March 4, 2022

When Is Shame Right?

I say this to shame you.  1 Corinthians 6:5

Do you ever find yourself asking, “Why do I feel as I do?”  Sometimes there are answers, but more often than not, we don’t really understand the complex feelings and emotions that make us feel the way we do.

When you do something you know is wrong, you feel guilty. It’s the voice of conscience crying out, “You violated what you believe is right!”  Recently, I read an unsigned letter from a woman who had become involved in a sexual relationship which she knew was wrong but seemingly didn’t have the power to break.  Telling me about it may have assuaged some of her feelings of guilt, but not signing her name was the result of shame.  She wanted my prayer, but she didn’t want the embarrassment of my knowing who she is. That’s OK!

Recently psychologists have been writing a lot about shame, telling us that it is “a painful belief in one’s defectiveness as a human being.”  If we are made to feel this way when there has been no wrong done, feelings of shame are painful and harmful.  Nonetheless, shame is something which can be good, something which is the result of knowing how wrong we actually are.  Strange, isn’t it, that we are talking a great deal about unwarranted shame but ignore the powerful impact of shame which is the offspring of a sense of right and wrong.  In a society where little if anything is morally wrong, and choice is a personal matter, it is little wonder that shame has lost its power and significance.

Should you have time to check the word “shame” in a Bible concordance, you will find that it is mentioned over 100 times in the Bible.  You will discover that the writers of Scripture make a powerful case for the fact that the one who trusts God will never be put to shame.  At least three times the New Testament writers echo the words of Isaiah that “the one who trusts in Him [that is in God] will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:33; 10:11, 1 Peter 2:6).

Both Peter and Paul developed the theme that believers in Jesus Christ can stand without shame in the presence of God because our sins have been forgiven, and our wrongdoing is as far as the east is from the west. In simple terms, there is no reason for shame because Christ paid the penalty for our sins.

At the same time the writers of Scripture rebuke wrongdoers and reprove them because they lack enough sense of right and wrong to experience shame.  Jeremiah, especially, rebuked his generation.  He cried, “You have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness.  Therefore,” he said, “the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen.  Yet you have the brazen look of a prostitute; you refuse to blush with shame” (Jeremiah. 3:2-3).  In the book that bears his name, Jeremiah asked the question, “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?” and then answered his own question saying, “No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15).

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was disturbed at their failure to discern right from wrong, so that personal matters became law suits and were tried in secular courts.  He said, “I say this to shame you” (1 Corinthians 6:5).

Frankly, we need to put shame on the right side of life.  We need to understand that there is right and wrong, and when we have come down on the side of wrong, be glad that you blush with shame.  At the same time don’t let others make you experience shame when you have done no wrong.  Remember, Paul’s words, “The one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).


Resource reading:  1 John 1:5-10