Shame is a consequence of sin. Feelings of guilt and shame are subjective acknowledgments of an objective spiritual reality. Guilt is judicial in character; shame is relational. Though related to guilt, shame emphasizes sin's effect on self-identity. Sinful human beings are traumatized before a holy God, exposed for failure to live up to God's glorious moral purpose. The first response of Adam and Eve to their sinful condition was to hide from God, and consequently from one another ( Gen 3:7-8 ; 2:25 ). Christ's unhindered openness to the Father was both a model for life and the means of removing humanity's shame. Christian self-identity is transformed "in him."
The word-group for shame ("disconcerted, " "disappointed, " "confounded") occurs in the Old Testament most frequently in the Wisdom Literature and in the prophets (especially Isaiah and Jeremiah). David captures the pervasive Old Testament perspective when he says, "Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I have cried out to you; let the wicked be put to shame, and lie silent in the grave" ( Psalm 31:17 ). The godly Israelite believed God would remove his or her shame ( Psalm 119:31 ) while expecting God to defeat his or her enemies in the present as he will do it utterly at the judgment ( Psalm 35:26 ; 44:7 ; 132:18 ). Some presumed on their elect status, ignoring faith and obedience. God shamed them and the nation by causing its defeat and dispersion ( Isa 22:18 ; Jer 2:26 ; 7:19 ; Ezek 7:18 ; Dan 9:7-8 ). The believing Israelite remnant trusted God through suffering ( Isa 49:23 ; 54:4 ). At the final judgment the wicked will be shamed because of their utter defeat ( Isa 47:3 ) and because of the manifest impotence of their idols ( Isa 42:17 ; Isaiah 44:9 Isaiah 44:11 ; Jer 22:22 ; Hosea 10:6 ). Israel, however, will not bear its shame forever ( Isa 45:17 ; 61:7 ). Proverbs emphasizes the shame of public humiliation for undisciplined behavior ( 13:18 ; 18:13 ; 25:8 ), with particular attention to family relationships ( 12:4 ; 17:2 ; 19:26 ; 29:15 ).
The New Testament deepens and expands the concept of shame. A disciple of Christ stands with him unashamedly in a world that finds the cross ( Heb 12:2 ), God's ways ( 1 Cor 1:27 ), and God's persecuted messengers ( 2 Timothy 1:8 2 Timothy 1:12 ) shameful. Those ashamed of him now will find Christ ashamed of them on the day of judgment ( Mark 8:38 ; Luke 9:26 ). Conversely, God is not ashamed to call the faithful "brothers" of Christ ( Heb 2:11 ).
Suffering for Christ is identification with Christ, glory not shame ( Acts 5:41 ; 1 Peter 4:16 ). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the only antidote for humanity's shame ( Rom 1:16 ). Ultimately, the Christian who trusts in Christ need not be ashamed of anything ( Php 1:20 ; cf. Isa 28:16 ; Rom 9:33 ; 10:11 ; 1 Peter 2:6 ). When one confesses Christ and openly rebels against him, however, the work of Christ is publicly shamed ( Heb 6:6 ). Christians must be diligent to renounce shameful behavior, though tempting because of its hidden character ( 2 Cor 4:2 ).
Shame is a godly motivator. A virtuous life shames the ungodly, providing a context for evangelism ( Titus 2:8 ; 1 Peter 3:16 ). A believer's shame for past sin is a spur to forsake sinning ( Rom 6:21 ), to renounce disobedience ( 2 Thess 3:14 ), and to minister the gospel ( 2 Cor 4:2 ). The prospect of shame at Christ's return is sometimes a necessary inducement to godliness ( Rev 3:18 ; 16:15 ). Paul uses the concept of shame most frequently with the immature Corinthian believers, urging them not to shame themselves ( 1 Cor 4:14 ; 6:5 ; 15:34 ; 2 Cor 9:4 ) or him ( 2 Cor 7:14 ; 10:8 ).
Shameless people flaunt their unholiness, calloused to God ( Zep 3:5 ) and glorying in their shame ( Php 3:19 ). Yet no one is shameless ultimately. "Shameless Acts" receive the judgment inherent in the act ( Rom 1:27 ). Also, at the final judgment the nakedness of those not clothed with Christ' righteousness will be exposed ( Rev 3:18 ; 16:15 ).
Bradford A. Mullen
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