Can Shame be a Good Thing?

Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I have always liked this verse. It reminds us that no one will be saved except by the grace of God, and that if God is willing to forgive those who repent, surely we also should be willing to forgive each other. Grace is a wonderful topic, and one that I enjoy talking about.

Shame on the other hand… not so much. Is shame even something that we need to talk about? Did Jesus not do away with the concept of shame once and for all when He died on the cross for us?

Apparently not, because twice in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul rebuked those who would hear his letter and followed his rebuke with the words: “I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5, 15:34). The “God’s Word” translation says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” The NIV says “I say this to shame you.”

This week while I listened to a well-known and loved gospel preacher, he used a similar phrase: “Shame, shame, shame, God knows your name,” in order to shame those who were guilty of a certain sin that he was speaking about.

It is important to notice that Paul, and luckily the preacher that I was hearing as well, were not shaming people about things that they had done in the distant past and had already repented of. Instead, we see this concept of “shame on you” appearing in scripture when people need to come to their senses about a sin that they are currently engaged in. It is as if Paul is saying “You are better than this! You should be ashamed of this behavior, and because of this I am trying to wake you up to the shamefulness of what you are doing, so that you will repent.”

Yes, God’s grace covers our sins. Yes, he paid it all on Calvary. But that does not give us permission to become like the sinners in Jeremiah 6:15, “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush.” We must not make peace with our sin, or cease to realize how shameful it is to be called a child of God and yet to live in sin.

If you are not living the way you should, shame on you. Not the kind of shame that is meant to make you feel terrible about yourself, but the kind of shame that calls you to live in the holy way that God will help you to live if you will only follow. Not the kind of shame that leads to despair or self-loathing, but the kind of shame that reminds us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”
(Ephesians 4:1)

Not the kind of shame that strangers or even loved ones might continue to heap on us for our mistakes long after we have repented and moved on.

Rather, the kind of shame that can cause you to wake up to the reality of your current situation and motivate you to make it right.

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