The Ineffectiveness of Shame

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

When engaging in social issues, we must remember that the above scripture verse is true of the victim and the victimizer. God sees people differently than we see them. We see a “scary black man” and the Lord sees a gentle friend and father. We see a “blue collar white guy” covered in demonic-looking tattoos and the Lord sees a teacher and a mentor to young men.

One thing we learned when we started a nonprofit to fight human trafficking in the Baltimore area was that you can’t create cultural/systemic change with shame. We saw some organizations trying to do just that. But shame creates either defensiveness or hiddenness in the person who needs to hear your message. They will either become more entrenched in defending their sin or just learn how to hide their sin better. Trying to shame people into change is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that but, practically speaking, shame doesn’t work.

Instead, the message must be delivered with hope. We must see people the way God sees them, past their sin and into who God created them to be. In our case, instead of trying to shame men into not buying sex or pornography, it looked like inviting men to be the protectors and defenders of the vulnerable that God had created them to be. It meant not only raising awareness but raising hope and rejecting shame.

Shame disempowers and debilitates people into inaction. It does this to the very people you need to be active and engaged. If shame is your primary way of trying change the culture of racism, it’s time to find a more effective tactic and one that aligns with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is what is so radically different about the gospel. God looked at Saul (who would become Paul) and instead of just seeing someone who was persecuting the Church, He saw the future apostle who would write most of the New Testament. If Saul the persecutor lived in our culture today, one group would try to shame him into changing and another group would just want to sentence him to life in prison. If it was up to these groups in our country, Saul would have never become Paul.

Whenever one person dehumanizes another, they themselves become dehumanized. Whenever one person degrades another, they themselves become degraded. Both the victim and the victimizer simultaneously get degraded and dehumanized in the same act of injustice. The antidote is seeing the image of God in the victim and calling out the injustice. The antidote also involves seeing the image of God in the victimizer and bringing conviction instead of shame. Conviction is a combination of hard truth mixed with hope and love. Conviction says your actions are wrong but your identity was created for more. It speaks to the heart of who God created a person to be.

True conviction always carries with it hopefulness. This is what allows a person not to retreat into defensiveness or hiddenness. It’s hope and love that help someone face their sin long enough to move into repentance. Shame can never do that.

Jesus, help us to have eyes to see people the way You see them. Help us to see past the sin in a person’s life and into who You created them to be. And move us past shame, Lord. Convict us of our own sin and give us the hopefulness of the gospel, that You are changing us from the inside out through Your Holy Spirit. May we not shame ourselves or others. Instead, Jesus, may we move from conviction into repentance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Mediation

So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

1 Samuel 2:23-25

Eli had his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, ministering with him as priests. But these two sons were engaged in the two most notorious scandals a minister can be involved in. They were stealing from the offerings people were giving to the Lord and they were sleeping with women who were serving at the place of sacrifice. Money scandals and sex scandals have long been tabloid fodder for people in positions of power.

Eli finally confronts his sons and, even though they don’t listen, Eli’s confrontation is a foreshadow of Christ. It is one thing to ask God or a judge to mediate conflict between two people. But who mediates the conflict when we’ve sinned against God? God has become the one who has been sinned against and the only one who has enough authority to mediate between Himself and other. The implication here from Eli is that there is no one to intercede for us if we sin against God and so a guilty verdict will surely be the result.

The beauty of the gospel is that God saw this reality and decided to do something about it on our behalf. He loves us so much He couldn’t leave things this way. So He sent Jesus–God in the flesh–to become the mediator between us and God. Jesus took our guilty verdict upon Himself and in turn gave us the inheritance that was His alone. He took upon Himself what only we deserved and then gave us what only He deserved. He identified with the consequence of our sin–the crucifixion, death, and burial–and then gave us the opportunity not only to identify with Him in the resurrection–giving us new life–but also the chance to be seated with Him in the heavenly places–allowing us to reign with Him–receiving His inheritance and authority.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus…

1 Timothy 2:5

…Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 9:5

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:3-4

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…

Ephesians 2:4-6

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God…The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:14, 16-17

