Is the shame I feel over my sin bad?
I have felt great shame over sinful choices I have made in my life. We all should. Our sin is terrible. The world tells us we should let go of our shame by telling ourselves how great we are (self-idolatry). The world also tells us we are not inherently bad people; that we do not have a sin nature. We are just good people that make bad choices, aren’t we? Well, it sounds awful nice, but it is not true. The Bible says we are sinners (Rom. 5:8). The word used for sinner in Romans 5:8 is translated from the Greek word “hamartólos”, which is defined as: sinning, sinful, depraved, detestable. Because of this, we all deserve hell.
Romans 6:23a – “For the wages of sin is death…”
None of us are exempt from this judgment, “…There is none righteous, not even one…” (Romans 3:10b). But, praise the Lord the story does not end there. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, so Romans 6:23 ends with a message so wonderful we can hardly grasp it. “For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, emphasis added) It is beautiful what is offered to us: amazing grace.
But, I fear we have watered down this truth by claiming we are not truly bad people. In recovery circles, it has become common to say that we should not feel shame over our sin. It is said that shame means “I am bad” and that we should not feel that. Instead, they say we should focus on feeling guilt over our actions. But, wait a second! To my ear, that sounds very similar to the world’s message that says I am a good person that makes bad choices. In Christian recovery circles, we know the truth – that we are sinners, not good people that make bad choices; so, why would we discourage feelings of shame?
Some explain it by saying that Christ took our shame at the cross, so we need to let it go. But, we will have this body of death with its sin nature until we die. Shouldn’t we still feel shame over our sin, even more so now that we have the power of God dwelling within us and still choose to sin? And, shouldn’t we recognize our depravity in the choices we have made throughout our life? Even though Christ forgives us, our sin still saddens our Father and hurts other people. Shouldn’t we feel shame about that? The Bible talks about believers feeling shame. In 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, it says:
“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
I believe another reason feeling shame over sin might be discouraged is because the feeling is a slippery slope to what we call “zero state” (Samenow & Yochleson, Criminal Personalities). To give a loose definition, zero state is:
A periodic experience of feeling like I am an absolute nothing, a zero: feeling absolute worthlessness, hopelessness, and futility. My greatest fear is that I am a nothing and I compensate by attempting to prove that I am everything.
Zero state is very unhealthy thinking, so it might seem safer to keep people away from this edge, for it is in this state that many people go so far as to contemplate suicide. But avoiding an issue never resolves it. So, let’s walk through the truth that conquers zero state:
God gives us value and worth. God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14). He gives us purpose. He has plans for us, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). As Christians, we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ! (Rom. 8:17) And, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom. 5:8) And, the last one I just have to quote word for word:
Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Those are literally just a handful of a whole Bible full of verses about the value and hope we have in Christ. My point here is that we do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should not go into zero state, but we should feel shame over our sin. Let’s throw out zero state but allow ourselves to feel the shame. Why?
Because the shame we feel over sin leads us to Christ. If we are mostly good people that just made some bad choices, then maybe we do not really need Christ. I used to believe that Jesus only “kind of” died for me because I was overall such a good person. How insane! It was not until I allowed myself to feel shame over the sinner I am that I realized I really needed a Savior. If we are horrendous sinners that deserve hell, we need Christ!
This is why I believe it matters. And, it always matters when we stray from truth. The Bible does not condemn shame. In fact, the Bible says a lack of shame is not a good thing:
Zephaniah 3:5b – “…the unjust knows no shame.”
The world encourages us to ignore shame. Why? I believe it is because without the hope of Christ, shame is just a horrible feeling that leaves us feeling like bad people with no hope of change. But, Christ bore our shame so that we can bring it to Him, accept His forgiveness, and move forward in freedom knowing we do not have to carry that around. As Christians, we have been forgiven. But, we still feel the consequences of our sin, and we should allow ourselves to feel those consequences so that we can grow.
And, we should not be afraid of others acknowledging the shame of our sin. Sometimes we get caught up in believing that if someone makes us feel as if our sin was really bad, they are doing something wrong. They could be. I realize there are many terrible ways to go about things. But, why not just acknowledge before God and man that our sin was and is very terrible instead of minimizing it? That is our testimony. We are sinners deserving hell, but Christ paid the price. Let us have godly sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Let us acknowledge our sin and the resulting shame in light of Christ’s amazing sacrifice: “This is the horrible person I am. Look what Christ has done for me. Hallelujah!” We have a Savior. We should not shy away from acknowledging the depth of our sin before a holy God.
1 John 2:28 – Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.