Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

How Jesus Can Free You from Shame

  • Heather Davis Nelson
  • Published Jul 14, 2016
How Jesus Can Free You from Shame

Garments of Joy, Beauty, and Honor

No one who feels shame experiences true joy. A client once told me that it had been years since she was happy, and in the next breath said that she constantly felt shame. She could never shake the feeling of not measuring up, the feeling that God was angry with her. Although she knew the truth intellectually, she told me in tears, “I want to be free!”

Joy is a hallmark of one who is free from shame. Jesus comes to bring joy as he removes your garments of shame and gives you a royal headdress instead. In place of shame, he gives honor, beauty, joy, comfort, justice, favor, and freedom— what our hearts long for most when shame rules our emotions, thoughts, and desires.

We actually crave these more than empathy and vulnerability, which Brené Brown prescribes as shame’s antidote. Practicing empathy and vulnerability is a start. They point you down a path of acknowledging how pervasive shame is to the human experience, but they offer no permanent remedy.

What about a holistic cure that reaches each aspect of shame’s damage? Consider what Jesus offers:

•       Jesus comes to give honor instead of dishonor—all the ways you have felt and experienced rejection. 

•       Jesus clothes you with beauty, removing the ashes of shame you’ve worn for your sin or for the sinful atrocities committed against you. 

•       He comforts you as you mourn, releasing you from the shame of grieving alone or without purpose. 

•       Whether in this life or in the one to come, he brings justice for the injustice you’ve suffered because of your race, faith, gender, or family. 

•       Jesus brings favor—oh, favor of the Lord that is permanent and unchanging—instead of the vague cloud of constant disapproval.

And what is the result of Christ’s work? Joy and freedom, the exact opposite of shame. Shame always steals joy and limits freedom. Shame binds us in chains that feel unbreakable to realities that seem unchangeable. Jesus frees you in the Spirit of the Lord.

The Great Shame Exchange

How can Jesus free you from shame? Through something as simple and as hard as faith. It is a faith that agrees that you cannot rescue yourself from your shame, that your attempts to clothe yourself have been as futile as the fig-leaf loincloths our first parents crafted. It is a faith that addresses the complication of shame mingled with guilt. This faith gives you an underlying confidence that your sin truly has been atoned for and taken away by a dying-now-resurrected Savior. It’s a faith that puts you at the mercy of the only trustworthy One, realizing that his human image-bearers have failed you in a myriad of ways, and that you have also failed those around you. It is a faith filled with hope that freedom is possible because it is promised by this trustworthy One, guaranteed by the signature of a promise signed with his own blood.

This shame exchange is costly. Jesus willingly clothed himself with your dishonor, giving his shame-free identity to you if you will be united to him in faith. It is very costly for Christ, but not for us. All it costs us is the humility of admitting we cannot cover our own shame. We receive honor; he took our shame. We are lavished with grace; he was stained with our sin. We receive salvation; he experienced damnation. Because Jesus was separated from the Father, we never will have to be. “Indeed, none who wait for you [God] shall be put to shame” (Ps. 25:3). “None” except for one, Jesus Christ, who bore our sin, guilt, and shame, that we might know forgiveness, redemption, and freedom.

If you are wondering how to begin the shame exchange, try to pray along with these cries of the psalmist:

  • “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me” (Ps. 25:2). 

  • “Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you” (Ps. 25:20). 

  • “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!” (Ps. 31:1). 

  • “O Lord, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you” (Ps. 31:17). 

  • “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you” (Ps. 69:1). 

  • “Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!” (Ps. 119:116). 

As you pray and cry out to this Lord, asking him that you would not be put to shame, remember that you pray with the cross and resurrection in the rearview mirror—a signature guaranteeing the certainty that we are heard and we will be answered. Shame is often tied to the past. We ruminate about past failures or sins, or past abuses we suffered, or words spoken to us in formative stages of life that seem to lodge forever in our heart’s memory. We who dwell in shame must remember that shame’s remedy is also past. “It is finished,” Jesus cried from the cross, and that cry echoes into every corner of sin and shame and brokenness (John 19:30). We can know that what was finished on the cross will be fully realized at the end of days. Instead of living enchained to past shame, we can live tethered to future hope of our shame-free destiny. We will be clothed in wedding garments of “white linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:8). There will be no shame in the dwelling place of God, which our clothing will serve to reflect.

[Editor's Note: Content taken from Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Healing from Shame by Heather Davis Nelson. ©2016 by Heather Davis Nelson. Used by permission of Crossway.org.]

Heather Davis Nelson (MA, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a writer, counselor, and speaker. She has degrees in biblical counseling from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and Westminster Theological Seminary, and she practices as a counselor in her church and community. Nelson has been a featured writer at the Gospel Coalition as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling.

Publication date: July 15, 2016