Shame is an emotion that we all know. Sometimes we feel ashamed because we did something embarrassing, or because we feel inferior to others in terms of intelligence, social status, wealth or certain skills. Maybe we don’t like how our body looks and prefer to go unnoticed by strangers. In some situations, we have good reason to feel ashamed. In other cases, our feelings are not justified at all, but based on other people’s judgmental attitude or on our own sense of inferiority. Such feelings can have a huge impact on our life!
Where does shame come from?
The first humans did not know shame at all. “Adam and his wife were both naked”, the Bible tells us, “and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). God had created them perfectly, they were in a loving relationship, and there was nothing to be embarrassed about. They felt totally comfortable with each other and with their Creator. However, in Genesis 3 we read how Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. They said this was because of their nakedness, but God knew the true reason for this sudden change: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11).
Yes, they had, and now they felt guilty about their disobedience. They realized that they had offended their Creator by doing the one thing they were not allowed to do: eating the fruit of one particular tree in the garden of Eden. This justified feeling of shame in front of God has severely impacted our relationship with Him. For not only Adam and Eve sinned, but we all do, and therefore we all have good reason to “be ashamed and blush to lift our face to Him”, as Ezra 9:6 phrases it.
God wants to take our shame away
The Lord God knew exactly what Adam and Eve had done. Therefore, He drove them out of the garden of Eden. But He also showed mercy: He clothed them with skin garments to cover their shame (Genesis 3:21). Of course, this did not solve the underlying problem. But it was a sign that God wanted to restore their feelings and their relationship with Him.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus encourages believers to buy white clothes from Him, so they can cover their shameful nakedness (Revelation 3:18). This is not meant literally, but is a metaphor for Jesus’ salvation work on our behalf. The prophet Isaiah uses the same imagery: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). This righteousness comes through faith in Christ, Philippians 3:9 explains.
If we believe in Jesus Christ and in His offer of forgiveness, God does not see us as sinful and shameful people anymore. He clothes us with Jesus’ righteousness, thus taking away our shame and enabling us to draw near to Him “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22).
God is not ashamed of His children
Self-respecting people who have a good social position generally don’t like to be seen in the company of “outcasts”. Religious leaders in Jesus’ day avoided people with bad reputations. They were shocked when Jesus was eating with such people! But Jesus says He has come to invite such people into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 9:10-13). He does not care about His own reputation; He is more concerned about people’s well-being! When we come to faith, we become children of the Most High. We become family members of God! Hebrews 2:11 says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers (or sisters). And God is not ashamed to be called our God (Hebrews 11:16).
Our perfectly holy God wants sinners to be part of His family. If someone would ask Him, “Do you know who this person actually is?”, He would answer: “Yes, I know. I created this person. I know their deepest thoughts. I know that their guilt has mounted up to the heavens. But I want to forgive them and to wash them from their iniquities and I am not ashamed to be called their God”. This is amazing!
Do not be ashamed of your faith
Jesus was not ashamed to be seen in the company of sinners. But how do you react when you, in your turn, are ridiculed because you belong to Jesus? How do you react when your faith is mocked because you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that God created the heavens and the earth, and that there is a life after death? Do you stand firm or do you feel ashamed?
In some societies, Christians are treated as criminals. They lose their jobs, are kicked out of the family or are even imprisoned for their faith. This is unjust and humiliating. But the apostle Peter, who suffered much for the sake of Christ himself, encourages his readers: “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:15-16). The apostle Paul often was in difficulties because of his faith and missionary work. He testifies: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Even though you may be treated as a criminal, you yourself know that you haven’t done anything wrong and therefore there is no reason to feel ashamed. Once, when Peter and some other apostles were put in public prison, beaten and almost killed because they preached about Jesus, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). It is an honor to suffer for Jesus!
Jesus endured suffering and shame to save us
Not only Jesus’ followers are ridiculed, He Himself was treated shamefully as well. He knew that this was going to happen, and He warned His disciples about it (see Luke 18:32). Many people despised His teachings. The Pharisees insulted Him deeply by suggesting that He was possessed by demons. After about three years of ministry, Jesus was arrested as a criminal. He was beaten, spat upon and crucified. He was mocked by Roman soldiers, by robbers who were crucified with Him, by chief priests, scribes and elders. While being the Son of God who was in a glorious position at the Father’s right hand before the world existed, He endured the suffering and the shame of the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
What was this joy? Let’s read Jesus’ own words when praying to God the Father: “I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). So, Jesus endured all this in order to reconcile sinners with their Creator and bring them “home” in heaven!
God puts Satan to shame
When Satan tempted Adam and Eve into sin, he offended God. Similarly today, his followers seem to think they can rebel against the Lord and break free from Him. All too often, it seems like Satan has triumphed and God has lost the battle. When Jesus died so shamefully on the cross, this seemed Satan’s final victory.
But it was not. By dying on our behalf, Jesus took the debt of our sin away and reconciled us humans with our Creator. In doing so, He broke Satan’s grip on us. He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities, Paul writes in Colossians 2:15, since anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as his Lord is no longer a slave of Satan but a child and servant of God. And Satan can’t do anything to prevent that. Jesus turns out to be stronger. He puts His enemies to public shame, and one day His victory will be admitted by everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Then the wicked will shrink from Him in shame at His coming, and the people who have been dressed in the clothes of righteousness will be crowned with glory and honor (see 1 John 2:28; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Do not put God to shame by your behavior
God is not ashamed to be called our God. This is a great privilege for us believers, but it also brings a responsibility, both on the individual level and as a church community. Others will watch our lives if they know we are Christians. They will notice whether our lives are in line with our words, and whether we “live a life worthy of the calling we have received” (Ephesians 4:1). If not, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of us” (Romans 2:24). If, on the other hand, we do “good works” in line with the Gospel we share, this gives our words credibility and gives people reason to glorify our heavenly Father. If our lives are characterized by love, faith and hope, this is a testimony of God’s transforming and healing power at work in us.
Do not be ashamed of your looks or social position
We humans tend to focus on outward appearance. Many feel the pressure of others criticizing the way they look, or they don’t like their personal appearance. This makes them ashamed. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this.
First of all, God does not look on outward appearance but on the heart. This should be our focus as well! We should never judge others on their looks. The second lesson the Bible teaches us, is that God has wonderfully made every single individual. The prophet Isaiah says: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8, compare Psalm 139:13-14). God has made us as He, in His infinite wisdom, deemed right. This even includes what we would call “physical defects”, for God rebukes Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11). If you are physically impaired, that can be a real struggle! But you should never feel ashamed in front of others because of your appearance.
Another reason many people feel ashamed, is for their position in society. But to God, it does not matter which country you are from. It does not matter how rich or influential your parents are. It does not matter whether you are male or female. The only thing that counts, is whether you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Do you believe in Him and does His righteousness cover your shame?