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.