Many Bible teachers and counselors reply with a resounding “Yes!” There’s no place for shame in a Christian’s life, they insist. Thanks to forgiveness, and to our right standing with God owing to justification, we shouldn’t feel embarrassment, dishonor, or humiliation over sins covered by the blood of Jesus.
I, too, think that many believers fail to appropriate Jesus’ work on the cross. They live with false guilt, striving to add to Jesus’ sacrifice by bearing the emotional burden of their own sins. How preposterous: trying to add nails to the crucified body of Christ, as if what happened 2000 years ago wasn’t sufficient.
There is a biblical tension on the issue of “feeling ashamed” about our sin. On one hand, there’s overwhelming grace and the mind-blowing truth of Jesus’ imputed righteousness applied to us. There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Rom. 8:1). We don’t face God’s wrath because His justice was satisfied (propitiated) on the cross through the death of our Substitute. On the other hand, there’s a clarion call for God’s people to grieve over their sin, because of its effect on God and on other people.
Scripture takes the politically incorrect stance that His people should experience deep anguish, should blush, should feel embarrassed about sin against a holy God—even when God’s grace has reserved a place for them in heaven. Joel 2:12-13 is representative of other texts that command weeping and fasting and mourning over sin. Repeatedly, Jeremiah lamented that God’s people no longer blushed or felt ashamed over their sin (Jer. 3:3; 6:15; 8:12).
Please don’t give me the rationalization that these Old Testament texts aren’t applicable in today’s era of grace. Last time I checked, the Old Testament teems with God’s grace, too. Besides, we have to deal with James 4:9, apparently written to Jewish converts who took their behavior too flippantly in view of their new spiritual status in Christ: “Be miserable and weep and mourn; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.” (When did you last hear a sermon on that verse?)
No, I shouldn’t continually mope around and feel miserable about sins Jesus has forgiven. Yet in all the emphasis on our identity in Christ and the fantastic benefits of the cross, I wonder if we have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction and given the impression that sin doesn’t matter much. Daily, I must live in humility with awareness of my predilection to fail the Lord. God’s grace prompts me to run to Him no matter how badly I’ve blown it, confident that He accepts me. But in the process, I should also feel some of the things we associate with shame, or else I wouldn’t be spurred to repentance.
Prayer: “Father, don’t let me sin successfully and never allow me to confuse the Holy Spirit’s painful conviction with the guilt I should never feel. Amen.”