I’m going to tell you a little secret: Sometimes I do things I’m ashamed of. Once in a while – okay, maybe even a little more often than that – I do or say things that make me feel guilty.
The other day, for example, I was with my daughter-in-law, and we bumped into my son’s ex‑girlfriend. This girl really did my boy wrong back in the day, and really hurt him. All’s well that ends well, though, because I can’t imagine him being married to anyone besides the beautiful woman he ended up marrying.
But the point is, even though I was pleasant to the ex’s face, I didn’t hesitate to engage in some pretty satisfying smack talk behind her back. And justifiably so, right? She messed with my boy, and no one messes with my kids. Right?
Wrong, apparently. Because I woke up the next morning feeling ashamed. Even though the ex would never know what I had said about her, I knew. God knew. And my daughter-in-law knew. I hadn’t modeled Christ’s love at all. It doesn’t matter what the ex did. I’m not responsible for her actions. I’m only responsible for me, and I failed. I failed to love that young woman despite her wrongdoing. I failed to forgive her. I, who have been forgiven day in and day out by Jesus, failed.
And I was ashamed of myself.
It’s trendy among Christians these days to denounce shame as always evil, always from the enemy, of no use and no purpose whatsoever. God is love! God forgives! There is no place for shame, no place for guilt in a Christian’s life.
I completely agree that God is love, and God forgives. Every sin. Every time. The slate is wiped clean, and it is one of the enemy’s favorite tools to use shame and guilt for past sins to mire us down in the present.
God’s word tells us this: If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive them. And when they are forgiven, they are gone. There is no longer anything – anything – about which to feel guilty.
But it’s a dangerous practice to embrace God’s undeniable, unconditional love while excluding the legitimacy of the conviction of the Holy Spirit as being from the enemy because pure love is somehow incompatible with any kind of shame or guilt.
One Christian blogger I came across openly admits to having a sex addiction. This carried over from her pre-salvation days. She simply is “unable” to resist the charms of a man. Apparently of any man. It’s not her fault, she says; it’s just the way she is, and she is waiting for God to change her. So far she has left three different churches because they all “imposed guilt on her rather than showing her Christ’s love and forgiveness.”
The thing is, the forgiveness of Christ comes with the admonition to “go and sin no more.” When you receive Christ, you become a new creation. God has already changed you. You are reborn. You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who teaches and guides you, all for the glory of God.
And one way the Holy Spirit gets our attention, lets us know there’s an area in our life that needs work, is through a little well-placed shame. A little bit of temporary guilt. It’s what I call holy shame – that conviction deep in my soul that I have royally screwed up.
Sometimes it’s like the smoke detector when the battery is low – every so often I hear an annoying “beep,” which at first I might be able to ignore, but pretty soon becomes the focal point of my whole world, just waiting, every last nerve on edge, for that next “beep.” Until finally I acknowledge that I have to change the dang battery or go insane.
Sometimes it’s like the smoke detector when I’m cooking – as soon as I screw up, I’m met with earsplitting bells and screeching alarms that cannot and will not be ignored for ONE SECOND.
Either way, once I recognize the alarm and address it, the noise stops.
Once the reason for the shame is gone, the holy shame will be gone. If, after I confess my sin and turn away from it, I am still haunted by shame, then that is not from God but from the enemy.
Holy shame is not destructive, but instructive. Sometimes we really should be ashamed of ourselves.