Sunday, November 8, 2015

Shame

I am convinced that the Gospel has resources for you to deal with all the difficulties that you encounter in life. And if you consider just some of what you have encountered, then it is clear that my claim is not something small. It is by looking deeply into the Gospel and relating what you find there to the particulars of your life that you can become very wise and lead a life that works. Your life will make sense to you and be so very attractive to others drawing them to Jesus, the One who makes you wise. This morning I hope you will see more of the Gospel as presented in Genesis so that you will grow in your wisdom.

We’ve already spent some time looking at that first temptation in the Garden and the sin that followed. Today, we’re going to look at some of the consequences of that sin. What that usually means is a look at guilt and how Jesus deals with that guilt. But that’s not going to be the point of this morning’s sermon. The consequence of sin that we’re going to look at today is shame.

So, what happened after Adam and Eve ate? Moses tells us.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3.7
So, Adam and Eve sinned. And what you might expect at this point is some sort of statement from Moses about the consequences. But there is no such statement here. Moses just continues to tell the story. And what is being portrayed here isn’t guilt. He is communicating here something different from what we’re used to when it comes to our understanding of sin and its consequences.

What happened? What was one consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve? They discovered that they were naked. Didn’t they know that before? They must have. Moses had written earlier,
And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
But something has changed. And what has changed was not their nakedness but their response to it. Before they ate, there was no shame. Now, there is. Now, there is shame. We need to take a look at this shame.

Let’s get a handle on shame. To do that let’s compare shame with guilt. In both, the problem is that we do not meet God’s standard. In that they are quite similar. But here’s where they differ. Guilt is about what you did. Shame is about who you are. Or to say that differently, more clearly, shame tells you that you are a failure. It’s important to bear in mind that there is no getting a 75% or 45% on one of God’s tests. They are all pass/fail. So, it’s either 100% or it’s zero. You were given a task to perform, obedience to God’s Law. You failed to do that. You get a zero. You are a failure.

Now, we are told these days that we aren’t to think about ourselves - or anyone else for that matter - in those terms. It’s considered humiliating name-calling. It makes someone feel bad. But what if it’s the truth? What if you really are a failure? Name one of God’s laws that you have kept. I’m not talking about kept on the level of behavior, the actions that people can see. I’m talking about the response of your heart. Have you kept even one law from the heart? Has anyone? We are sinners. Because of that we qualify for the label of failures. It is who we are. To be a sinner is to be a failure. We are shamed by our sin and we feel it - or at least we should. We’re supposed to feel it because it’s the truth.

Adam and Eve felt it. That’s what Moses was getting at when he wrote that they knew that they were naked. There was shame associated with that nakedness, the shame of their sin.

So, what did they do? How did they respond to their shame? They tried to hide it. They tried to cover it up. Each one did not want the other to see their shame, to see that they were a failure. And they didn’t want God to see it either. But while they covered their bodies, what they were trying to do was cover their souls. They could feel the sense of failure within, but they didn’t want anyone else to realize it. So, they hid their shame - or tried to.

But fig leaves?!? How effective could fig leaves be, and for how long? But this is how fallen people like us act. Today, we don’t use fig leaves. We still try to hide our shame, but we use different methods. Sometimes we re-label it. So, we don’t talk about being a failure. We talk about low self-esteem. Or we try to weaken the force of the truth. We try to persuade ourselves that we aren’t that bad, even though it feels as if we are. And we tell others the same thing. But what is all of this? They are empty words.

Have you ever seen a movie where some character is dying and his friend is there trying to comfort him. And what does he say? So often he says something like, ‘Everything will be okay’. Really? He’s dying! Those are empty words that do not reflect what’s really going on. And people do that all the time. ‘You’re not so bad. Look at all the good that you have done.’ Or, ‘It’s just that you have low opinion of yourself. We can change that.’ 

What good do empty words do? Does it help to tell someone that he’s not worthless, even though he feels like he is? Does it change anything to tell him that he has much to offer or to point out how good he’s been doing? Do words like that help if the basic problem isn’t dealt with? Do they help if that sense of being a failure is accurate? We have failed before God as well as before others. We have a sense of that failure. We feel the shame, especially at times. And empty words cannot change that.

But the Gospel can.

The first step in this Gospel change is to own up to your failure. Admit to yourself that you have failed. Let me get a little personal here. I am blessed in that God continues to teach me things about how we are to live. And because of what I now know I realize that there were many ways in which I failed as a husband. Now, I’m guessing that some of you are thinking, ‘No, you weren’t that bad. Sure, there may have been some things that you could have done better. But you weren’t a failure.’ And what is that? Empty words that try to soften the truth. God has described quite clearly what a husband is to be like, and I didn’t meet those standards. I wasn’t that person. I failed. In the past, I had labeled what I felt as regret. But shame would have been a better word, the shame of failure. And that shame was a status as well as a feeling.

For a good while I wrestled with that sense of failure. And what finally turned the tide was seeing all of that in terms of the Gospel. Jesus deals with more than just guilt. He also deals with shame. He dealt with my shame, my failure.

Moses has pictured for us how the Gospel does that. Listen to what God did in response to the shame of Adam and Eve.
And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
God clothed them. He covered the shame of Adam and Eve. And He clothed them with something much more effective than fig leaves. And what is that but a picture of what Jesus does for us. Listen to this from Paul.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3
You need to understand a word Paul used, translated here as ‘put on’. It’s actually the word ‘to clothe’. That same word shows up elsewhere. Listen.
Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. Mark 1
So, we could translate Paul this way.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.

In the Gospel, God clothes us and covers our shame. He doesn’t use animal skins, and He certainly doesn’t use something as useless as fig leaves. God clothes us with Jesus. That’s what Paul is saying. And he is consciously connecting what happens in the Gospel with what happened with Adam and Eve. Just as God clothed them, He clothes you. He covers your shame with Jesus.

Jesus was no failure. He kept every Law of God perfectly from the heart. So, clothed in Him, you aren’t a failure either. The shame of your failure is covered. As a result, the words that the Father spoke to Jesus, His Son, He speaks to you, His children.
You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
The Father sees no shame in you. It’s covered by Jesus. So, He sees you as His beloved child who is well-pleasing to Him.

So, you see, when you feel the shame of some sin you’ve committed - and you should feel that - the solution is not empty words. Those are just modern fig leaves. The solution is to once again believe the Gospel. Admit your sin and its shame. Come to Jesus so that that sin might also be covered. That’s what I did. As a result, there is no longer any shame for my failure as a husband. Jesus has covered that. I am not a failure, and there is no reason for me to feel like one. Likewise, as you do this, you are not a failure, and there is no reason for you to feel any shame. Because of Jesus, the Father sees you without anything to be ashamed of. You are His beloved child who is well-pleasing in His sight. Believe the Gospel, and be free.

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