The Church and Shame (Romans 12:3-21)

Big Idea: God both removes our shame and places us in a community without shame.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at shame. There’s a simple reason. Shame is one of the biggest problems that we face.

Scott Sauls, a pastor in Nashville, says this:

The longer I am a pastor, the more convinced I become that every person, regardless of her or his situation, is fighting a hidden battle with shame. Shame, the greatest enemy of God’s grace and also the greatest inhibitor of truth, justice, and human love, is something that must be addressed if a dysfunctional human community is to become functional, healthy, and mutually supportive.

Maybe because I’ve been a pastor for a long time too, I agree. Read that again:

  • Every person is fighting a battle with shame.
  • Shame is the greatest enemy of God’s grace.
  • It’s also the greatest inhibitor of truth, justice, and human love.
  • We must deal with it to create healthy, supportive community.

And so we’ve been looking at what the Bible says about shame: how shame started, and what God has done about it.

Today I want to finish this short series, though, by looking at what the church can be. I want to suggest that God provides us three solutions to shame:

  • He removes our sin and our shame.
  • He puts us in a community that eradicates shame.
  • One day in the new heaven and the new earth he’ll completely eradicate shame.

Last week we looked at God removing our sin and our shame in an amazing story from the book of Zechariah. Today we’re going to look at the community that God creates that’s a foretaste of the day that we won’t have any shame.

Shame Isolates

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the start of shame. In Genesis 2, before sin entered the world, we read that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. This is the way we were meant to be: to live in complete vulnerability without any need to hide or cover up. This is what we were made to experience.

But that’s not our condition anymore. In Genesis 3 sin entered the world. Adam and Eve immediately began to hide, and we’ve been hiding ever since. The actor Johnny Depp put it this way:

Covering myself up in makeup, it’s easier to look at someone else. It’s easier to look at someone else’s face than your own. I think for everyone. . . . You wake up in the morning, and you brush your teeth, and you’re like, ‘Ugh, that idiot again. You’re still here? What do you want?’ Hiding: I think it’s important. It’s important for your—for whatever’s left of your sanity, I guess.

Shame destroys community. Shame makes it impossible for us to be known. Sin makes it feel like if other people really knew us that they couldn’t possibly love us. When we feel ashamed, we need to be known and loved. And yet shame keeps us from the very thing that we need most when we feel ashamed.

Let me repeat something that Scott Sauls said: “Shame, the greatest enemy of God’s grace and also the greatest inhibitor of truth, justice, and human love, is something that must be addressed if a dysfunctional human community is to become functional, healthy, and mutually supportive.”

Ever since Genesis 3, we’ve been tempted to hide from each other. We live isolated lives in which we carefully control who gets in and who doesn’t. We show our best faces to each other but we don’t really want to be known and to know each other at a deep level.

Scott Peck calls this pseudo-community. It’s dangerous because it looks like real community, but it’s not. You know you’re in pseudo-community when there’s no conflict, when we minimize and ignore our differences, and we make generic statements.

Pseudo-community is safe, but it’s also isolating. It’s possible to be in a room like this and talk but still feel incredibly lonely. We were made for more.

But God has done something about it. He’s done two things.

Step One: No Shame

First, God has taken away our shame. Look at what the Bible says about shame. Let me read just a few verses:

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
Zephaniah 3:19

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

Not only has God removed your shame, but he has shamed Satan. If you are in Jesus Christ, then he has dealt with your shame. Heather Davis Nelson writes:

Through union with Christ you are clothed with honor rather than shame, made part of a community to which you will always belong, and given a kingdom that cannot be taken away. Walking by faith according to our true identity of being “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3: 3) will transform our relationships, our parenting, our churches, our marriages, and our work…

Jesus is an expert at taking away our shame. He took our shame with him to the cross, and it’s not ours anymore. He’s made us his “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NIV). You couldn’t be more loved than you are in Jesus, and nothing you do can change that.

The Bible spends a lot of time helping us to realize who we are in Jesus. We no longer have any shame For a long time I had a huge poster hanging over the desk in my office about our identity in Christ. We need to remind ourselves of this regularly. I’ve given you a sheet today with some of these truths. They have nothing to do with what we do. They have everything to do with who we are in Jesus. They’re foundational.

The enemy still tries to lie and keep us bound to old lies. We regularly need to return to these truths. God has taken away our shame and given us everything we need to live out our identity.

