Shame is a powerful emotion, and it isn’t easily overcome with physiological band-aids. But the Bible provides hope and help for someone experiencing lasting shame as a result of sinful choices they made in the past. This article, written from a biblical counselor to anyone dealing with shame over sinful decisions, is also intended to give those who minister God’s Word to others relevant Scriptures and direction for counseling someone in this situation.
Do you ever feel that because of your past you’ve missed God’s will for your life? You feel that because you made an irreversible wrong decision, your life is permanently off track. Perhaps you made a decision that was ungodly, unbiblical, and sinful, and now you feel as if you are second-hand material that could never be used to honor and glorify God. Perhaps you feel spiritually and emotionally handicapped by the shame of your past.
Shame is an unsettled feeling of sadness and worthlessness associated to past events which are beyond your control or power to repair. Shame can make you feel passive, powerless, and pessimistic. You think that because of the wrong choices you have made in the past, you have ruined your future. And if your future is destroyed, how can you go on?
Where is God amidst your shame? How do you move forward?
People who are full of shame are people in desperate need of hope. They don’t need hope in a different past or a different future; they need hope in the grace and mercy of their Savior.
Unchecked shame ends in hopelessness because shame is not only connected to the past, it is also connected to the future. There is a place for grieving past losses, which resulted from bad choices. However, if you live in a place of simmering self-condemnation, the focus is on you, your sin, and the imaginary perfect future that you destroyed. Shame fixates on your past performance and forgets the grace and mercy of God.
Beyond your individual story of failure is an Almighty God who is sovereign. God is well aware of every unplanned twist and turn of your life. According to Ecclesiastes 7:13, you can’t do anything to foil His purpose: “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” Isaiah 40:13–14 points out the fullness of God’s knowledge, wisdom, and understanding: “Who hath directed the Spirit of the lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?”
Our God, through His grace and mercy, frees us from our shame over our past. He is able to make “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
You feel shame because you were given something that you did not want or you lost something that you wanted. Whatever it may be that you were given or that you lost, if it remains your focus and treasure, you will be stuck in shame—unhappy, unfulfilled, and unproductive in advancing the kingdom of God. You are freed from your shame of the past when you turn your focus to your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His grace and mercy. After all, He—not what you lost—is your treasure. In Genesis 15:1, God told Abraham, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
Your hope in your Savior with His grace and mercy is not about living mistake-free, but about finding an intense and intimate fellowship with God. When you falter and fail and demonstrate fleshly feebleness, you can use the situation as an opportunity to turn to Christ and experience a deeper communion with Him (Philippians 3:10–17). Your Heavenly Father has called you to fear and follow Him at this present time, in this place, with the opportunities that He will place before you now. Proverbs 23:17–18 says, “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the lord all the day long. For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off.”
In your Savior, Jesus Christ you have the liberty to own your past, as painful as it may be, as a platform to praise Him for His grace and mercy and to propagate the gospel message that Jesus saves! Yes, you should acknowledge the reality of your past and learn from it, but you are not to live in it with its associated shame.
Satan will tempt you to obsess over your past. Choose instead to fully focus on the grace and mercy that God has demonstrated to you in Christ. And choose instead to use your past to amplify the grace and mercy of God. You can do this as you fully embrace the cross of Jesus.
Paul (who knew what it was to experience shame of the past) declared “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Every moment you have a choice: will you live in the past, or will you draw near to your Lord? James 4:8 encourages, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” Drawing near to the Lord includes the choice to faithfully and obediently follow Him into the future.
Don’t allow the shame of the past to dominate your life; instead, let your life testify of the matchless grace and mercy of God, of which we are not ashamed!