“It’s pretty difficult to believe God loves and accepts you after you wake up in a strange man’s apartment with a massive hangover,” said Carole. “You know you are acting in a way God would not approve, so how do you approach Him when you need His help? I just can’t bring myself to be honest and contrite with Him because I’m so ashamed of the things I am doing to degrade my body.”
Like Carole, many Christians who engage in sinful behaviors find it difficult to build a relationship with God. And at the core of our struggles is the over-powering emotion of shame. Shame serves as a barrier between us and our Lord and Savior and it limits our ability to engage in activities that lead to a deeper and richer relationship with God: meaningful prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and being in Christian community.
“It’s difficult to pray when you believe He is judging you as a failure,” Carole continued. “I desperately want to reach out to feel His comfort but I can’t bring myself to do it. I believe He wants nothing to do with me.”
For Christians like Carole, it’s difficult to comprehend God’s unfailing love when you believe your sinful patterns disqualify you from His faithfulness. When shamed, it’s also challenging to interact with fellow Christian brothers and sisters due to the sense of unworthiness that is felt when surrounded by them.
The Wedge Between Us and God – Shame
Shame is one of Satan’s most powerful and effective tools that he utilizes to drive a wedge between good, but broken people and God. He uses our shame to blind us to the truth about our sinful nature and the meaning of God’s grace. And he keeps the shame growing within us by generating feelings of worthlessness as we fail to exhibit self-control and act out in sinful ways.
And worst of all, Satan draws on our shame to prevent us from seeking God and making things right with Him, therefore denying many of us the wonder of experiencing His complete love and presence in our lives. We miss out on the comfort and peace that comes in understanding that we are loved unconditionally and accepted despite our weaknesses and all because of His remarkable Grace.
Instead, we are left believing God has turned His back on us, but the truth is Satan has polluted our minds with lies that lead us to distance ourselves from God.
Those lies leave us filled with shame about who we are and we, in turn, project those negative feelings onto God kidding ourselves that He despises us as much as we hate ourselves. But the truth is God is not wagging his finger in our direction attempting to humiliate us by pointing out our shame. Instead, He’s asking we stand in front of Him so He can help remove our shamefulness.
“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18
Shame causes us to give up when it comes to our sinful nature. We believe we just “can’t win”. We will never have the will power or strength to be able to beat our demons so we simply quit trying. Satan has taken our shame and used it to prevent us from confessing our shortcomings and seeking God’s help to find a way out of our struggles.
Instead, we fear reaching out to Him will lead to rejection and His judging us as “bad” because we can’t manage our sinfulness. It gives Satan great pleasure to know we’re wrapped tightly in a shame that distances us from God. And while his ultimate objective is to tear us apart from God – even if he can’t have our souls – he will settle for ensuring we are trapped in a life of endless suffering and misery.
The Two Lies
To keep us engulfed in shame, Satan uses two very powerful lies to convince us that we are damaged beyond repair and not worthy of God’s attention or love.
Lie #1: Our “performance” is the measuring tool God uses to judge us. Therefore, we must eliminate all sin from our lives and be pure and righteous Christians. When we fail to live up to this impossible goal, our shame label grows larger due to our inability to “get it right”. We struggle with our inability to follow the “rules” and be obedient children. What makes this worst is compare ourselves to other Christians who we believe “got it all together”. This only deepens the intensity of our shame.
Lie #2: God can never accept or love anyone who struggles and/or engages repeatedly in sin. He wants no part of us until we become “good and well-behaved children.” This lie leaves us feeling we are a disappointment in God’s eyes and in turn we are unloved and unwanted by our Creator. We think of ourselves as outcasts who have been rejected by our heavenly Father.
Unworthy to be Saved
These torturous thoughts are promoted by Satan to keep us stuck on a negative, emotional roller coaster of self-doubt. There is no sense of peace –– only perpetual worry God no longer favors us because we are failing in our attempts to abide with our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, we are “bad” people and we are unworthy of being saved.