Can you see that the Mediator Jesus did not come to make sure both sides, us and God, got a fair deal? What Jesus got was not fair. It was sacrifice. What we got was not fair. It was grace. Justice was satisfied as our sin was paid for, but the gospel goes way beyond justice. Because of His great love for us, God put all of His chips on the table. He went all in to bring about our reconciliation to Him.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

This is why we call it good news! In moments where I am just quietly driving and reflecting on the goodness of God, there are times when the absolute beauty of the gospel hits me. I become overwhelmed with the grace and kindness of the Father. I become undone by the reality that God gave me what only Jesus deserved because Jesus took upon Himself what only I deserved. The weight of the love involved in that exchanged becomes so real that I break down crying in the car.

This is the gospel! We don’t earn it with good works or religious duties. We simply believe it. We believe and trust in what Jesus did for us, and it changes everything!

Jesus, thank you for this beautiful exchange! I don’t deserve all that You’ve given me, but I receive it by faith. I surrender my life to you, Jesus, and I invite the Holy Spirit to come and change me from the inside out. Your love for me is overwhelming! Your grace toward me is life-changing! Help me to live from that place of being seated with you at the right hand of the Father. My life is Yours! Amen.

Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”…

…How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:6, 11-12

We need to pay attention the fact that Jesus warned His own disciples to be on guard against the teaching of the religious and political leaders of their day. They needed to have their guard up. They needed to be discerning. They couldn’t just sit and listen without filtering the message they were hearing.

The Pharisees had a works-based teaching that was about earning God’s love based on what you did. It was a performance-oriented message. If you do all the right things, you’ll be acceptable to God. If you don’t, you won’t be. The way it is taught today is, “Just be a good person.” But this is not the gospel.

The Sadducees had strong political ties to the parties in power. Their teaching was about being a good Roman citizen. The goal was to be a good hybrid–a good Roman while being a good Jew. Their teaching was about the perfect blend between nationalism and religion. The way it is taught today is, “Love God and country” as if being a good American is what it is to be a good Christian. This is not the gospel.

When Jesus was warning His disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, He was warning us too. He was telling us to be on guard against a religious spirit and a political spirit. He was telling us not to allow these two demonic influences to infect the gospel that we preach and live.

The gospel says that we are not justified by our works, but by what Jesus did by His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. The gospel says that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not our performance of religious actions. The gospel declares that our obedience is our joyful response to God’s unmerited grace and unconditional love, not a prerequisite for receiving them.

The gospel says that we are primarily citizens of the Kingdom of God, not the country we live in. The gospels says that our primarily loyalty is to King Jesus alone! The gospel says that our primary identity is not that we are American but that we are sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Has the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees infected the gospel you’re living?

Not Timid, Not Ashamed

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—

2 Timothy 1:7-9

The New American Standard Bible translates verse 7 this way: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Paul was encouraging Timothy not to be timid regarding the “testimony about our Lord.” Fear can paralyze a person into silence about the truth of the gospel.

Paul was reminding Timothy that the Holy Spirit gives us a boldness about the gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit gives us power to see the impossible become possible–miracles, signs and wonders. The Father also pours His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love changes our heart toward people we would otherwise avoid. And the Holy Spirit is a refining fire within us, giving us self-discipline and moving us into a holy life.

Paul also lets Timothy know that part of following Jesus is suffering for the gospel. Specifically, suffering for the gospel in the New Testament is not about facing illness or the normal hardships of life. Suffering for the gospel is the ridicule and persecution that comes from proclaiming the testimony of Jesus. And part of why we are given the power of God from the Holy Spirit is to fortify our souls during times of insults and false accusations.

Jesus warned of this same thing when He said,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

We couldn’t do any of this on our own. On our own, in our own power, we would shrink into fear and self-protection. We’d spend our time trying to hyper-manage our reputation and other people’s perception of us. It’s the Holy Spirit that breaks us out of self-protection and into courage. It’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to swim upstream against cultural norms that are anti-Christ. It’s the Spirit that gives us the power and love to call people back to their Heavenly Father–the One who longs to welcome us home and shower us with grace (Luke 15:18-24).

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:19-21