Along with the sense of guilt, long-term sinful habits and hidden desires create a deep sense of shame. Shame is what happens when we begin to identify directly with our sin—when we view our sin as what we are, rather than something we do. In the face of mounting guilt and an inability to change, our sinful behaviors or desires become a source of personal identity.
One brother recounted the shame of being called a “jerk off” as a teen because masturbation had been a central part of his life since early childhood. Since he was secretly enslaved to this behavior and lived with profound guilt for years, he believed he was a “jerk off” in a very deep sense
The power of shame lies in the “hiddenness” of our behavior or desires. Shame grows and overwhelms us when we keep things hidden in the dark. We were created by God for intimacy, to be known by others. But in our shame, we are too scared to let others see who we really are, to know the worst things about us. As a result, we live with the nagging sense that if others truly knew us, they would reject us. We become committed to hiding behind a mask and living a life that is a lie. We begin to project an illusion for others to see, but this just intensifies the problem. As our hypocrisy increases, so does our shame. As shame deepens, we become more committed to the façade. We enter a relational cycle as destructive and ensnaring as our struggle with sexual sin.
Why is shame so destructive? It always results in estrangement from others. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are a social outcast. Many people wrestling with deep shame are the “life of the party.” Everybody knows and loves them, but inwardly they are living a life of hiding, desperately afraid of others finding out. They live with a constant fear of exposure. Although they know they are well-liked, shame makes them think, “Would people really like me if they knew____?” It may appear that they have many rich friendships, but inwardly they are deeply alone because no one truly knows them. The pressure of living a lie is a crushing burden that often leads to depression, seemingly unrelated anxieties, other destructive behaviors like self harm or substance abuse, etc.
For others, their sense of shame leads to both inward and outward isolation. Instead of living a public life that is a sham, they increasingly withdraw from relationships, both because of their fear of being “found out” and the increasing pain of living with others without being truly “known” by them. There is a cost to our souls when we live an illusion before others, never known for who we truly are.
The only way to find freedom from this cycle is to risk exposure. Listen to the promise of 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (ESV). Did you hear the double promise? If we humble ourselves and risk exposure by “walking in the light,” instead of hiding in the dark in our shame, God promises we will have fellowship—genuine intimacy—with each other, and we’ll get what we’ve been longing for: cleansing from our sin. The only way out of the cycle of sinful behavior and relational estrangement is to be truly known. Only honesty and vulnerability with others in the body can deliver us from both shame and slavery to sin.
How is shame manifested in your life? Are you outgoing but hiding, withdrawn, or in between? In which relationships are you most “hidden?”
This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. You can check out this workbook and other resources in the Harvest USA bookstore at shop.harvestusa.org.