The Cross of Christ goes deeper than we expect: Jesus died not just to forgive the guilt of sin, but also to cleanse us from the shame of sin.
Shame is a complicated thing, and seems much deeper than the feeling of guilt. When you do something wrong, you feel guilt because your actions, words, behavior are wrong. But shame makes you feel that YOU are wrong. You're a wrong person, you're defiled, stained, marred, there's something that you carry around with you that causes you to hate yourself. This kind of shame is not easily resolved like guilt would be, because with guilt you can just stop those behaviors, but with shame you can't stop being YOU. And to further complicate matters, shame comes in two forms:
- Sins that we've done: There is a sense of shame that comes from the sins we have done. Defiling sins that we hide from others like cutting, sexual addiction and brokenness, drug use, secret partying, eating disorders, constant evaluation of body image, and the feeling of being "poisonous" in relationships as we consistently hurt others while desperately trying to not do so.
- Sins done AGAINST us: Sometimes we feel deep shame and self-hatred because of the sins done against us, things that we are victims of and never have chosen to experience. This can be as "simple" as the common experience of being made fun of when we were children on the playground. We can often minimize such experiences and discard them, "Oh, doesn't everyone get made fun of?" But this kind of sin against us has profound effects. Often when we are treated as ugly, worthless, stupid, dirty, or cheap we begin to believe that we ARE those things. Sins against us include bullying, physical abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, sexual assault and rape, and other mistreatments. These leave a stain on the soul and "speak" lies to us that we internalize and believe. They leave us feeling ashamed of who we are, perhaps with an identity of "damaged goods".
So how does Jesus heal our shame? What hope does the Scripture give us? How do we begin to walk in freedom and newness of life? The answer is the Cross, which is one of the most extreme examples of shame. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb write, “The story of Jesus on the cross is a story of victimization and shame. He was sentenced to death in the most shameful manner possible – naked and on a cross outside the city gates. Crucifixion was for the scum of the earth, and Jesus voluntarily became a part of the dregs himself.” (Rid of My Disgrace, page 95). Jesus identifies with the ashamed, providing solidarity to victims with the empathetic comfort that He Himself knows the experience. But more than that, the Cross is THE solution to our experience of shame, because of the cleansing that it accomplishes in two ways:
- Cleansing from sins that we have done: 1 John 1:7 says "the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." We have been washed clean by the Holy Spirit of God, and no longer bear the stain of our sins against Him. Our record is clean! We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17)! The old has passed away, crucified with Christ, and now we walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Rev 7:14), and are found BLAMELESS in His presence (1 Thess 5:23).
- Cleansing from sins done AGAINST us: The Bible is not in denial when it describes the awful experience of sins done against victims. Without minimizing the ugliness of these horrors, the Scripture provides firm hope for the victims of shameful sins. Christ is spoken of in Isaiah 61:1-4 as binding up the brokenhearted, comforting those who mourn, bringing vindicating vengeance to all the abused and hurting, and even replacing sadness with gladness, replacing brokenness with restoration. To use a metaphor, Jesus is the stronger man (Mark 3:27) who defends us from the bully, and disgraces the shame (Hebrews 12:2). He is our Defender, Protector, and Champion (Psalm 35:1-4). In Colossians 2:15 it says of Christ, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him."
So then how should we live? How can we walk in the newness of life that Jesus offers in cleansing our shame? Here are three practical applications:
- Remind Yourself: We so often forget the healing that Christ has accomplished for us. Make it a daily habit to remind yourself of the cleansing that you have in Christ. You are CLEANSED from the sins you have done. And your identity is NOT what others have done to you, but is superceded by what Christ has done for you! Remind yourself of His words and actions of love in the Cross. Write sticky notes and hang them on your bathroom mirror. Put up posters in your room. Make Scripture verses the background on your laptop. Make it a daily habit to read the Word to HEAR the loving words of Jesus to you.
- Walk in the Light: 1 John 1:7-9 claims that if we confess our sins and walk in the light (being honest about the things we are prone to hide) then we actually have fellowship with one another, because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin and shame. Practically this may look like sharing your struggle with a trusted brother or sister in Christ, and beginning to walk together on the road of healing. It's a hard road, and a long one, but what a comfort to know that we are not alone! Establishing this kind of accountability relationship enables us to have an "emergency 911" resource: someone we can call, text, or email when we're in a low spot and need encouragement and comfort.
- Share this hope with others: Look around you, and begin to see the world as God sees it: full of broken hurting people who are desperate for healing and hope. Now that you know this amazing news of cleansing in the gospel, how can you NOT share it with others? Share it with fellow Christians, share it with family members, share it with classmates, share it with your children, and especially share it with those who have not yet heard it. We have the medicine, we have the healing balm... for a hurting world that aches. Give it out for FREE! And do it with JOY!
Healed and healing,
The Relentless Fight
PS: For further study on how Jesus heals our shame, check out the excellent book Rid of My Disgrace.