Dealing with Shame

Even though believers' sins have been paid for by Christ on the cross, it is easy to forget this magnificent truth in the midst of habitual sin.

May 16, 2018

Even though believers' sins have been paid for by Christ on the cross, it is easy to forget this magnificent truth in the midst of habitual sin. How do we fight against shame when conviction of sin oftentimes pulls us towards it? This week, Vince and Jo discuss how Christians should reconcile the call to be holy while understanding that there is no condemnation for those in Christ.

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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. Though scripture is clear that the Christian life is a constant state of repentance and forgiveness, it isn't difficult to get caught up in a cycle of shame. Without a clear understanding of who we are in Christ, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that God can't forgive us for this specific sin. How do we live for holiness and die to sin, when we fail so often? How do we fight the temptations in our lives while resting in the knowledge that those who are in Christ, are without blame and without blemish? But before we get started, Jo, could you tell us a little bit about our upcoming conference, The Greatest Story Ever Told, happening June 1st at the Zacharias Institute in Atlanta, Georgia?

Jo Vitale: I certainly can. I'm so excited about this event. I think often people think of apologetics as being all about intellectual arguments you can make, but what's exciting about this conference is we're really focusing on the story that we have to tell, that actually the story of the Gospel, the story of the world, of God's creation, is the most compelling, amazing story, and it's true.

So that's what we're going to be looking at. We're going to be looking at what is the ultimate story, that we've been called as Christians, to take part in with our lives, and how do we communicate that story well to the world that we're living in? So, we're going to have Ravi speaking on that very theme, The Greatest Story Ever Told. We'll have other members of our team. I'll be speaking, and Nathan Rittenhouse will be participating, and our director of Arts and Apologetics, Jill Carattini is helping host and carry this day as well.

We also have guest speakers coming in, because what we're really excited about is the way we tell stories, not just through our words, but also through art, through creativity. So we're going to be having some art historians talking about the ways that we can use art to beautifully illustrate and tell the stories of the Gospel in compelling and meaningful ways in our world today.

We'll also have different performers and storytellers coming in, spoken word artists. We'll have some creative writing pieces. So, it's going to be very creative, interesting, engaging day, to think differently about how do we communicate the stories of our faith in ways that are beautiful and compelling? So I'm excited.

Vince Vitale: Jo can I do some singing at the conference?

Jo Vitale: We actually want people to come to the conference. Vince's dad says maybe-

Michael Davis: And stay also.

Jo Vitale: Yeah. Vince's dad has said that when Vince sings whales are beached. So, I don't know, maybe. I mean, whale song could be beautiful though, so to each their own.

Vince Vitale: Oh boy. Shouldn't have brought it up.

Michael Davis: My wife says that my singing sounds like a mixture between a cat drowning and a cat on fire at the same time. I don't know actually-

Jo Vitale: Wow, I didn't know that was possible.

Michael Davis: It's not possible, which is the thing that's really interesting about it.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, beaching whales is sounding pretty good now.

Jo Vitale: I promise if you come Vincent won't sing, nor will Michael.

Michael Davis: Okay. Yes. Promise. Okay. Well, let's dive into this. This first question is an anonymous question. "Past experience of shame and guilt weigh heavily, feeling cursed, and only a person of God can heal my heart, mind, and soul. Is there something you can suggest to help me heal?"

Vince Vitale: Thanks a lot for a such a real question and first thing that comes to mind as I hear it is we've all been there, so I don't want you to feel like you're alone in having those emotions, and yet at the same time, I want to say that if you're a Christian and you're feeling cursed, then that's not from God. The Bible says that there's no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Conviction yes, the Holy Spirit can bring conviction about things that we're involved in that we shouldn't be, but not condemnation and not cursing and remember that even Jesus said, why have you forsaken me from the cross? So if it's a sign of lack of faith to feel that sense of forsakenness, then Jesus had a lack of faith and Jesus didn't have a lack of faith.

