My wife and I are leaders for the mid-and-high school group at our church. Lately, we’ve been going through a series on marriage with the rest of the congregation, and this last week, we discussed sexual assault, and the shame that sexual sin often causes the victim, or the remorseful perpetrator. Despite the fact that I have heard more heartbreaking stories of rape and assault over the course of this last week than ever before in my life, the group that I led last Wednesday didn’t fall much into that spectrum (praise Jesus), and so our conversation turned more to the topic of shame in general as it related to other sins and addictions. I expect next week’s discussion – specifically on pornography – to be an even more revealing/ominous conversation.
Although “a broken and contrite heart” as King David describes it, can be a means that the Lord uses in drawing us to repentance, I am convinced that it is the Devil’s heart to use shame to convince you and I that there is, in fact, no hope of forgiveness. I have yet to come out of a conversation with anyone struggling through the quicksand of pornography addiction that has not used the word “shame” as synonymous to an ever-growing brick wall, compounding hopelessness and the fear that change is truly impossible.
For a while, I was surprised by the conversations that I would have on tour, or with the kids at home, to hear young men – Christian men – tell me that they are going to hell, fighting back tears with a shrug of their shoulders. I thought I was the only one who had believed that lie (which I would repeat to my reflection in the mirror, after the shower, time and again). But why should shame and condemnation play favorites? Why not invite everyone into that demonism?
While discussing this with my wife and friends throughout the last week, I’ve concluded that shame is not merely an emotion – it is an identity, and it can have such an authoritative voice that it convinces people saved by the mercy of Jesus that they have fallen from that grace, as though Christ is only a powerful enough God to handle dying for their white lies, but not their pornography addiction.
It is no secret that sin breeds shame, but as Christians, our identities do not lie in the breed nor the breeder – a truth that is far easier understood theologically than applied practically. Even now, participating with XXXChurch and reminiscing of past failures, I must be careful to remember that my place in eternity or before the throne of God (or before my wife, or before my family, or before my friends, or before…) does not lie in the images regretfully ingrained into my mind’s eye. For a long time, when I would perform my poetry (“Pretty In Pornography”, for example) my entire mindset would be based upon conjuring up and reliving the torment that my addictions instilled in me – like attempting to reapply the mountains of baggage to my back so that the audience might see my remorse as believable.
I will never forget the day that a man recognized those distortions in my performance, and told me that it was okay to put on a show without procuring debt that has already been paid for. He said that it is okay to emote passion without evoking condemnation. He said that it is okay for me to call others to repentance while recognizing that I’ve been forgiven. The Bible talks about entertaining angels, and I wonder if that man was one.
May I ask you a question? What do you think God sees when he looks at you?
For me, my honest answer would have always been: “sinner, dirty, and fake.” Sinner, because I’d built an identity in my failures to resist the temptations lust provided me. Dirty, because I’d built an identity in the shame that comes from sin. Fake, because why would God call a dirty sinner his son, whether or not I called him my Father?
What is your answer? Better put, what is the answer found when you dig deeper than the textbook truth?
What if we took seriously the words of Jesus on the cross when He said that “it is finished?” Brothers and sisters, do not allow shame to consume you, but rather: allow the Holy Spirit to speak into what need not be a part of your life, and know that there is joy in repentance – both for you and for God. When shame is allowed to take hold with it’s all-encompassing grasp, it does not only act as a spiritual barrier, but as a destructive undercurrent to any physical relationship that would seek to love you well enough to discover and unmask your skeleton in the closet – as you will further remove yourself so as to avoid the embarrassment of being found out. This is why those who would say that pornography addiction is something that affects no one but themselves and God have believed an outrageous lie. The seeds of shame grow branches that stretch far beyond the soil where they were planted and allowed to take root.
“For freedom Christ has set us free…” – Galatians 5:1
“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. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:7-9
Christian, do you want to know what God sees when he looks at you? Jesus. He is your identity.