Shame and a tender conscience

by Mike Ratliff

31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and *said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38 (NASB) 

One of the major weapons of our enemy is attacks centered on provoking our pride, to incite us to be deeply concerned about what others think of us in relation to our profession of faith and how we walk the narrow path set before us by God. Our Lord warned us that this sort of attack would be coming our way and it causes professing Christians to lose their boldness as they actually seek to preserve “their life” for their own sake. When we are more concerned with our image and standing before men rather than for Christ and His gospel then we compromise because we have set our minds on the things of man rather than the things of God.

One of the allegorical characters John Bunyan used in his masterpiece The Pilgrim’s Progress was a man named Shame. Christian’s companion Faithful encountered him and described him as one whom he thought, “…bears the wrong name.” This character was not called Shame because he was ashamed himself, but because he caused shame in others. He is himself shameless. All through this wonderful allegory, Bunyan is relentless in describing genuine Christians as having a tender Conscience before God. Some are more tender towards God than others, but those who walk the closest to their Lord are the ones with a tender Conscience. The character Shame, however, declared that a tender Conscience was an unmanly thing; and that for a man to watch over his Words and Ways, so as to tie up himself from that hectoring liberty that the brave Spirits of the Times accustomed themselves unto, would make him the ridicule of the Times. He objected also that but few of the Mighty, Rich, or Wise, were ever of the opinion that agreed with godly men. Shame ridiculed all Pilgrims because their focus was on God’s glory rather than the world. He thought it unmanly for Christians to ask others to forgive them for trespass. He also thought it shameful for Pilgrims “…to sit whining and mourning under a sermon, and a shame to come sighing and groaning home.” Shame is only able to tell us “…what men are; but it tells [us] nothing what God or the Word of God is.”

Let us ask ourselves if we have been attacked by shame. If we are honest with ourselves, we must say that not only has shame attacked, but that we have succumbed to it to our shame. Here is Mark 8:38 from the NASB and the NA28 Greek Text.

38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38 (NASB)

38 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτόν, ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων. Mark 8:38 (NA28) 

The first instance of the word “ashamed” in the text is the Greek word ἐπαισχυνθῇ. It literally means to feel shame for something. My Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines shame as:

1 a: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety b: the susceptibility to such emotion 2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : IGNOMINY 3: a something that bring strong regret, censure, or reproach b: a cause of feeling shame.

What aspect of shame and being ashamed was Jesus referring to here? What is the context? What was Jesus talking about? Our Lord was describing what genuine disciples do and what disingenuous disciples do not do, which is, denying themselves, taking up their crosses and following Him. In this they lose their life for His sake. The disingenuous disciples do not deny themselves, but claim they do belong to the Lord. They are ashamed of the Lord and reject the demands of discipleship. This proves that they are actually ashamed of Jesus Christ (the real Jesus Christ, not the phony one made up by false prophets) and the truth He taught. This also proves that they have not been redeemed from sin. The genuine disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ despises the inherent (according to the world) shame that comes to those who truly follow Him carrying their crosses and dying to self.

We can’t, like Peter did just before Jesus was arrested, profess that we will never deny our Lord or be ashamed of Him and His teachings in every situation. If we do that, we will be tested in this area at some point proving how foolish it is to make rash statements like that based on our will power. We cannot, in and of ourselves, continually walk the narrow path, never straying to the left or right or leaving it altogether in a distraction. No, we will fail just as Peter did in denying His Lord that night. He was attacked by shame and he failed the test. We will as well. Therefore, we must understand that to walk this narrow path, always following the narrow and straight way through life, we must be spirit-led. That means that we walk in worship and prayer through each day in self-denial. We must serve our Lord for His sake and glory, never our own. We must surrender totally to the fires of sanctification because in them God is pruning us to remove what is of this lost and dying world and the flesh. When we are self-sufficient then we are not being spirit-led. When we are totally dependent on God’s grace in order to walk through each day then we are.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB) 

If the fruit of the spirit is not being manifest in our lives then we are not spirit-led. Look carefully at this list. Shame would have a problem with all of these. Our enemy attempts to make us ashamed of not being in control while standing out from everyone as a holy roller. My brethren, some of the most powerful examples in my own walk of the fruit of the Spirit being manifest have been during some very ugly times while being observed by many non-believers. God will use these times and these attributes being manifest in us to get the attention of others so that He will be glorified through it.

