A Brief Word on What Brought this About
I had two experiences this past summer (2019) that led me to struggle with the role of shame in the work of Gospel preaching. It may seem odd to even speak about this topic when it comes to the preaching of the Gospel. Some of you may even be reading this and talking back to me right now.
“Listen Todd. The Gospel is all about the love of God. The Gospel promises us deliverance from guilt and condemnation and offers us the unencumbered love of God no matter how bad we are. No one is beyond saving man, you know that. After all, you are Reformed!”
In the first instance, the one that really peaked my interest, a local police chief (now retired) was called out to quell my preaching. After a somewhat prickly interaction and long drawn out conversation debating the finer points of the law the chief got around to his personal objection. He felt as if I was shaming people and he found this problematic. It was abundantly clear that his perception was enough for him to try and compel my silence.
Worse still are the conversations that I have had with professing Christians since the interaction with the chief. Some of them are actively opposed to using shame when testifying to the completed work of Christ. Worse still, they see no use for it in the lives of believers.
However, was the chief right? Was I truly trying to shame people? Moreover, is there a role for it in Advancing the Gospel?
A Brief Definition of Shame
What is shame and is it a biblical tool? How does one use it properly if it is a biblical tool?
Definitionally, shame is:
A consciousness of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety
So far so good. I am not going to argue against this definition in anyway. In fact, if the Chief’s argument was that shame was bad, he would have a hard time doing his job effectively. The whole point of the work of law enforcement and prosecution is to draw off of the inherit shame that people experience when they get caught committing a crime. Even sitting on the side of the road with a cruiser behind you as its lights are flashing is enough for some people.
However, what about from a biblical perspective? Is there a place for shame in evangelizing?
I would argue that to preach a Gospel message that doesn’t pluck on the cords of shame in the hearts of man is no Gospel message at all. Conversely, I would also argue that shame has a powerful role in the lives of genuine believers as well.
Our First Look at Shame in Scripture
I want this to sink in with a profound sense of importance. Adam and Eve were naked as jaybirds when they were in the Garden. There was nothing hidden from the sight of the other. What more, they were naked before God as well. All of creation, from the animals to the angels could see their nakedness. Strangely enough, we have no idea how long this state of shamelessness went on. Yet, we do know that they fell in sin, and the very first thing they did was cover their nakedness.
God didn’t let this pass by without calling it out for what it was either. “Who told you that you are naked?” He asked them. It was from this launching point that God pronounces the Gospel for the first time. The very genesis (yes, I know what I did there.) of the Proto-evangelium is shame. Further still, this isn’t the last time we see shame play a role in pivotal moment in Scripture.
David Steals A Lamb
Okay okay! I know, David did not actually steal a lamb. Nearly all eight of my readers know that I know that. The two who don’t know that I know that are new readers. So, to my point. When David sinned with Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet needed to confront him. There was no way that David was going to address his sin on his own. The account that is given of David and Bathsheba’s sin does not appear to show any true remorse on the part of David.
He does his best to cover up the adulterous act by murdering Uriah, but that isn’t a sign of shame. It is only when Nathan tells David the story of the stolen lamb and then asks David what should be done, that we see the clam shall cracked open a bit.
When Nathan cried out, “You are the man.” David was taken in shame. He was wrecked with the guiltiness that he should have felt when he seduced Bathsheba in the first place. David carries this shame for quite sometime too. Only when his child with Bathsheba dies does David recover from the shame and sorrow of his sin. He goes on and pens Psalm 51 where he cries out to God begging for the joy of the Lord’s salvation to be restored to him.
David needed that shame. Moreover, he needed to experience that chastisement in a public way. This public shaming worked to motivate David to public repentance. The shame was good for David. Consequently, it is also good for us. We see shame being used in an incredibly effective way.
Two Examples of Shame and what it Teaches Us
Remember that I started out talking about two experiences from this summer that got me thinking about shame? One being with the chief of a local police department and the other being conversations with professing Christians. Well there is another example of shame from this past summer that hit me pretty hard too.
I previously wrote about my foray into preaching at a baptismal service for a local church. It was a tragic mess all the way around. While I stand by my motivation, I do not stand by all of my conduct that evening. I walked away feeling okay about the night. But upon reflection and confrontation from respected and loved men in my life, I was ashamed of the way I conducted myself in a few of the engagements. Not the least of which was the way I spoke to local a LEO.
