Why Shame Is Not Your Identity
Written by Phylicia Masonheimer | February 11, 2016
There is a lot of shame these days: fat shaming, skinny shaming, mom shaming. To shame someone is to make them feel bad for their choices or their identity—at least that’s how our culture defines it. But shame has deeper roots than what people think about us. It goes back to the very beginning of time.
This world wasn’t created to embrace sin and shame. It was created to hold a perfect union between God and man. There was only one stipulation in the garden Adam and Eve called home: They could eat from any tree but one. That tree was the “knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16). Before the Fall, Adam and Eve did not know evil. They knew God, who is perfect and all-good. The moment they chose to distrust God and know evil for themselves was the moment shame entered their lives—and consequently ours as well.
The knowledge of good and evil is what brings shame. As soon as Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they knew what they had done was wrong. Shame entered their hearts and they hastily covered their naked bodies with leaves. Shame and sin always walk hand in hand. Sin—whether our own or committed against us—is the source and cause of shame, and the Enemy loves to use it to divide us from God.
As believers, shame is not our identity. Guilt is not our destiny. But in order to live unashamed, we have to get to the root of the shame itself, and that’s sin.
Our culture gets offended when anyone issues an objective standard of right and wrong. When we stand on God’s principles of righteousness, there will be people who feel the shame of conviction and blame God—or His followers—for making them feel bad. Shame does feel bad. No one likes it. But that uncomfortable feeling is meant as a warning: a warning to turn back to God and His plan, walk in His ways and maintain a relationship with Him.
Just as Adam and Eve ran from God as He walked in the garden (Genesis 3:8), we often run from God when we feel guilt about our sin. We forget that God is the only solution to the problem of sin—and that Jesus was sent expressly to conquer it! We do not need to be captive to the sin and shame of our past or our present. The life God has for us is one free of shame and guilt, but we have to ask ourselves some questions to embrace that freedom.
1. Is there a sin in my life for which I need to repent?
As stated, shame is a result of sin, whether committed by us or by someone else (being told you will never measure up, being sexually abused or being otherwise mistreated). We must regularly check our hearts against God’s Word and His Spirit’s leading, repenting of anything that would cause a breach in our relationship with God. 1 John 1:9 says, “If you confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them.” It’s that simple! By confessing our sins to God and asking for His forgiveness, the sacrifice Jesus paid on our behalf covers what we have done. He took our shame when He died on the cross (Hebrews 12:2).
Perhaps your shame is not caused by a sin you committed, but by one committed against you. Satan loves to use the abuse of others to define us, making us believe we have nothing to offer God’s kingdom. This is a lie! You can reject the thoughts of inadequacy, impurity or whatever the enemy speaks over you, claiming Jesus’ name—and His sacrifice—as your new, pure identity.
2. Am I trying to please people or am I seeking to please God?
Sometimes we feel shame because we are living for people, not for God. This kind of shame is one we put on ourselves by idolizing the opinions of others. People-pleasing seems harmless, but it causes us to idolize what people think and say over what God thinks and says.
When you’re tempted to do something out of guilt or pressure, ask yourself: Am I doing this for the glory of God or to please man? (Galatians 1:10) This doesn’t mean we stop serving people! It means we serve with the correct motives: out of love, not out of guilt.
3. How can I “take captive” my thoughts and live unashamed?
The enemy wages his battle for shame in our minds. Our emotions are directly linked to our thought patterns, so if you feel ashamed, take a look at your thought life. Are your thoughts “true, honorable, just, pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8)? Or are they burdened with guilt, shame and regret?
Remember that shame and guilt aren’t God’s intention for our lives. They point us to Christ, who came to remove our shame. If you’ve repented of anything that would separate you from God, replace all thoughts of shame with the truth of who you are in Jesus. Here are a few ideas to help with this:
- Buy a spiral stack of index cards and write down verses about your identity in Christ and His love for you. Set your stack where you can see it and work on a verse a week.
- Pinpoint what area of life you feel the most shame about and find verses that deal with that issue. Perhaps you feel ashamed of your body. Find verses about beauty, such as Genesis 1:27 and Psalm 45:11, and stick them to your mirror. Read them every day.
- Whenever a shameful thought enters your mind, immediately reject it. Satan cannot read our minds, but he can hear our words. Some people find it helpful to state out loud: “In the name of Jesus, I reject these thoughts.” There is power in the name of God (Jeremiah 10:6, Proverbs 18:10). Fill your mind with truth to replace the lies of the enemy.
Shame is not God’s will, but it can draw us into a deeper and stronger relationship with Him. Shame is not our identity. Guilt is not our destiny. God’s mercy is our hope.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6)