Posts tagged ‘Shame’

Real Grace for Real Sinners

Credit: Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Whenever the topic of sin comes up in a Bible study or conversation, I have a friend who will joke: “Since we’re talking about sin, how about we all tell each other the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He always gets a laugh, but it’s always a bit of a nervous laugh. I’m don’t think many of us – or, let’s be honest, any of us – are comfortable being forthcoming about the worst thing we think we’ve ever done.

Sin is strange like this. We will speak freely in generalities about how we are sinful, but when someone asks us to get specific – especially about the sins that most embarrass us – we fall silent. We may be comfortable with the idea of being a sinner in general because we know that everyone sins, but when it comes to our specific sins, we can sometimes worry that we’re the only one who has ever done what we have done. And, if people found out what we have done, they would reject us in disgust.

In 1544, a dear friend of Martin Luther’s named George Spalatin offered some advice to a local pastor who wanted to know whether it would be permissible to preside over the wedding of a man who wanted to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. Spalatin gave this pastor the green light to perform the wedding. When Luther found out about the guidance Spalatin had given, he was aghast and harshly criticized Spalatin.

After being criticized by his dear friend and mentor, Spalatin fell into a deep depression because he assumed that he had committed a grievous sin that could not be forgiven. When Luther found out about his friend’s despondency, he wrote him a letter where he reiterated to his friend that though he thought his advice was wrongheaded and sinful, he himself was not unforgivable:

The devil has plucked from your heart all the beautiful Christian sermons concerning the grace and mercy of God in Christ by which you used to teach, admonish, and comfort others with a cheerful spirit and a great, buoyant courage. Or it must surely be that heretofore you have been only a trifling sinner, conscious only of paltry and insignificant faults and frailties. Therefore, my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.

Luther reminds Spalatin that there is no sin for which Christ did not die. There is no mistake – even the mistake of poor pastoral advice – that Christ cannot forgive. This means that the worst thing we have ever done is not beyond the reach of grace that comes from God’s one and only Son. We don’t need to be afraid of our biggest sins because we have an even bigger Savior.

So, what is the worst thing you’ve ever done? What sin would you prefer to keep secret? Don’t let that sin shame you into staying away from Jesus. Don’t let that sin shame you into hiding from others. If Christ can handle the world’s sins, He can handle your worst. He wants to. Because He loves you.

October 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Clothing the Naked

Arrest of Jesus

“The Taking of Christ” by Caravaggio, 1602

It must have been a terrifying ordeal.  The man who twelve men had followed, loved, learned from, and staked their lives on was being arrested by an angry mob, led by a man who used to be among their ranks:  Judas.  Mark depicts the scene like this:

Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared.  With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him.  The men seized Jesus and arrested Him.  Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture Me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest Me.  But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”  Then everyone deserted Him and fled.   A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus.  When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:43-52)

This final detail about this young man who flees naked is unique to Mark’s Gospel, leading many scholars to believe that it may have been Mark himself who, overcome with fear, fled the scene.  But what is recorded here is more than an incidental historical detail.  What is recorded here is a tragic historical pattern:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”   He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)

Mark wasn’t the first to flee the Lord naked and afraid.  Adam did too.

In the Bible, nakedness is often used as a symbol of shameful sin:

  • “Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered.  I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.” (Isaiah 47:3)
  • Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean.  All who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns away. (Lamentations 1:8)
  • “I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face.  I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.” (Nahum 3:5)

Sin and nakedness go hand in hand.  But the promise of Scripture is that when sin leaves us shamefully naked, Jesus clothes us with His righteousness:  “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).  Even as we flee from the horror of the cross naked in sin, Jesus draws us back to His cross, covering our nakedness with His atoning blood.  The death on a cross that once caused everyone to flee now beckons all to its promise of salvation.  During this Holy Week, this is what we remember.  And this is what we believe.

March 25, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Price of Shame

DCF 1.0I’m not sure the framers of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s ever envisioned this.  What they dreamed of was the freedom to sexually express themselves without having to answer to what they thought were the stifling restraints of a traditional – and, in their view, outdated – sexual ethic.  What they wound up sowing, however, were the seamy seeds of sexual objectification and oppression among subsequent generations.

Cole Moreton, in his article for The Telegraph titled “Children and the Culture of Pornography,”[1] offers a disturbing peek inside a generation who has managed to shake itself free of the moral manacles which once guided the intimate encounters of yesteryear.  I must warn you:  the frank tone of his article is not for the faint of heart.  He opens with the story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Chevonea.  A boy had pressured her into performing a sex act on him, which he recorded with his cell phone’s camera and subsequently showed to all his buddies.  Chevonea threatened to a jump from a window if he did not delete the recording.  But before she could have second thoughts about her desperate threat, she slipped and fell sixty feet to her death.  Chevonea’s story is nauseating.  But her tale is, devastatingly, one among many spawned by a culture gone sexually mad.

The majority of Moreton’s article discusses the ease of access to pornography and how it distorts our children’s view of themselves and others.  Indeed, many of our young people have gone from consuming these illicit materials to creating them with nothing more than the video recorders on their phones, as in Chevonea’s case.  And many of the children who home grow these pornographic videos aren’t even teenagers yet.

So what are the consequences of growing up in such a so-called “sexually liberated” culture?  Moreton explains the effects are especially severe on girls:   “Sexual pressure can cause girls to contemplate suicide, self-harm, develop eating disorders, or try to lose themselves in drugs or alcohol.”  For a movement that began as one of liberation, this hardly sounds like freedom to me.

The Scriptures remind us that sexual freedom can only be truly found within the context of sexual commitment.  God’s created order for intimacy rings as true today as it ever has:  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).  God sets a clear pattern:  sexual intimacy which results in the joining of two fleshes into one is to take place only after a man is willing to “hold fast to” (i.e., commit to, or marry) his wife.  Such commitment, in turn, results in true freedom:  “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

As I read those final words from Genesis 2, I can’t help but think of Chevonea and the overwhelming shame she must have felt after a pushy boy devastated her dignity and betrayed whatever little trust she may have had in him by flaunting a sickly conceived video.  This young man may have used his sexually liberated sensibilities to pressure a young girl to engage in acts completely outside the bounds of common decency, but such sexual freedom turned out to be nothing more than a Trojan horse in which were hidden the stifling shackles of shame.

Ultimately, when it comes to our sexual behavior, we must answer a fundamental question:  To what do we want to be beholden?  Because we will be beholden to something.  We will either be beholden to the slavery of shame that masquerades as sexual liberation or we will be beholden to the constraints of divine law which free us to live without shame because we are within the comforting assurances of God’s will.

I know which one sounds better to me.  Which one sounds better to you?


[1] Cole Moreton, “Children and the culture of pornography: ‘Boys will ask you every day until you say yes,’The Telegraph (1.27.2013).

March 4, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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