Step Two: A Community Without Shame

So what happens when a bunch of people come together who’ve been set free from shame?

The book of Romans tells us. It spends the bulk of time unpacking the riches of the gospel for us. Romans unpacks the riches of the gospel. It helps us understand the human condition. It outlines God’s response: that he gives us a new identity based on the work of Christ that gives us rock-solid security for this life and the next. But then in chapter 12 Paul talks about what this looks like in the life of the church. It’s essentially a church without shame.

Let’s look at some of what Paul talks about, because this is what we want to pursue as a church. Paul gives us four shame-busting qualities to pursue as a church.

A Church Where Everyone’s Needed

It’s tempting to think sometimes that everyone should be like us. We think that our viewpoint is important, and we dismiss others who are different from us.

In verses 3 to 8, though, Paul tells us to pursue a different kind of church: one in which everyone’s needed. In verse 3 he tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. Don’t overestimate the gifts that God has given you. You’re needed, but you need others who are different than you.

He then lists all the gifts that can function within the church. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:8 NIV). Paul says to use whatever gift he’s given you: prophecy, serving, teaching, encroaching, giving, leading, showing mercy. It’s all needed.

What this means is that we’re like a symphony. Nobody wants to go to a symphony where the whole orchestra plays the trombone. We need the variety. We need the strings. We need percussion. We need woodwind and brass. And so does the church.

We need you in this church. God has put you here because you have gifts that this church needs.

What does this have to do with shame? Shame tells you that you’re not needed and that you don’t matter. The Bible tells you that you have something that others in the church need. You’re needed here at Liberty Grace Church. We want to become a church in which everyone’s needed, and we show up in our Grace Groups and on Sundays because we desperately need each other.

A Church Where Everyone’s Genuinely Loved

But we need more. We need the gifts of others, but we also need to love. And so Paul says in verse 9, “Let love be genuine.”

This is really the basis of everything that he’s going to say from this point on. We’re not only to love each other. We’re to love each other with a love that’s genuine, without hypocrisy.

It’s impossible to experience real community if we’re faking it. You know what I’m talking about. We put up masks. We smile with gritted teeth. And then we walk away and think, “I’m glad that’s over!” That’s not what Paul is talking about. We’re to lean into really loving. Not only that, but we’re to outdo each other in showing honor.

Imagine this: a church where everyone is loved, not in a surface way, but in a deep, significant way. Imagine a church in which we are always trying to outdo each other in showing honor. That’s what Paul says we should aim to be. That would be a church that helps to kill shame.

You may be thinking: how is that possible? It’s simple, but not easy: we love the same way that God loves. We love the same way that Jesus has loved us. Think about how the Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other. “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are relationally connected by pure love. Each member is thoroughly committed to the well-being of the others” (Larry Crabb). Then think about how God has treated us: forgiving us when we didn’t deserve it, giving us honor we never deserved. How could we not treat each other this way?

We’re not God, but with his help, we can learn to love the way that God does. We can learn to love genuinely. This kind of community will obliterate shame.

A Church That Serves

Look at verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Paul addresses feelings in this passage, but then we gets practical. If we really love each other we’ll help meet the needs of others within the church. Not only that, but we’ll have people into our houses. Hospitality is a biblical word that doesn’t just mean having friends over; it means having strangers over to your house. Talk about a countercultural!

A Church That Leaves Nobody Out

I love verse 16: “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” Don’t just do this with people you like. Extend this kind of community to everyone.

I’m here today to tell you that this kind of Christian community is possible. It’s what we’re becoming as a church. I love it and I want more.

As we close this series, let me leave you with just three thoughts.

First: we all experience shame. It’s part of what it means to be human. We’re all infected with shame. It’s now part of the human condition.

Second: God deals with our shame. He removes our dirty clothes and reclothes us with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And one day he will completely obliterate shame. We’ll live in a new heaven and a new earth in which we will never experience shame again.

Three: we get to experience this now. We get to be part of a community of people who love Jesus, and who therefore love each other, drop the masks, and create real community.

Are you in? We’ll struggle with shame the rest of our lives — but the gospel gives us both the grace we need and the community we need to battle it. So let’s commit to being a church that’s all about the grace of God for messy people, and the love of God for people who are tired of hiding in shame.

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