Shame worked well in my life in this situation. I learned from it. Just as David learned from his shame for his sin with Bathsheba.
However, we Christians can learn from the shame of Adam and Eve as well. It can teach us about the effective use of shame in bringing the Gospel to bear on the lost world. Adam and Eve went from a state of purity and innocence to a state of shame. They knew they were naked, and they were ashamed. But that knowledge in-and-of-itself wasn’t enough. They needed to be called out so as to see the thread of shame pulled into the light. Just as God used that moment, we can use shame effectively as well.
Shame in the New Testament
Shame isn’t just an Old Testament concept. The word appears in variations throughout the entire bible over 400 times. Many of those in the NT. One of the most powerful uses of it is in Hebrews 12 we are told that Jesus despised the shame of the cross. We learn something about how truly humble Christ was in that moment. When we consider the history and tradition around crucifixion and the Jewish outlook on those who have been crucified, we gain insight into just what shame is.
Accordingly, we see shame closely associated with disappointing the God-head. Jesus warns us that those who are ashamed of Him will experience His shaming before the Father. Paul tells us that he isn’t ashamed of the Gospel but boldly proclaims it to the world.
In 1 Corinthians 1:27 God speaks of shame as a powerful tool in His hands. The wise and strong are put to shame through the stupid and the weak. Later in 1 Corinthians 5:2 the church is rebuked for their failure to address the shameful behavior of a member.
There is certainly a powerful and negative usage of shame. Yet, shame has a positive aspect to it. Those capable of feeling shame in light of the exposure of their sin are not so far gone as to be beyond hope. Some would argue, as I think can be done rightly, that as long as you are drawing breath there is hope for your salvation. But, there is an integral need for the feeling of shame for that to occur. I do not believe that any person who cannot feel shame can truly repent of something that does not cause them the kind of pain that comes with shame.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
There is a young man in my life (well he used to be) that is in the midst of what I believe is the hardening of his heart. He has abandoned his family and the wife of his youth. He is actively pursuing the lustful desires of his heart so much so that the love he once professed for God is now gone.
Can this happen to any of us caught in sin? Certainly. We would do well to always be aware of potential searing of our consciences or the hardening of our hearts against the shame God uses for our good. However, there is a time when we have to do as the Word instructs us and turn hardened sinners over to God for the destruction of their flesh at the hands of the Enemy.
Whether we are out and about preaching the Gospel to the lost world or working in the context of relationships in the local church, we would do well to use the tool of shame. This does not mean that we use it as hammer to beat people into submission. However, it does mean that we have to recognize the positive nature of shame and that it can give us hope for the repentance of those we are ministering too.
What Shame Isn’t
I wrote an article several months ago about past embarrassment. Shame is not embarrassment. There is a nature to embarrassment that relies on our sinful pride. A man caught in adultery should feel shame and that should, like David, drive him to repentance. But seeking to hide the sin for fear of what others will think of him is a result of the pride that resides in his heart.
There certainly is not a place for gleefully announcing the sin to the world, but there is a place for tearful shame while confessing such sins. As Paul so lovingly teaches us in Romans 8 there is no longer any condemnation for those of us in Christ. Yet Christ can use shame to drive us back to the foot of the cross when we are caught up in destructive sin. Christ will never drive us to embarrassment that comes from feeling condemnation.
This is something that Church has failed to grasp in tangible ways. While many decry shame as heavy handed, they will also foist man-made standards on us compelling embarrassment for failing to meet those standards. One faction of WCC will embrace the LGBTQ+ community condemning the shame they should feel. Instead they work to embarrass those who call the LGBTQ+ community to feel the shame of their sin (thinks Romans 1) and repent and turn to Christ.
There is no room in the Christian life for prideful embarrassment. However, there is beauty in feeling the shame of your sin as it exposes your nakedness to God and the watching world.
Therefore, I will unashamedly use the tool of shame to preach the Gospel. Those living in sin and open rebellion against the God who gives them life and sustains them need to be ashamed.
The woman walking in to murder her Preborn child should feel shame. The person dancing in glee celebrating their sinful sexual deviance should be ashamed. The Christian who endorses such behavior should feel equal parts of that shame.
I will not be embarrassed to use the tools God has given us and built into the human condition as a means to bring about repentance. If shame drives you to the cross of Christ I will rejoice.
Even if the world thinks it is mean or out of line.
Soli Deo Gloria!