And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. – Genesis 2:25
Shame wasn’t part of the human vocabulary until sin entered the picture. Adam and Eve were, as countless paintings and films suggest, innocently erotic and erotically innocent. No clothes and, I daresay, no inhibitions. That was then, and then was worlds away, ages ago.
Today shame permeates the human experience. No doubt there’s a place for it – Paul, for example, considered the Corinthian church’s inability to resolve disputes outside of court something to be ashamed of – and I think there are plenty of reasons a believer might feel authentic, rightful shame.
But there’s also a false shame; a sense that being less than perfect is unacceptable, or that your area of personal weakness is so awful, bizarre or crude that most believers would shun you if they knew what temptations you wrestle with. And it’s that form of shame that keeps untold numbers of Christians in bondage to their secret sin.
It’s a self-induced bondage, to be sure, often showing itself in the life of a believer who knows he has a secret struggle or transgression
(Off topic, but let’s please not forget the distinction between the two! A struggle happens when we resist sin, struggling against it. A transgression occurs when we yield. So if I use porn, I’m not “struggling with porn.” I’m transgressing.)
That’s why one of the first things I ask clients coming in for counseling is “Who knows about this?” Sadly, and far too often, they’ll say, “No one. I don’t trust anyone enough to tell them about this. What would they think of me?”
So the Christian man protecting his secret sin often feels an inordinate amount of shame over the sin itself, a shame holding him back from the one thing that could begin earnest, long term holiness: confession, and the accountability that comes with it. Because what’s kept in the dark is also kept strong, as secret sin thrives in dark places. When a man gets past his false shame (“What would they think of me?”) and dares to confide in someone mature and available, he takes a crucial step towards freedom.
He also, hopefully, gets a more realistic view of himself. To see myself as a man beset with sinful tendencies is accurate, but to define myself by those tendencies, or see them as my most prominent feature, is to fall into the modern trap of adopting and accepting labels and, at least by implication, legitimizing whatever sin the labels indicate. (As in, “I’m a swinger”; “I’m gay”; “I’m a player.”) The man who makes his sin a point of reference is a man accepting a far too limiting, inaccurate view of himself. You struggle; yes. But you are far more than your struggle, a fact I hope you accept and lock into.
That’s not to say the freedom of honesty about one’s struggle comes without discomfort. To this day, when I meet with my accountability partner, I feel a twinge of embarrassment admitting temptations, unclean thoughts, or unholy fantasies. I’ll never really be OK with sin, nor should I be. And I guess I’ll always wish sexual temptation was something I didn’t have to deal with, a wish He’ll grant me when He finally translates this mortal body into the new-and-improved immortal model He’s prepared for me.
Meanwhile I can stand emotionally naked before the saints I entrust my struggles with. And when I remember how many years I refused to do that, silently wrestling with sins and losing hugely, I feel ashamed for being so ashamed. I missed out on so much by letting the embarrassment of my humanity squelch my need to let someone goad me on while I ran the race, and, predictably, I stumbled and lost.
No more. I need my allies; my partners in purity who know me, warts and all, and who believe in God’s unfailing, unending work in me and through me. And, wonders of wonders, I find that I really can be known fully, and still
How beautifully, then, shame fades and godly confidence emerges. And how foolish to sacrifice the one while clutching the other.