Some of my clients tell me this endless struggle keeps them out of the church pews because they feel inferior to the Christians around them. Have you ever experienced similar feelings during your time at church or around Christian friends? Does it seem as if others know you are hiding a secret? Do they give the impression they are living righteous lives?
If that is the impression they are giving off, it is not an accurate picture that is being portrayed of fellow Christians. The Apostle Paul tells us it is impossible to live a completely righteous existence.
“As Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one’.” Romans 3: 10-12
We may long to be obedient and righteous children of God but our flesh is weak. However, that should not preclude us from making all attempts to live a godly existence and work on removing the darkness that lies within our hearts. We simply must understand we will never achieve righteousness in our lifetime.
The Devil’s Wedge
Each Sunday, pastors across the world focus on delivering a consistent message to their flock that growing in relationship with Jesus Christ is vital to their Christian walk and accepting God’s grace is the path to salvation.
However, Christians who wear a shame label have a difficult time with that message. Our shame prohibits us from being honest with Christ about our struggles and in turn from cultivating a relationship with Him out of fear of condemnation and rejection. Satan uses our shame to turn a deaf ear to the message of Grace, therefore separating us emotionally from our King.
“It’s pretty difficult to turn to God in prayer and worship after you had just finished lusting after your neighbor’s wife with your eyes,” said Sam, who is working on overcoming a sex addiction. “You know you are acting in a way Jesus would not like, so how do you approach Him? I just can’t bring myself to be honest and contrite with Him because I’m so ashamed of my lack of self-control.”
Overcoming the Lies
It is important for us to understand Satan uses these two lies in an attempt to deceive us. However, we can avoid his trap by educating ourselves with truth – God’s truth.
Once again, examine Lie #1: Our “performance” is the measuring tool God uses to judge us. Therefore, we must eliminate all sin from our lives and be pure and righteous Christians.
If we were capable of living a righteous lifestyle there would have been no reason for Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for our sins. Our salvation would be based simply on our behavior. Those who abide in Him would be in. Those who elect to disobey would be out.
Fortunately for us, it doesn’t work that way because in God’s eyes we are all sinners. God understands our brokenness and therefore He doesn’t use our performance as a measurement tool to determine our salvation. But instead, it is about the performance of His Son who flawlessly carrying out His obligation for our sake. God judges us on whether we elect to accept His generous grace and recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
“But God, the One who saves, showed how kind He was and how He loved us by saving us from the punishment of sin. It was not because we worked to be right with God. It was because of His loving-kindness that He washed our sins away.” Titus 3:4-5
God’s objective for us during our lifetime is not to achieve perfect behavior but instead to dedicate ourselves to changing our hardened hearts. And that is a process Satan wishes to stop.
Let’s do the same exercise with Lie #2: God can never accept or love anyone who struggles and/or engages repeatedly in sin. He wants no part of us until we become “good and well-behaved children.”
Once again, the key to understanding this lie is found in the word “Grace”. God accepts us when we accept His gift of Grace. And once He accepts us it is not His intention to leave us as He found us. He wants us to begin the process of moving toward Him in a pursuit of being Christ-like.
“Then Jesus said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow Me, he must give up himself and his own desires. He must take up his cross every day and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
God indeed demands perfection from us because He is perfect. He is holy and we are commanded to also become holy. But God also understands what He demands of us we are incapable of delivering. Our ability to meet God’s demand to become perfect will not be achieved until we draw our last breath in this world.
“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as he really is.” 1 John 3
Ours is a wonderful, loving, understanding and patient God. He knows our limitations and He is willing to wait for us as we battle the demons we face due to the broken world and the emotional and physical harm others may have caused us in this lifetime. While it is Satan’s desire to keep us trapped in our shame and misery, it is our God’s desire to nurture our souls and see us smile knowing we are His children.
Eddie Capparucci, MA, LPC is a licensed, Christian counselor with a private practice in Marietta, GA. He is certified in treating sexual addiction as well as marriage counseling. You can read more of his writing on the topic of Christian shame at his blog www.TamingChristianShame.com. He writes for several blogs including www.MenAgainstPorn.org, XXXChurch.com and www.Marriage.com