The Gospel of Shame

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Discussions on relationships, culture, and faith.


Have you ever heard this version of the “good news” of Jesus? You should believe in Jesus because… You’re complete crap. You’ll never be good enough. You’re worthless. 

Let me share an example so you know what I mean. One day I saw an acquaintance on campus at Arkansas State University where I was working in campus ministry. We knew each other fairly well so I started in on casual conversation. When I asked him how he was doing, his response caught me completely off guard. “Oh great!” all smiles as he went on, “Jesus has really been showing me how bad I truly am.” He continued on for several minutes talking about how terrible he was and his thankfulness that Jesus had revealed this to him. 

Honestly, it made my skin crawl. As a counselor, I was trained to pick up on this kind of disconnect between a person’s body language and the words they’re speaking. How does smiling fit with  the messages “I’m a horrible person” and “I’m not worthy?” It was so bad that I think it made me do something similar when I cringed and said, “that’s great man.”  

Unfortunately, this is a prevalent attitude we have as Christians. The internal thought is this, “the worse I feel about myself, the better Christian I become.” It’s the psychological equivalent of a medieval monk hitting himself with a whip.  

This and other experiences like it, have caused me to reexamine my faith. Should the good news make me feel badabout myself? Does Jesus wantme to feel shame? Is that even good news at all? I don’t think so.   

We have all done things to disconnect us from God, but surely the good news shouldn’t leave us overwhelmed with self-disgust.   


Here’s the truth: Jesus already loves you so much. You don’t have to shame yourself into a state of depression to earn it.


3 truths about shame: 


1.    Shame is not the same as guilt. 


Guilt is regretting ungodly actions. Shame is feeling unworthy as a person. Guilt is about behavior, while shame is about identity. Should you feel guilt? Yes, at times you should. Should you feel shame though? Absolutely not! You’re a child of God. God has forgiven you. He has made you new.


2.    Shame is not humility. 


I think one common motivation behind this view of the gospel is a desire for humility. The belief is that by putting myself down, I will be humble before God and others. Unfortunately, this is just not true. 

When we annihilate ourselves through shame, we actually undo all the good work God is trying to do in our lives! Shame leads us to self-hatred. Self-hatred then leads us to self-preservation. Then self-preservation will inevitably lead us to self-absorption. When this happens, we can’t see God or the needs of others because shame covers our eyes like a blindfold. All we can see is our own perceived badness. 


3.    Shame doesn’t lead to transformation. 


Shame only leads to more shame. Grace alone can lead to transformation. This is because grace is the only starting point for true repentance (mind and behavioral change). When you accept grace from God, you’re not going easy on sin. This lie has been around since the beginning. Just read Paul’s writings. The opposite is true. Grace is actually the only antidote to shame and sin, not the product of it. God doesn’t need you to feel eternal shame for transformation to happen. What he needs is for you to accept the grace he freely gives! 


The life of faith should be filled with freedom and joy, not shame and self-hatred. God loves you. You are worthy. In fact, you are worth everything, even God’s own son!


Have you experienced the gospel of shame?  

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Daniel JarchowComment