBTQ community. We see this same pattern with those who battle addiction. I’ve seen men do this when they get caught in infidelity. Over and over again, humanity seems to do the same thing in response to shame.

But the problem is that changing the definition of sin in order to identify with it doesn’t get rid of shame; it partners with shame. Pridefully embracing our sin so as to not feel ashamed anymore is like putting a hard cast over an infected wound. We think we are throwing off the shackles of shame, but really we are just burying it under a thick layer of pride.

You see, shame and pride are both saying the same thing. They are saying, “You are your sin.” Shame calls sin what it really is whereas pride gives sin a new, friendly name. But both declare the same thing, “You are this thing and you will never be anything else.”

This is not how we throw off the shackles of shame! We were never meant to live in shame. We are not our sin! That is not who we are, it is something we’ve done. It is no longer our identity.

To truly get free from shame, we need to repent of our sin and embrace who God says that we are in Christ. We need to hear His words of love and affirmation for us even while we embrace His words of conviction about our sin. When we call sin what it really is, when we name it and reject it as a part of our identity, and when we receive our true identity in Christ, shame has no place to plant its evil roots in our life.

Paul explains it like this:

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Embracing your sin as your identity will not get rid of shame. It simply covers it with pride. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” the same is true of shame. Pride cannot drive out shame; only finding your identity in Christ can do that. Repentance opens us up to receive the perfect love of the Father and hear Him speak to us about who we really are in His eyes.

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