Shame says, “There’s something wrong with me that isn’t wrong with everyone else.” It tells you that you’re worthless. Therefore, you must find some way to prove your own worth. In its worst expression, it says, “I am outside the love of God.” A person with a shamed sense of identity reads the Scriptures and usually feels condemned. Far too many individuals feel dirty, worthless and ashamed of themselves. As a result, they feel unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God and have the type of living and intimate relationship that God wants to have with them. Shame prevents intimacy with God because it makes us feel damaged and distant from Him.
Is there a difference between shame and guilt? Yes. Guilt is what takes place when a person realizes his or her failure. True guilt is actually a good thing. It helps us to judge our behavior against the laws. It allows for retribution, punishment and amends. It allows us to pay for what we’ve done. False guilt, which is what Satan throws at us, is where the sin has been repented of and forgiven, but the devil still wants us to feel guilty or to see ourselves associated with our past offenses. Satan uses false guilt to rip apart the lives of believers.
While guilt focuses on what we’ve done, shame is determining our self-worth negatively because of what we’ve done. Guilt is looking at the sin. Shame is looking at ourselves. If we allow ourselves to dwell on guilt, however, it can lead to shame. Meditating on false guilt creates strongholds. If we constantly think about our past failures and offenses, it tears us down spiritually. The picture we develop of ourselves becomes distorted.
Shame is one of the things the Bible speaks of as an imagination that must be cast down. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” An imagination in this instance is a picture in your mind that is incorrect. If you see yourself as a failure when you’re actually a blood-washed child of God, you’ve got an imagining that needs to be dealt with!
Shame is very destructive to our relationship with God. There is a good reason Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners. Feeling that way keeps us from confidently approaching God’s throne and having an intimate relationship with Him. The Bible tells us that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that we can be forgiven of our sins and offenses.
The Father wants us to draw near to Him with a clean conscience that has been freed from the memory of our evil ways. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Even the Apostle Paul, once the chief of sinners, made it clear that he was serving God from a clear conscience. 2 Timothy 1:3 says, “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of you in my prayers night and day.” Obviously, Paul understood that he was forgiven by God, and that he was no longer a persecutor of Christians. His past behavior did not define or enslave him.
Worship is an intimate way of expressing our love and gratitude to God. The Bible is clear that we should approach the Father with a clear conscience that has been purged of sin. Shame and false guilt are based upon deception, which is the opposite of truth. How are we supposed to worship God in spirit and in truth if there are imaginings hanging around in our minds that are contrary to the truth? Remember John 4:24, which says, “God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
How do we defeat or overcome shame and false guilt? First, we need to stop dwelling on our past failures. We are meditating on something that no longer exists! If our sins are in the depths of the sea, then why are we still thinking about them? Micah 7:19 says, “…He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and will cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea.” We need to stop focusing on the problem (which has been dealt with), and begin to praise God for the solution to the problem, and think about how we have been washed clean from our sins! Instead of meditating on a lie, begin to meditate on the truth in God’s word. Psalms 51:7-12 says, “Purge me…and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God: and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence; and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation; and uphold me with your free spirit.”
We have to dissociate ourselves from our past. Here is an important thought: Why do you think God wants us to be new creations? Because he wants us to be separated from our past. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new.” We are assured in Psalms 103:12 that “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.” Now that our past sins have been forgiven, we need to leave them in the past and press on toward the things that are of God. Philipians 3:13 says, “…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before [me].” Not only are we to forget our past, God Himself has chosen to completely forget our sins as well. Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more.”
When we operate from a place of shame, we make statements such as I make the same mistakes over and over again. I am inferior. I am an immoral person. I am damaged goods. I am worthless. I have lost the opportunity to experience a complete, wonderful life. Healing from our shame involves learning to get our significance from God. Shame is grown in secrecy. Remember, we are only as sick as our secrets. We have to stop living in the past and begin to count our blessings. And we must increase the amount of time we spend in worship and prayer.
There are some significant differences between guilt and shame. The source of guilt is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we have done something wrong. This is a good thing. Shame, on the other hand, attacks our very identity. I am a bad person. I’ll never amount to anything. With guilt, we are motivated to confess. We want to get it out into the open. Maybe even make amends for our actions. Shame, however, wants us to internalize our feelings. It wants us to keep secrets. To feel bad to our core. The goal of guilt is to experience forgiveness. Shame wants us to feel pain. The result of guilt is freedom and growth. The point of shame is bondage. Someone who takes ownership of his or her guilt has the potential of having their life changed by God. On the other hand, shame “owns” us and controls us. The cycle of shame leads to anger, bitterness, self-hatred and depression. There is no peace with shame.
Though we can certainly feel our shame before people, our deepest shame is before God. People who feel worthless tend to doubt that anyone, especially God Himself, could tolerate them for very long. They quickly doubt their connection with the King of kings. Our best strategy is to remember that God has a particular affection for all things deemed loathsome by others. You must begin by being connected to Him. This is the only true way to deal with shame. Passivity, the most dangerous symptom of shame, must not have the last word. Those who are hopeless tend to avoid and deny.
Far too many of us today are feeling dirty, worthless and ashamed of ourselves. As a result, we feel unclean and unworthy to approach God. Shame stops us from having the kind of living and intimate relationship that He wants to have with us. Shame makes us feel distant from God. It makes us filthy as rags. Untouchable. Outcast. A hopeless cause. Face it, shame makes us feel like a piece of dirt. Shame is very destructive to our relationship with God.
There is a good reason why Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners. Shame keeps us from being effective as believers. When we buy in to the lie that we are ruined and hopeless, we tend to forget about prayer and worship. We are convinced that God wants nothing to do with us. The Bible tells us that the blood of Jesus was shed so that we can confidently approach our heavenly Father. Worship is an intimate way of expressing our relationship with God. The Bible is clear that we should approach God with a clean conscience that has been purged of sin. In fact, Hebrews 10:2 tells us, “For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because that the worshipers once purged should have no more conscience of sin.”
When you are touched by God, you are changed in an instant. Zap! But unfortunately it can take some of us quite a while to catch up to what Jesus has done for us. Think of shame at the center of our old nature. It dictated how we related to “clean” people. Our task today is to learn how to live life from a new perspective regardless of vivid memories of our past. We have to believe God. We have to believe in that new nature which has been imparted to us at the time of our conversion. We have been transported to a place that is far better than we could ever imagine. It is time to shed our guilt and embrace our new life in Christ.