Shame and Guilt: The Enemies of Joy


Do you have a guilty conscience? Do you feel shame without reason? Do you find you have little joy, even though you may know salvation through believing in Jesus Christ?

If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, the stronghold of Shame Fear and Control is likely besieging you. This stronghold is found in everyone, no matter how dedicated or committed you are as a Christian believer. It is relentless, and often 24/7 for some. Its impact ranges from slight or nearly unnoticeable to extreme heaviness. Its ultimate result may be feelings of guilt-ridden separation from others and God, or mental illness, insanity or even suicide. How and why does this happen?

Why Shame, Fear & Control?

First, this stronghold is the product of The Fall. That is, when the first human father (and mother) sinned they fell prey to its influence and later cumulative shame suffered by us all. It’s that gnawing sense that “something’s not quite right here.”

We may find we feel shame or guilt because of the slightest misstep, whether we consider it as such or not. Our weakened conscience, caused by shame and guilt, accuses us that we are somehow “condemned” by our actions. Our theology may be quite good, but our emotions may have a completely different reaction, and we succumb to the lies.

Let’s take a look at the first scenario of this stronghold, as recorded in Genesis 3:6-10.

God: “Adam, where are you?”

Adam: “I was naked and ashamed so I hid myself.”

Note that the first negative human reaction was fear – fear caused by shame – shame by Adam and Eve’s realization that they were “uncovered.” Until now, Adam and Eve were totally unaware of their naked condition. Sin uncovered their innocence before God, not only physically, but also primarily, because of their spiritual condition. They were once saved but now lost and spiritually separated from God. Before, their relationship with God was one of total love and acceptance, but now it was wracked by shame, fear and control.

Standard Stuff

This same scenario is played out daily in most people’s lives, and unless they’re aware of this stronghold’s presence and deal with it, they find new ways to attempt to escape its most often subtle but always oppressive presence. Some people resort to complete denial. They may develop new twists on very ancient philosophies of living.

“Shame? Why, that’s just a feeling brought about by Bible thumpers, the moralists, who just want you to feel bad about yourself.”

Or how about this one? “I’m a modernist – a progressive, if you will. Shame is nothing more than a product of your upbringing! I’m free, and I do whatever I want. Shame? You’ve got to be kidding.”

Or here’s one we often find in the church. “Hey, God is love, and He won’t judge you for your sin, so there’s no need to repent since you haven’t done anything wrong anyway!”

Unfortunately, humanist psychologists may add more fuel to the fire by dismissing any biblical notion of shame. “We’re not bound by an old code of ethics established thousands of years ago. The rules have changed for this society.”

Face it, we live in a shameless society, most often actuated and perpetuated by media that flaunt and encourage the vilest kinds of sin. Societies have dismissed shame through a hardened conscience but it lives!

Isaiah 3:9 puts it this way:

“The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves” (NIV).

This indictment stands against a society that couldn’t care less about what it should be ashamed of, proudly parading its sin (like Sodom).

Shame’s effect is often subtle but damaging. Let’s look at a few practical examples:

A young married Christian couple should be enjoying great sex because of their covenantal relationship with God. However, the woman feels shame every time she tries to have sex with her husband. She even fears their time together and controls it by saying she has a headache. This may seem like a silly example, but it’s true, at least to the extent that what should be heavenly sex, now results in drudgery or burdening compliance. Shame, because of poor biblical instruction of family or from the church, or for some other reason, drops its ugly shadow over what should be joyous.

Another: The stronghold of shame, fear and control works itself into our jobs. What could be a satisfying experience becomes a slave to performance. If we don’t work ourselves into frenzy, shame grips us and fear dominates the experience. We control it by claiming an exaggerated position of importance or indebtedness. And, although the latter may be true, the family or our physical and mental health are often neglected, and shame results. And the beat goes on.

On a more mundane level, I remember a pastor friend of mine who wouldn’t fish on Sunday. Is there something wrong with fishing on Sunday? Not in the least, but shame and guilt kept him from releasing that line into the water to hook that big one.

In our spiritual lives, shame, fear and control enter in to block intimacy in what should be a joyous relationship with the Trinity. Legalism and a religious spirit work hard to make us feel unworthy, no matter how much we pray, serve or bear fruit for the kingdom.

Shame and its Helpers

Shame has a team of “assistants” that help keep it alive. There’s abandonment, guilt, self-accusation, self-condemnation, self-consciousness, inferiority, insecurity and intimidation among others. Demonic forces that seek to keep one from intimacy with God and others exacerbate all these emotions. And it works. Christ, our sin-bearer, destroyed shame on His cross. Consider the fact that crucifixion is, without question, the most humiliating and degrading form of public death ever devised. First of all, it was a very slow agonizing death. Often it would last for days, as the victim died more from suffocation than from bleeding.

Furthermore, hanging naked in public along some well-traveled road added immensely to the sense of shame. Fully exposed like a carcass hanging on a rack, the victim experienced long hours of pain and an interminable time of humiliation. Crucifixion was not only ugly it was inhuman.

Yet Jesus was willing to bear our shame and guilt in His Body on the cross to not only pay for all our sins, but to remove our shame. We need to remember that sin and shame are two different issues. Sometimes shame goes when sin is forgiven but not in every situation. In Psalm 32, David rejoices over that God had removed the GUILT of his sin:

“When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all the day long.

For day and night Your hand [of displeasure] was heavy upon me;
My [b]energy (vitality, strength) was drained away as with the burning heat of summer. Selah.

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And I did not hide my wickedness;
I said, “I will confess [all] my transgressions to the Lord”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin” Selah.”(Psalm 32:3-5 Amp).

It’s true you may have your sins forgiven, but the shame of them may remain. It’s pertinent to remember that shame is cumulative. Not only can we be carrying the original sin and shame of Father Adam, but also our own sins committed throughout our lives create a compounded effect, as demonic forces constantly remind us things done in our past.

Naked in Our Shame

There is a curious story found in the Gospel of Mark about a young man who was following Jesus and the disciples when the Lord Jesus was arrested by the soldiers, who eventually took him before the Sanhedrin for trial. The young man was wearing nothing but a linen sheet, and when arrested by the soldiers, who apparently thought he was part of the company of Jesus, he ditched his sheet and ran away naked (Mark 14:51).

I believe this story, although literally true, is about our identity with Christ in his suffering and humiliation. As we understand how His shame and humiliation removes our own, we experience freedom from the conscious awareness of these roadblocks to intimacy with God. If we flee away from our identity with Jesus, shame, fear and control remain, and we have to find “another linen sheet” to cover ourselves. Our righteousness is found alone in the Blood covering and sacrifice of the Jesus Christ. There is no other substitute.

Shame Off You!

Forgiveness and guilt removal is for the godly and not just for the “beastly sinners”! How can we really rejoice in our salvation if we have a load of guilt, shame and condemnation on our shoulders? This joy doesn’t come by more Bible studies or reading more Christian books! Quite frankly, it comes by Holy Spirit revelation and the realization that when Christ died, you died and your guilt, shame and condemnation with you!

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit while happiness is a temporary product of the soul. As shame, fear and control are removed, joy is inevitable:

“And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22 The Message).

Joseph Beckham is the author of Overcoming Bipolar Disorder & Other Mental Difficulties: A Christian Perspective.

Get the print version today at

Joe is also the author of Deeper Water for Thirsty Souls –

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