So the first thing I wanna say is that it's okay to have the emotions. That is not sin in and of itself. That is not something you have to feel guilty about. But the first thing is to identify that they're not reflective of reality. That as a Christian you are not cursed, you are not condemned, you are not forsaken and now to try to take steps to not let the emotions rule your beliefs.

Just one other thing to say as we get started on this question, I thought it was quite perceptive that you mentioned both guilt and shame. I think sometimes those two things get conflated, but there's an important difference between them. Guilt means that you've done something wrong and you need forgiveness. Now, shame could be felt because of something that has been done wrong, but it also could be felt because of something that someone else has done wrong to you or just because of an insecurity you have about something you've done, an embarrassing thing for instance, or something about yourself, a physical trait or a personality trait. Shame can just be a matter of not seeing ourselves the way that God sees us at times.

So if the shame that you're talking about is connected with guilt, then my first question would be, have you asked God for forgiveness? Sometimes when we're feeling guilty or ashamed, we shy away from God and we stopped talking with him. You have to go directly to Him and it's by Jesus's wounds that were healed in your question, you said that you need healing, not from a person of God. I would want to push back very gently on that, but say actually from a person of God, but from God himself.

Michael Davis: Amen.

Vince Vitale: If someone other than Jesus could heal you, then Jesus wouldn't have come and he wouldn't have had to die. He came and he died on your behalf because he's the only one who could heal you. Asking forgiveness from God is different than just knowing that He will forgive you and I think sometimes we think we don't have to actually go to God relationally and confess our sin and ask for forgiveness because we know intellectually that He is willing to forgive us and so we never actually do that and never actually speak those words to Him.

I would say go directly to Him. Confess your sin, ask for forgiveness. There is power in those words of forgiveness that Austin brings transformation. Then the second part of that, once you've done that with God is to make sure you've done that with anyone else that you might have wronged as well. The very first thing that the Holy Spirit brought conviction of in my life when I became a Christian, was people that I had wronged. He prompted me to sit down and just write letters, asking for forgiveness from many of the people that I had wronged. Something about just physically writing that out and then speaking that out loud to people was very, very powerful.

So those are just two starting points, I would say. Make sure that you've confessed to God directly in a genuine way relationally and that you've done that to anyone you've wronged as well.

Jo Vitale: Just to add on to what Vince has said here, I actually think it's quite powerful to reflect on the fact that when the cross is spoken of in the Bible, we are told that curses anyone who hangs on a tree. So if we're talking about people being cursed, and actually the one who was cursed for us is Jesus and he's actually the one who undergoes that curse of sin so that we can be freed from it. That's why he is the one who alone is in that position to heal us. So I just find there to be something profoundly powerful about that, the idea that actually God with step into our shame for us and where it for us so that we don't have to.

I think that's just an incredibly liberating thing because like Vince said, sometimes when you're struggling with these things, you can feel so incredibly alone in them and like you're the only one in the world who knows how it feels or who's going through it. I know I've felt that way as a teenager. I've really struggling with guilt and shame in my life and thinking every other Christian is perfect and I was just this huge fraud but to know that actually Jesus himself knows what it's like to actually wear shame, to be cloaked in shame, to experience shame. Not because he deserved it, but because he, he took all of mine on him, that really just relieves you from that feeling of isolation. I just find that incredibly encouraging to know that when you're in that place, you're not alone in it.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, I think that's right. I would just emphasize as well as you're reflecting on this and you're going through the scriptures and seeing what God has to say about sin and guilt and shame and freedom from shame and forgiveness. Again, I would just encourage you maybe write those things down. Write down what is true. Maybe even do that with a trusted friend and speak it out loud, speak it out loud in the context of prayer. Sometimes when we're dealing with guilt and shame, it can be so visceral. It almost feels tangible, concrete, physical, and sometimes we think we can deal with it by just thinking about it.

I personally find it so helpful to actually engage my whole self. God spoke the universe into being, He didn't have to do it that way, but He was words that spoke the Creation into being, there's power in the words and He's created us in His image. And so I would say by writing down words, by speaking it out loud and engage as more of yourself in the healing process that God wants you to be on.

