Saturday, November 22, 2014
The Shame of Sin
The concept of shame is dealt with throughout Scripture. In fact, when one looks at the NASB95, they will notice that the word appears 130 times in 120 verses. The psychological concept of shame is often confused with, and even used interchangeably with the concept of guilt. But according to Psychology Today, they are not the same. Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense a person has committed. Shame, on the other hand, is the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, etc.
In the Mediterranean world, the concepts of honor and shame have historically played very significant roles in how the communities relate within themselves and with other communities or groups. Seneca, a first-century Roman statesman and philosopher, wrote: “The one firm conviction from which we move to the proof of other points is this: that which is honorable is held dear for no other reason than because it is honorable.” The deontological approach to ethics is hard to miss in statements like this one. The focus of ancient people on honor and dishonor or shame means that they were particularly oriented toward the approval and disapproval of others The difference between modern western cultures and the Mediterranean cultures is remarkable. The notion of shame remains in every culture because of the image of God indelibly stamped on the conscious of man. But fallen man has reacted to and managed that condition in diverse ways. I am concerned with what I observe in western culture, and in American culture in particular. Moreover, I am far more concerned with the lack of attention the Church dedicates to the idea of sin and shame and how sin is talked about these days from the pulpit and in the Sunday school class. We simply don't want anyone to feel bad..about anything...anything at all or so it seems.
In his warning of coming judgment, Zephaniah writes, Gather yourselves together, yes, gather, O nation without shame. (Zeph. 2:1) What is interesting about this passage is that Zephaniah uses the construction lō niksāp which carries the sense of shamelessness here. The idea seems to be that the behavior of the nation is one of unethical shamelessness, which is itself contrary to the values of the holy and the sacred. The consequence of this condition is divine wrath. In fact, change is urged before the "burning wrath of the Lord comes upon you." Now, there is a concept we don't talk about any longer: the burning wrath of God. Is it any wonder that modern liberal theology has rejected the God of the OT and attempted to look at Christ as the corrector of a very bad projection of Jehovah?
The God of the OT is Christ. The burning wrath of God mentioned in texts like this one is an accurate description of the God that is, not the God that was, or perhaps according to some wishful thinking scholars, the God that never really was. I cannot help but wonder how far this sort of thinking has progressed in the minds of pastors, elders, teachers, and others in the Christian Church of today.
Contrary to the idea that the God of the OT is a very poor projection of the God that Christ represented, the writer of the Hebrews reminds his audience: "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. 12:28-29) Our sacrifice is to take on the nature of reverence and awe and not the sort of frivolity we see in liberalism, in contemporary evangelicalism, and more specifically, in the hip attitude of pop-Christianity that is reflected in the mega-church, rock star pastor model. In this model, God is supposedly just like my earthly daddy who lets me get away with anything and everything and spoils me to no end. Now, if ever there was a projection of god who is not, it is that one.
Paul writes to the Church at Philippi, For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. (Phil. 3:18-19) Paul describes the ungodly in almost unmentionable terms. He says that these people are enemies of the cross and that their glory is in their shame. That is a profound and remarkable description. To say that your most prized possession, that which you have or are is actually in your shame. What sort of people would actually place the most prized and lofty goal within the sphere of shame? It is the unbeliever that does this in a variety of ways. You may ask, how it is the unbeliever could be guilty of such decadence.
American culture, and much of the Church with it, has all but removed the notion of shame. The psychological nonsense of self-esteem has fought and won the battle of making sure we all feel good about ourselves in a vacuum. In other words, the worse thing in the world that we could every do is feel bad about ourselves for any reason whatsoever. The greatest sin is to judge someone else's actions. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Everyone gets a trophy just for trying or even pretending to try, or better yet, just for showing up. This thinking has served to destroy the very concept of shame and as produced a culture that is rapidly descending into moral chaos.
The stigma of a number of things has been purged from American culture and even the Church all for the sake of self-esteem. In the Church it is called grace or the love of God. Either way, the behavior and the results are the same. As the world goes, so goes the Church because, well, in modern American Culture, for the most part, the Church is the World and the World is the Church. You could here the Church saying "I and the World are one." How does this impact the Church?
I think a few examples for how this lack of shame impacts the Church will suffice. Let's begin with the view of divorce within the Church. Divorce used to carry a stigma with it. To be sure, some of that stigma was grounded in hypocritical legalism. Nevertheless, divorce used to be a very serious issue in the culture and in the Church. The Church used to hold that divorce was prohibited except in cases of unrepentant adultery. And if you ignored this teaching, you could very well find yourself in an excommunication session. Today, even conservative churches sit by in silence and worse, find ways to justify the divorces of their friends. I know of one church where an illicit divorce occurred and nothing was done because certain power contributors threatened to split the congregation. Of course the pastor, more interested in his small kingdom, was more than willing to compromise the biblical teaching on the subject. This is a common occurrence in the Christian community and it is shameful.
Whatever happened to drunks and whores? In American culture, we call it alcoholism and well, sexual liberation. Alcoholism is a disease and whores have become extinct. And this is all because we don't want to feel shame about our behavior. And of course we don't want to feel any shame is because we are supposed to feel good about ourselves just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves.
The most recent purging of shame comes by way of the homosexual movement. This movement has gone from being acknowledge as a disgusting act of morally perverse sex to something that even the president of the United States praises and the entire culture celebrates and it has done so in record time. The homosexual, in the name of financial protection at first, advocated for legal status alongside married folks. We knew then as we surely know now that this was not the real issue. The gay agenda seeks to force the entire culture to celebrate what is actually classified by Scripture as moral decadence. What is worse is that this movement is attempting to destroy the very fabric of the Christian faith by forcing it's way into the Christian community. It is a sad state of affairs when Christians have to continually qualify their comments against gay sex by affirming their love for the homosexual and by saying silly things like, "I have friends that are gay so I am not homophobic or anything like that." And then they go on to speak against the idea of gay sex or gay marriage while going out of their way to overemphasize God's love for the homosexual. I direct to a very enlightening and power sermon by Voddie Baucham right here. In addition, Janet Mefferd recently interviewed Voddie here. The former is a sermon and the latter is a fantastic interview.
I am not advocating a Westboro Baptist Church approach to this subject. There is a difference between outright hatred and direct, godly rebuke, as well as a message that is so toned down it fails to correct or confront anything. The safest thing for the Christian to do is insist on treating these sins the way Scripture treats them. Illicit divorce in the Church must result in rebuke and if necessary excommunication. Alcoholics are not sick, they are drunks in need of repentance and redemption. Sexually liberated women are whores without discipline in need of Christ. They stand before God as corrupt offenders, not misunderstood victims of the product of their culture. They are the product of their own wicked heart and the fall. Homosexuals engage in unnatural and perverse sex. It is not love. They are the most promiscuous group of people the world knows. Their sexual acts are so reprehensible for the most part that we cannot even talk about the things they do to one another. All these groups are adamant that they be viewed differently. They are shameless in their sin, enemies of the Christ they claim to love, and love only themselves.
The message of the Church has to be biblically faithful and accurate. It is THAT message and that message alone that brings hope and has the power to change lives. We must confront the sinner with their sin, for what it is, and describe their sin and their condition to them the way God describes it. They are not good people trying to find their way. They are not seekers trying to discover meaning and purpose in life. They are enemies of the cross of Christ. They are not neutral concerning the divine commandments, the divine law, the divine revelation of God in Scripture. They hate God and all that He stands for. Because of this, we must confront them with the same message of repentance that Jesus confronted the unbeliever with! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
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