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 1 Peter 2:11-16 (NASB) 

11 Ἀγαπητοί, παρακαλῶ ὡς παροίκους καὶ παρεπιδήμους ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν αἵτινες στρατεύονται κατὰ τῆς ψυχῆς· 12 τὴν ἀναστροφὴν ὑμῶν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἔχοντες καλήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν ἐκ τῶν καλῶν ἔργων ἐποπτεύοντες δοξάσωσιν τὸν θεὸν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐπισκοπῆς.
13 Ὑποτάγητε πάσῃ ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει διὰ τὸν κύριον, εἴτε βασιλεῖ ὡς ὑπερέχοντι, 14 εἴτε ἡγεμόσιν ὡς διʼ αὐτοῦ πεμπομένοις εἰς ἐκδίκησιν κακοποιῶν ἔπαινον δὲ ἀγαθοποιῶν· 15 ὅτι οὕτως ἐστὶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ ἀγαθοποιοῦντας φιμοῦν τὴν τῶν ἀφρόνων ἀνθρώπων ἀγνωσίαν, 16 ὡς ἐλεύθεροι καὶ μὴ ὡς ἐπικάλυμμα ἔχοντες τῆς κακίας τὴν ἐλευθερίαν ἀλλʼ ὡς θεοῦ δοῦλοι. 1 Peter 2:11-16 (NA28)

Here we have more that Shame has a problem within the genuine Christian walk. In our time, the Liberal leaders, Seeker-Sensitive leaders, and the “outlaw preachers” (whatever that is) leaders are telling all who listen to them that the Christian’s focus needs to be on the here and now to work to make this world a better place as the main focus of Christianity. In this passage, however, the Holy Spirit via the Apostle Peter tells us to be be aliens (παροικους) and strangers (παρεπιδημους) in this world. This is a call to righteous life in a hostile world. We must live in this world, but must be foreigners in secular society. Why? Our citizenship is in Heaven. The word translated strangers, παρεπιδημους, is also a word for ‘pilgrim.’ This is exactly how we should look at our life here in the temporal. We are pilgrims who are in the world, but not part of it. We will have a problem with all of the commands given here in this passage unless we take to heart our true role in God’s Kingdom, which is given to us in v16. Peter used the word δουλοι, which is translated in the NASB as “bondslaves of.” This word is best translated as “permanent slaves of.” Who is our master? We are slaves of θεου (God). If we live as such then we will not struggle with Shame as much as those who believe that they can call the shots and have their own way.

Those God uses in the furtherance of His Kingdom are his δοῦλοι. These are obedient, cross-carrying followers of the Lord. They mortify their sin and deny themselves because they are θεου δουλοι and can rebuke Shame because this weapon of our enemy has no effectiveness on one who knows his or her true place in the service of their Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!


3 thoughts on “Shame and a tender conscience

  1. Pingback: from Possessing the Treasure: | By the Mighty Mumford

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  3. Hi Mike…I have benefited greatly from constructive criticism about my writing over the years…from friends and in writing groups. I was a C-minus student in the required English comp classes in junior college many years ago…and have come a long way and am still getting better with practice.

    Can I humbly offer some suggestions. Your ideas are impeccable…but I think…at least in this post above…that your writing would benefit with two or three more polishing drafts. As I read the post I am struggling…I sense along with you…the effort to put into words what I perceive to be the high quality of your thoughts.

    Also, years ago someone told me to break up my long paragraphs into smaller pieces…easier to read and this highlights and emphasizes key points.

    Try writing additional drafts and see if the words flow better and more smoothly. You will know when it is a finished draft when it reads back to you better than you thought you were capable of writing…at least this is how it works for me…in answer to my prayer that the Holy Spirit would help me to articulate something He is showing me according to John 16:13 and 1 Cor. 2:10.

    What I get written down on paper at 8:00 at night in rough draft…can become something much better with polishing at 6:00 the next morning with a cup of strong coffee and a clear mind…and the Holy Spirit helping us…which is unique to Christian writers who are attempting to articulate truths that by definition are above us.

    Anyway…really good post…I admire your erudition and scholarly approach.

    God bless you.


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