Michael Davis: I think we need to understand who we are. Vince, you touched upon this in your first statement because you said that if you're feeling shame or if you're feeling cursed, that is not of God. Romans 8:1 where it says there is no condemnation for those in Christ, but then we also, let's look back at Genesis 3 and the way that the devil attacked. He basically says, did God actually say that? That is, if you are in Christ, there is no condemnation when He looks upon you. He doesn't see your sin. He doesn't see your shortcomings, your flaws. He sees the righteousness of Christ. If you have shame that it really is almost in a sense the devil saying, did God really mean that? The truth is, God knew who you were before the foundation of the world and He didn't change His mind.

So realize that yes, we have conviction, because this is the Christian life. We are to be made more in Christ's image, but don't feel shame. Take that conviction as a gift. Grow in sanctification, strive for holiness, but realize that you will fail constantly. I failed today. I failed since we've got into this recording studio but the reality is God doesn't see those failings. He sees me as His son and He loves me.

Okay, well let's jump into question number two. This is from Sophie. "Why can't I get rid of shame? Even when the shame and dirty feelings I have are brought on by something I couldn't control."

Jo Vitale: Sophie, I really resonate with your question here. It is one that I struggled with for actually quite a long time and Vince has spoken of this a bit already but one way that I find it helpful to distinguish between sin and shame is, is sin is basically saying I did wrong, whereas shame is this feeling of I am wrong. It feels like an identity that you're wearing, or that's deep in you as opposed to something external from you and that can be so much harder to deal with. There are things that I knew God forgave me for. So in that sense, the guilt and sin was dealt with, but I just couldn't forgive myself. So it was like I was just literally drowning in my own shame and it would be the sort of feeling of...You know, like when you have a stain on your hands and you're scrubbing it as hard as you can, it just won't come out and you just feel like the skin is getting really raw and red but the stain itself won't go away.

I think for me, I came to the realization, precisely the way you framed the question actually, it was because I was trying to get rid of shame myself and I thought it was something I could scrub away if I just worked hard enough or just had enough mind over matter to change my thought patterns or to think differently about myself, but shame is powerful and I don't think we have the power to change it ourselves but I do believe that God does. I love it when it says in scripture that those who look to You, speaking to God, are radiant, that their faces are never covered in shame.

I think we lose shame and we become radiant when it's actually Christ we're looking to, rather than ourselves, as Michael has already been speaking to. I think one of the ways that we can help with that process is when we stop hiding and we step into the light. The light where God is, is interesting to me. Speaking of Genesis 3, that when sin comes into the world, that is says they realized that they were naked and they were ashamed and so they hid. I think that's our instinctive response, we're so ashamed of ourselves that we just want to disappear. We don't want anybody to see us because we're so scared of what they will think of us, and even more, we're scared of what God will think of us.

But for me, one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible is the encounter that the Samaritan woman has with Jesus in John 4. It's such an interesting encounter. She meets him at a well in the middle of the day and there's something about the fact that it's at noon, at the hottest time of day, and there are no other women around that kind of speaks to the fact that she's perhaps socially stigmatized, or in some way publicly shamed in such a way that she has to go there where no one else is, because she's some kind of outcast from her community.

Now, people often say it's her shame. It's something she did to herself because we know that she had five husbands. Actually, it's not quite fair because in that culture, it's exceptionally hard for a woman to divorce anybody. So either she herself has been cast aside by men or, more likely in that culture, she's been widowed quite a lot. So she's been through a heck of a lot of pain in her life and now, yeah, she is living with somebody who isn't her husband, so there's some things that are consequences of her circumstances and perhaps desperation that have led her to the state she's in now but there's also a lot of social shame that I think has been put on her and yet when Jesus encounters her, he dignifies her in the most amazing way such that even her shame, that's something that has led her to be a public outcast, is transformed by that encounter with Jesus. So much so, that actually she goes running back to her village and she runs in there and she says, "Come and meet the man who's told me everything that I ever did."

