Hebrews 2:11 contains one of the most surprising statements in the New Testament. It says Jesus is not ashamed to call us His siblings. Why does the Bible make this statement, and how can it possibly be true? Before we answer those questions, we need a basic understanding of shame.
Webster’s Dictionary defines shame as a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. A second definition of shame is “a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute.” In her mini-book, HELP! I Feel Ashamed, Sue Nicewander provides a biblically-based definition.
…shame is “a painful [guilty] feeling due to the consciousness of having done or experienced something disgraceful … the feeling of being caught doing something bad or … of being seen while sinning.” Dr. Ed Welch describes shame-consciousness as “being exposed, vulnerable, and in desperate need of covering or protection. Under the gaze of the holy God and other people.”
Before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden there was no shame. They were “naked and not ashamed.” There were no other humans to hide from and there was no reason to hide from God. They were in perfect fellowship with Him. But then they sinned…and shame entered their world. As descendants of the first man and woman, shame is part of our world.
Shame generally takes two forms.
Nicewander says shame often occurs in two forms.
- “I am bad because of what I have done.” In this case, personal sin produces guilt, and out of guilt may come feelings that biblical counselors typically call “sin shame.”
- “I am bad because of what other people have done.” The sins of other people hurt you in ways that may cause feelings that biblical counselors often call “provoked-shame.”
In other words, shame may follow our own sinful actions, from accepting blame or failure, or it may be provoked by the sins of others against us. Regardless, feeling ashamed often results in feeling inferior or unworthy—beneath others, never worthy of their love.
Shame has good purposes.
Three purposes quickly come to mind.
- Feeling ashamed over our own sin may be used by the Holy Spirit to lead us to repentance and genuine change. This was true of King David. Listen to his confession in Psalm 51.
- Shame may also deter us from sinning in a certain way again. In Romans 6:21, the apostle asks the believer, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.”
- A desire to not be ashamed at the Judgment Seat of Christ may fuel our perseverance and faithfulness. See, for example, 2 Timothy 2:15 and 1 Peter 4:16.
But shame may be used against us.
Shame is a gift from God, but it may also be a tool of the devil to defeat and cripple us, and a means for ill-willed people to manipulate us. Men and women who have experienced various forms of abuse usually experience this when they assume the guilt of those who abused them. They somehow believe their abuse was their fault and, therefore, carry at least some of the guilt. Often this is untrue, but the power of shame still controls them. Another example is when you have been betrayed. Perhaps you dared to trust a friend or two with your secret thoughts or struggle, only to have them turn out to be a Judas or a gang of Pharisees who then used your transparency against you, to make you feel ashamed, to control you, to exalt themselves over you, to hurt you, or even destroy you, so that your shame would no longer be an embarrassment to them.
But all of this leads us to again ask, “Why does the Bible say that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters?” If we are ashamed of our past actions, or sins which we are guilty of in the present, or carry the weight of shame others have imposed upon us, then why would Jesus not also be ashamed of us?
In the same Hebrews passage, we are told that Jesus had to be made like us in every respect (flesh and blood) in order to make propitiation for our sins and to become a merciful and faithful high priest, one who understands our temptations. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb. 2:18). Let us for a moment consider the temptation to let shame control you, or your sins and failures define you. Does Jesus understand this temptation, and how does His work remove our shame?
How does Jesus deal with our shame?
The redeeming work of Jesus deals with our shame in three ways:
- Jesus died for the sins that we are guilty of and, therefore, has taken our shame away. Peter wrote: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18). The Son of God paid the penalty we deserved for our sins.
- Jesus experienced the worst possible shame. Though completely sinless, He was treated as if He were the ultimate sinner. He was put to shame in our place. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah predicted the shaming of Jesus. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3). The author of Hebrews exhorts us later in his letter to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). Jesus despised the shame—OUR SHAME. He took our shame upon Himself, despised it, paid for it, endured it, and has taken it away!
- God continues to forgive us based upon the sufficiency of the death of His Son. The promise of God’s ongoing forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus is one we most likely turn to every day. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Does Jesus understand YOUR shame?
Yes, He does! Because of His mercy and grace, God accepts your heartfelt confession of sin, repentance, and faith in Jesus as your Sin-bearer and Shame-bearer, and welcomes you into His family—as an adopted son or daughter. And Jesus is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister.
Have you brought your sin and shame to Jesus? Have you been set free from its prison? If not, Jesus stands ready to welcome you with open arms if you will turn to Him today. And when you do, He will not be ashamed of you.
[This post is adapted from a recent sermon by the same title preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]
Recommended books on shame: