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Dealing with Shame as a Christian

Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.

In a church service one Sunday, an old woman's heart swelled with emotions as the minister thumped on the pulpit. He was speaking about Christians who felt shame for the things that they had done and repent from their sins. As a practicing Christian, the woman felt a lot of guilt over her past transgressions and poor choices. She felt compelled to share her feelings with the pastor after the service ended.

"You know, pastor, I committed a terrible sin years ago, and I still feel shame over it to this day." To her surprise, instead of empathizing with her, his face became grim. "Woman, your shame has become a stronghold in your life that you must root out," he said.

When I heard a pastor tell this story, I could imagine the shock that must have been on the woman's beaten down, careworn face. In situations like the above, the question comes up: as Christians, aren't we supposed to feel shame and guilt for what we have done wrong? The answer is yes and but only for a short time. We are to feel shame, but then let go of it after we repent.

Legitimate vs False Shame

There are some things in life over which we have little or no control that may be provoking us to hang our heads.

Common Reasons We Feel Shame

Our backgrounds: we grew up poor and were embarrassed by our hand-me-down clothing and lack of resources

  • Our bodies: we hate our physical features or disability and try to cover them up with oversize clothing or makeup
  • Our intellect: we are not as smart or well educated as our peers
  • Our jobs: our work is not a career that would impress people
  • Our financial status: we cannot afford the same luxuries as the people around us

If any of these causes listed above are the source of our shame, we need to analyze why we feel this way and evaluate whether our feelings are valid. In the book Shame Interrupted, author Edward Welch says that God's words to the shamed are: "You are acceptable." He expects us to accept ourselves the way He accepts us as His beloved children.

About Godly Shame

There is another kind of shame that plays a valuable part in our repentance and reconciliation with God. It happens when we realize that we have sinned and hurt ourselves and others. It can be overwhelming, as it was for the woman speaking to the pastor. How can we handle it?

Paul's Story

One man who lived in the Middle East long ago understood how to overcome his past and taught others to do so. He grew up as a Jew under a renowned teacher. When the people in his town started embracing the new Christian faith, this man began to persecute them. He stood by and held the coats of men who stoned a Christian leader to death. He spoke of murderous threats against Christians.

God intervened and called him to a life as a minister. I am talking about the apostle Paul, whose story starts in the book of Acts 9. We can only imagine how Paul, then called Saul, must have felt when God struck him with blindness and he realized he had been persecuting God's people.

It is interesting to note that the next time we meet Paul, he is preaching the gospel. I am sure that Saul felt regret for his past deeds, but he didn't seem to carry the burden of shame into his Christian life. Instead, he realized that he is a frail human being who needs salvation through Jesus Christ and let go of his shame (Romans 7:17-20). We can stop hanging our heads in the same way and move on.

The Corinthian church was a troubled place with a lot of problems. When Paul confronted them for tolerating sin, they went overboard with shame and guilt (2 Corinthians 7:8-13). He encouraged the church to forgive and comfort the repentant sinner so that he would not be overwhelmed with sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7-10).

When Paul spoke of his past to the Galatian church, Paul honestly admitted that he intensely persecuted and sought to destroy the church, but said that God had called him by His grace to preach the gospel to the gentiles (Galatians 1:13, 16).

Relevant Scriptures Written by Paul (paraphrased)

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17: Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Old things have passed away and everything becomes new
  • 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: We are flesh but God gives us spiritual weapons to pull down strongholds
  • Philippians 4:8: Our minds can be renewed and we can become a new people
  • Philippians 4:13: We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us
  • Colossians 3:10: We can put on the new man, renewed by the knowledge of the Creator

Godly Shame is Temporary

In the book Overcoming Shame: Let Go of Others’ Expectations, author Dr. Mark Baker says that the grace of God can overcome anything. including any feelings of shame.

Shame was meant to be a temporary measure to bring us to godly repentance. Christ died to remove all the shame in our lives. When we hold onto it, we deny His sacrifice and hold ourselves back from the repentance that will restore our relationship with God. We may feel regret but should not feel ashamed.

God gives us the spiritual weapons and divine power to demolish the strongholds of shame and other pretensions that set us up against God. We can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Him (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). If we call out to Him in our pitiful human state, he will save us from our troubles. We will never be covered in shame (Psalm 34:5-7).

Let us grab hold of these promises from God, let go of the lurking shame in our lives, and enjoy the freedom that He gives.

Reference: Holy Bible, New International Version

© 2021 Carola Finch

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