The very stuff in her life that before had led to her to be alone and an outcast is the very thing that now she's publicly unashamed to be talking about. She's no longer hiding it because she's stepped into the light and it doesn't have the power to shame her anymore because she's met Jesus. She's met God Himself and Him didn't condemn her for it.

Vince and I have a goddaughter called Carys. She was so sweet when she was three years old. Every time she would be out of the room, she would, she would come back into the room and she'd throw her arms up in the air and she would go, "I'm here." It was so funny because it was basically implying, I know you've all been wondering where I am and it hasn't quite been the same without me, but let me just tell you everything is okay now because I'm here. I just love that confidence. Carys has absolutely no shame whatsoever. She just feels adored and loved and just assumes, of course people are wondering about me. There's something about Carys at three, that she hasn't experienced shame, and I pray for her, Lord may she always be that way, that she never feels like she has to cower and hide.

But I think we see the same thing in John 4 with the woman at the well, women who'd been put to shame, but who's met Jesus and it's cast off of her. So if you have things in your life that you feel like actually it wasn't even something you could control, perhaps something that was done to you, then even those things, don't allow them to keep you in the dark and hidden away from other people but bring them into the light, bring them to God and then if it's appropriate, share them with somebody else because actually people don't have the power to condemn and shame you if Christ has redeemed you from it.

So there doesn't need to be shame in that. But there can be something about speaking something out loud, bringing it into accountability with other people, that just helps you to know others are praying for you, to know that as the people of God, we don't have to be perfect. We don't have to hide from each other. That church should be the one place in the world where we can be the most ourselves and the most vulnerable. So often I think we experienced it as the opposite, the place where we have to go and look perfect and try really hard but that was never what it's supposed to be. So let's develop Christian communities and relationships where we can be fully known and trust that we'll also be fully loved for it.

Vince Vitale: That's great and I now do the same as Carys. If Jo's ignoring me at home, I just come in-

Jo Vitale: I'm here.

Vince Vitale: I'm here.

Vince Vitale: Doesn't work as well as when Carys does it but I try anyway.

Michael Davis: Doesn't work in meetings either, yes.

Vince Vitale: I try anyway. Yeah, I just want to affirm what Jo said and just an analogy I was thinking about this morning, I'm not sure exactly how well it works, but let me try it out and Sophie, I thought it was really perceptive, even that word, a dirty feeling with respect to shame. There is this sense of it being almost something physical almost, and it can be. Why can't I get rid of shame? Jo touched on this already, but I was thinking about the analogy of like a stain on a carpet.

Of course the carpet can't get rid of its own stain. So why can't I get rid of it? Well, it would be silly to think the carpet can deal with its own stain. It is the thing which is stained and so of course it can't be the thing that deals with that stain.

There needs to be a sort of transfer that takes place, where the stain, or the dirt on the carpet gets transferred to something else, to a paper towel or to something that that cleans it. We need a transfer to take place, but you also need the right type of transfer in that sort of situation. If we have a stain on the carpet and not that this has ever happened, but if I go up to it and just start rubbing it in with a cloth, well yeah, I've now stained the cloth, but I've just embedded the stain more deeply into the carpet. I think sometimes, that's what we do.

Sometimes our instinct when we feel shamed is to shame others. We project our shame onto other people. I think subconsciously maybe we think, if they're worse than I am, then I can feel better about myself but in reality, the consequence is that you just wind up making them feel bad and actually you just feel more shamed because the original shame still exists and now you've been part of the process of shaming someone else as well.

