By Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS, CPCS
“It’s pretty difficult to believe God loves and accepts you after you wake up in a strange man’s apartment with a massive hangover,” said Carole, a 31-year-old single, school teacher. “I’m acting in a way God does not approve, so how do I approach Him when I need His help? I just can’t bring myself to be honest and contrite with Him because I’m so ashamed of the things I am doing to degrade my body.”
Like Carole, many Christians who engage in sinful behaviors find it difficult to take the actions necessary to build a relationship with Jesus. At the core of our struggles is the over-powering emotion of shame. Shame serves as a barrier between us and our Lord and Savior and it limits our ability to engage in meaningful prayer, scripture reading, meditation, and Christian community.
“It’s difficult to pray to someone who you believe is judging you as a failure,” Carole continued. “I desperately want to reach out to feel His comfort, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I believe He wants nothing to do with me.”
For Christians like Carole, it’s difficult to read about and comprehend God’s unfailing love when you believe your sinful patterns disqualify you from His love. It’s also challenging to interact with Christian brothers and sisters when you feel unworthy to be around them.
Shame is one of Satan’s most powerful and effective tools he utilizes to drive a wedge between good people and their God. He capitalizes on our shame to blind us to the truth about our sinful nature and His grace, and to generate feelings of worthlessness because we fail to exhibit self-control. Satan draws on our shame to prevent us from seeking God and making things right with Him, therefore denying many of us the wonder of experiencing His complete love and presence in our lives.
Instead, we are left believing God has turned His back on us, but the truth is our shame has stopped us from engaging in the relationship; confessing our shortcomings; and embracing His grace and forgiveness. We are fearful He will judge us as “bad” and reject us because we can’t manage our sinfulness. It gives Satan great pleasure to know we are wrapped tightly in shamed that distance us from God. And while his ultimate objective is to tear us apart from God, even if he can’t have our souls, he will settle for ensuring we are trapped in a life of endless suffering and misery.
To keep us engulfed in shame, Satan uses two very powerful lies to convince us that we are damaged beyond repair and not worthy of our Father’s attention or love.
Lie #1: Our “performance” is the measuring tool God uses to judge us. Therefore, we must eliminate all sin from our lives and be perfect and righteous Christians. When we fail to live up to this impossible goal, our shame label grows larger due to our inability to “get it right”. We struggle with our inability to follow the “rules” and be obedient children. What makes this worst is we compare ourselves to other Christians who we believe “got it all together”. This only deepens the intensity of our shame.
Lie #2: God can never accept or love anyone who struggles and/or engages repeatedly in sin. He wants no part of us until we become “good and well-behaved children”. This lie leaves us feeling we are a disappointment in God’s eyes and in turn we are unloved and unwanted by our Creator. We think of ourselves as outcasts who have been rejected by our heavenly Father.
Unworthy to be Saved
These torturous thoughts are promoted by Satan to keep us stuck on a negative, emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt. There is no sense of peace –– only perpetual worry that God no longer favors us because we are failing in our attempts to abide to our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, we are “bad” people and we are unworthy of being saved.
Some of my clients tell me this endless struggle keeps them out of the church pews because they feel inferior to the Christians around them. Have you ever experienced similar feelings during your time at church or around Christian friends? Do they give the impression that they are living, perfect, righteous lives?
If that is the impression they are giving off, it is not an accurate picture we are portraying of fellow Christians. The Apostle Paul tells us it is impossible to live a completely righteous existence.
“Holy Writings say, “There is not one person who is right with God. No, not even one! There is not one who understands. There is not one who tries to find God. Everyone has turned away from God. They have all done wrong. Not one of them does what is good. No not even one!” Romans 3: 10-12 NLV
We may long to be obedient and righteous children of God, but our flesh is weak.
The Devil’s Wedge
Even if shame-ridden believers are in the pews and hearing the message that accepting God’s grace is the path to salvation, many believe they are unworthy to receive of His gift. Many pastors focus on delivering a consistent message to their flock that growing in relationship with Jesus Christ is vital to their Christian walk. That is an accurate message based on Biblical teachings.
However, Christians who wear a shame label have a difficult time with that message. Their shame prohibits them from being honest with Christ about their struggles and in turn from cultivating their relationship with Him out of fear of condemnation and rejection. This is the wedge that Satan uses to separate us from our King.
“It’s pretty difficult to turn to God in prayer and worship after you have just finished lusting after your neighbor’s wife with your eyes,” said Sam, who serves as an outreach pastor and is working on overcoming a sex addiction. “You know you are acting in a way that Jesus would not like, so how do you approach Him? I just can’t bring myself to engage with Him because I’m so ashamed of my lack of self-control.”
Overcoming the Lies
It is important for us to understand Satan uses these two lies to deceive us. However, we can avoid his trap by educating ourselves with truth – God’s truth.
Once again, examine Lie #1: Our “performance” is the measuring tool God uses to judge us. Therefore, we must eliminate all sin from our lives and be pure and righteous Christians.
If we could live a righteous lifestyle there would have been no reason for Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for our sins. Our salvation would be based simply on our behavior. Those who abide in Him would be in. Those who elect to disobey would be out.
Fortunately for us it doesn’t work that way because God understands our brokenness and therefore, He doesn’t use our performance as a measurement tool to determine our salvation. Instead, it is about the performance of His Son who flawlessly carrying out His obligation for our sake. God judges us on whether we elect to accept His generous grace and recognize Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
“But God, the One who saves, showed how kind He was and how He loved us by saving us from the punishment of sin. It was not because we worked to be right with God. It was because of His loving-kindness that He washed our sins away.” Titus 3:4-5 NLV
God’s objective for us during our lifetime is not to achieve perfect behavior but instead our dedication and commitment to changing our hearts. And that is a process that Satan wishes to stop.
Let’s do the same exercise with Lie #2: God can never accept or love anyone who struggles and/or engages repeatedly in sin. He wants no part of us until we become “good and well-behaved children.”
Once again, the key to understanding this lie is found in the word “Grace”. God accepts us when we accept His gift of Grace. And once He accepts us it is not His intention to leave us as He found us. He wants us to begin the process of moving toward Him in a pursuit of being Christ-like.
“Then Jesus said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow Me, he must give up himself and his own desires. He must take up his cross every day and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 NLV
God indeed demands perfection from us because He is perfect. He is holy and we are commanded to also become holy. But the word “perfect” as it appears in Scripture is translated in Greek as “telos”. Telos mean “mature”.
God doesn’t demand perfection from us, He demands growth. It is our desire to walk along the path of sanctification and become more Christ-like that warms God’s heart.
“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as he really is.” 1 John 3 NLV
Therefore, so that He can one day be in relationship with us, God sacrifices His only son. And all He asks in return of us is to accept His Grace and begin the process of changing our hearts.
Ours in a wonderful and loving God. But He also is an understanding and patient God. He understands our limitations and He is willing to wait for us as we battle the demons, we face due to the broken world and the harm others have caused us in this lifetime. While it is Satan’s desire to keep us trapped in our shame and misery, it is our God’s desire to nurture our souls and see us smile knowing we are His children.
Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS, CPCS is a licensed, Christian counselor with a private practice in Marietta, GA. He is certified in the treatment of sexual addiction. He is the author of the book, Removing Your Shame Label: Learning to Break From Shame and Feel God’s Love.