Redeeming Disgrace

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Returning to this thought about shame and grace, let’s look at one of my favorite stories from Jesus’ life. (I’m sure my church gets tired of me bringing this story up so many times, but I believe it is so current for today’s world!)

“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?’ They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, ‘The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.’ Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. ‘Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?’ ‘No one, Master.’ ‘Neither do I,’ said Jesus. ‘Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.’ ” (John 8:1-11, The Message)

Did Jesus condone this woman’s sin? No. Did Jesus give permission for the rest of us to do what she did? No.

But did Jesus condemn her and shame her? NO. There is not one hint of shame in his voice. Moments earlier, this woman had been ripped from a bed of adultery, probably barely dressed and thrown in the center of a group of angry men. Shame was most likely her only clothing.

The very word shame means “a painful feeling of guilt, unworthiness and disgrace.” To be disgraced actually means “to remove dignity.” Sin strips us of our dignity. It “dis-graces” us, taking away the grace we enjoyed from others and the grace we received from God. Shame keeps us in that place of “dis-grace.”

This woman had been totally disgraced. Was she guilty? Yes, she knew that. She wasn’t stupid. Everyone knew the punishment for her sin was death. But the shame of that moment, before those “religious” men, had to be worse to her than death!

Jesus does not lend his voice to their disgracing, shame-filled rhetoric. But instead, He releases her and restores to her the dignity she’d lost. Was Jesus soft on sin? No! But neither did He deal with her through shame! “Go and sin no more!”

I love something that Mike Yaconelli said in his book, Messy Spirituality. He said we must not condone sinful behavior, but it is the Church’s job to redeem sinful behavior. What a great description of what Jesus did for this woman.

There are so many Christians (and non-Christians alike) who battle with shame everyday of their lives. This shame and guilt stands between us and a successful walk with God. Guilt and shame is not of God. He lovingly convicts, speaks truth in love, but never will take our dignity and disgrace us. That is the work of the enemy, trying to keep us from God!

Shame keeps those sins that we have placed under the blood returning to our lives. It does this by reminding us of the past and the failures we’ve had. It convinces us that we cannot live this life as God desires, so we give back into that former sin and it creates a cycle of sin and shame again and again.

All of this affects how we walk with God. St. Iraenus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” God gets His greatest glory when man is fully living who he was created to be! Shame seeks to keep us from being “fully alive.”

Remember what Mephibosheth’s real name was? It was Meribaal, meaning “defeater of Baal.” Each and every one of us has been given a name, in the God-created spirit man inside us which is in direct proportion to the call and purpose of our lives. Even though Mephibosheth left his true name or identity behind, God had not forgotten who he truly was.

Shame may have come to “dis-grace” you and take you out of your destiny, but God has not and will not let that be the final word on your life. You may be someone who sinned knowingly and willingly, but I tell you, shame is not your portion! Grace is still available. Pardon is still available. As the old song sings, “there’s still room at the cross” for you.

(Taken from Chapter 4 of The Embrace of Grace: Moving from Rejection to Adoption.  Image: Woman Caught in Adultery, John Martin Borg, 2002)

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Dropping the Fig Leaf

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As followers of Christ, even though we know in our minds we have been forgiven and can be forgiven of every sin, sometimes we still battle with this enemy called shame.  Many times, shame will bring up things from the past—long forgiven.  Other times, it merely keeps us from forgiving ourselves in the sins we deal with as Christians.

I remember once praying for a Christian friend who was really struggling with an addiction to alcohol.  As I prayed for him, I saw him sitting in an old-time, western-like jail cell.  He was by himself with a bottle of liquor.  As I watched, I moved further back to see that the cell doors had been unlocked and opened wide, yet my friend still sat inside, bound to the bottle.  Shame had tied him to that addiction though the Lord had already made the way for him to be free.

Shame replays the mental videos of our secret sins or thoughts or failures that make us feel unworthy and unforgivable.  Our hearts begin to shrink, as we wonder what others would say, “if they only knew.”  So on comes the fig leaf, our false self, that image we present to others: that way we want them to see us.

Guilt and shame hides the image of God that our spirits are recreated in at the point of salvation, so we cannot see our true glory.  Its first goal is to keep us from God’s presence, and then from anyone who could truly “know” us and thereby heal us through true communion and spiritual intimacy.  We are once again driven away from others.

Even though shame can use any sin or event in our lives, the biggest factor it thrives on is in the area of intimacy in relationships. It’s goal is to isolate and make us feel alone in a crowded world!

Understand that intimacy in relationships is not limited to sexual intimacy. It is the richness of expression and understanding of each person. It requires us to be vulnerable in our emotions and in the sharing of our failings and weaknesses. So, fear of being exposed in areas we don’t want to share can come from shame and close us off from others and keep intimacy from happening in our relationships.

Until we face the fig leaf, we will find ourselves hiding, never really experiencing true freedom in our friendships or relationships with each other. Jesus said the greatest laws were to love God and love others as ourselves. But so many of us are bound by the fig leaf of shame, we have no real respect for our own lives and our own place in this world, so we cannot really love others.

But God does not leave us in our shame.  In fact, Jesus comes to break the cycle of shame in our lives, being shamed himself, taking our shame upon him on the cross.  Beaten, stripped and naked on the cross, Jesus bore our shame.  He is not willing to leave us in this state alone, but enters it with us and bears it.  He is not ashamed of us and bears the weight of it and carries it away.

Now we are called into His presence, like Mephibosheth of old, and invited to be received by the King.  So many of us think in terms of “receiving Jesus,” but how often do we think of being “received by Jesus”?  He is waiting for us to present ourselves to him, naked emotionally and spiritually vulnerable, without our fig leaves to hide behind.  He is not ashamed of us, but receives us with grace.  Then, we will be clothed with his righteousness – something we could never do on our own.