So what we need is someone who we are not projecting our stain onto, but who willingly takes it onto himself for us, the right type of transfer, where the stain actually comes out and is transferred onto something else. A stain doesn't just disappear. It has to be transferred onto something else. That's exactly what Jesus did, not us projecting our stain onto him, but him willingly coming and saying, "I will take that sense of shame. I will take that sense of dirtiness onto myself." Just like Jo already said. But he literally did, it's not just symbolic or metaphorical, he was mocked, he was spat on, he was exposed, he was physically abused. He was shamed in many of the ways that one can be shamed. He willingly took that on to himself, that transfer so that we don't have to hold onto that anymore.

Oftentimes we talk about Jesus as a substitute, but we almost always talk about that as a substitute for our sin. Yes, he is a substitute for our sin and therefore deals with our guilt, but in this sense he's also a substitute for our shame because he took that on himself and that's why the Bible says that anyone who believes in Jesus will never be put to shame.

Michael Davis: One of the things that I'm kind of honing in on is that Sophie, when you said that, "Even when shame and dirty feelings I have are brought on by something I couldn't control," we are no longer slaves to sin, but temptation is going to be present for the rest of our lives. Christ dealt with temptation and was able to overcome it. Oftentimes we deal with temptation and only through the process of being conformed to Christ's likeness do we eventually find freedom from that and not even perfectly until we go to heaven, but don't think that because you have temptation that that should lead to shame.

Temptation is a fact of life. I'll say this, and Sam Allberry, who's one of our speakers speaks a lot about this. Temptation does not equal sin. If you have a temptation that is causing you to feel shame, but you're not acting upon that temptation and you're struggling against that temptation, don't feel ashamed that you have that temptation because if Jesus felt temptation, you are not sinning.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's a really good reminder. Just maybe to close off of your Sophie, just some words from Isaiah chapters 54 and 61 that I just love, as we reflect on the idea of shame. The Word says, "Do not be afraid. You will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace. You will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth. Instead of your shame, your receive a double portion and instead of disgrace, you will rejoice in your inheritance and everlasting joy will be yours." So that's our prayer for you and our trust that that is what God has for you.

Michael Davis: Praise God. Well, let us go into the final question today, and this is from Noelle. "How do you respond when someone says, who are you to judge? How do I reach out to people who say they believe in God and Christ, but there is nothing in their lives to back that up?"

Vince Vitale: Yeah. Great question Noelle, and this can be taken in a couple of different ways sometimes when somebody says, "Who are you to judge?" Now it could be, this is probably not the case, but it could be that someone just thinks that you're being judging or being judgmental just because you have a view on whether something is right or wrong, but that's a very problematic position to take because then who are they to judge that it is wrong to have a view on whether something is right or wrong?

Michael Davis: My head hurts.

Vince Vitale: And aren't they already-

Jo Vitale: Philosophers.

Vince Vitale: their very statement both judging that it is wrong to have a view and simultaneously expressing a view? So we all take views on whether certain things are right or wrong, that's absolutely inevitable. The difference is, or at least should be, that when a Christian makes the claim that something is right or wrong, he or she should be admitting that he couldn't come to that knowledge, him or herself. That it had to be revealed by someone much more intelligent, that otherwise we were ignorant and helpless.

In that sense, Christianity should be inherently humbling when it comes to this intellectual question about whether we can make a judgment about whether something is right or wrong. So if it's just an intellectual question about making moral judgements, and we do live in a pluralistic culture where people sometimes think it's attractive to say we just shouldn't make those judgments at all, but if that's the claim, there is a relatively straightforward response. That claim winds up being self-defeating quite quickly.

Often this objection is not just intellectual, but it is more about how someone is experiencing their relationship with a Christian. It's not just that a Christian has a view or a judgment about whether something is right or wrong, but it's that they are feeling in the context of a relationship, either explicitly or implicitly, like a Christian thinks they are superior to them or that they are in some way better than them. That is probably more often where this objection is coming from and one that we need to take really seriously.

Jo Vitale: I think we also just need to be careful not to assume too much and perhaps overstate that somebody isn't a Christian, whereas actually we might just not see the fruit that's being displayed in their lives, perhaps we've missed it somehow. I say this because a little while ago, I realized that I was judging somebody that I grew up with, who'd been a strong Christian when we were growing up together as teenagers but I didn't see any recent evidence of faith in their life and the way that they were publicly living. So I'd kind of assumed that perhaps they'd wandered away and I was feeling pretty disappointed in that public witness. Then I was watching a conference online a little while ago and suddenly I saw this person up on a stage interviewing somebody, but before doing the interview he said, "I just want you to know I really love Jesus and I always will."

It kind of took me away as a statement because he said it with such rawness and intimacy and integrity and I suddenly realized, gosh, I've been making all kinds of assumptions about this person from a distance, based on things I thought I'd heard, that perhaps aren't true. Yet he just spoke so beautifully about the way he loves Jesus in such a vulnerable way. How much do you, I, as someone who goes around talking about Jesus a lot of the time and talking about apologetics a lot of the time, but how often do I just express my faith in that kind of raw and meaningful way?

It actually really challenged me that perhaps I'd been making assumptions about him that weren't necessarily true and that I needed to be more careful not to assume the worst about people. Now that doesn't mean that sometimes what we're seeing in the life of somebody isn't exactly right, that maybe that they're professing to be a Christian, but actually there hasn't been a genuine conversion, or they are deeply struggling perhaps with certain aspects of the Christian faith. But I think we just need to be really careful not to assume more than is actually true if somebody.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's good and even when it is the case that something is wrong in someone's life and we're making an intellectual judgment about that, we still have to be really careful to not set ourselves up as a judge over that person. The Bible speaks really strongly about this. I'm thinking of Matthew 7, "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Or Romans 2, "You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things."

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment rather than God on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.

So there is a sense where even God in the current age, He holds off at least final judgements. Second Peter 3, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise," referring to that final judgment as some understand slowness. "Instead, He's patient not wanting any to perish, but everyone come to repentance." So God warns us about setting ourselves up as judge. He Himself has held off final judgment. Then the question is why? And the answer it seems in Second Peter 3, is because he doesn't want any to perish and he wants everyone to come to a place of repentance. He wants to have the opportunity to establish relationship with people.

So I think that needs to be our attitude as well. We're not called first and foremost to be the morality police, although it's very important for us to take morality seriously. We're called to make disciples of all nations. My experience in terms of trying to pursue making disciples, is that relationship leads to conviction. It doesn't tend to be the other way around. God has held off that definitive judgment in order to establish relationship. If we are to follow him in making disciples of all nations, we need to do the same and make sure that our primary goal is to actually establish the relationship and bring someone into the community of Christians and then let conviction flow out of that.

Michael Davis: So guys, that is all the time we have today. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, I think it's been a really encouraging episode. I mean, we've talked about the way that Jesus provides us with freedom from our shame. What an incredible aspect of the Gospel that is. Then we've talked about the way that Jesus transforms judgment, makes it the case that we don't have to set ourselves up as judge. He is judge, and yet he transforms judgment on the cross. That's how much God doesn't want to judge people. I find that so amazing. He doesn't want to judge people to such an extent that He would rather come and be judged Himself and give His life.

Now, that doesn't mean that you'll never point out things and try to encourage a friend and spur them on to live the life that God has called them to, but it does mean that we need to have our heart in the right place, as God's heart is in the right place. God is pictured as weeping when He has to judge us both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. So maybe just a final thought on this final question. When we are in a position where we are making a judgment and trying to encourage a friend in the life that they are living and that requires maybe a strong word from us or a strong challenge, do we do it through tears? I think if we can answer that question affirmatively, that will show us that the reason that we're taking that step in a person's life is because we want to take seriously Jesus' call for us to make disciples of all nations and because we love them and we want that to lead to their repentance and ultimately because we want to be further united in the community of God's people.

So freedom from shame and then the transformation of judgment. because Jesus took that judgment and because he holds off that judgment now so that he can enter into relationship with each one of us.

Michael Davis: Vince, Jo, thank you guys for joining me and thank you guys for listening and we will catch you next week.

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