“For in the day that you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will surely die.” Genesis 2:17
This was an ominous warning from God to Adam and Eve about the consequences of living life on their own terms and in their own abilities, independent of God. It was not a threat by God that if they turn their back on Him that He would strike them down in anger. Instead, His love for them led Him to warn of the consequences of their choice of where to find life. If they turn to God they will find life (for He is the only source of Life), but if they look elsewhere they will only find death.
Unfortunately for us, Eve was deceived and Adam disobeyed and both ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The result was exactly as promised by God. The death was much more than a physical death one day. Rather the death was a present experience as they were now under the dominion of sin and death. Physically they began to experience death in the form of fatigue, decay and weakness. In their soul they lost peace, hope and love for others as evidenced by how quickly Adam and Eve turned on one another. And spiritually they experienced the greatest lost.
Their separation from God caused them to no longer receive the love, acceptance, belonging and security of God. Now, Adam and Eve were filled with shame, the deep sense of rejection, inadequacy, worthlessness and insecurity. We see this with their actions of sewing together fig leaves to hide from each other and then later jumping behind the bushes to hide from God.
One of the consequences of this deep sense of shame is mankind became obsessed with the opinion of others. We began to worry and obsess with looking good and having their favorable opinion. We never leave the house without first making sure that our clothes match, our makeup is flawless and our hair is perfect. We watch our words so that we don’t say something that might be perceived as wrong or foolish. We are always judging the actions, expressions and attitudes of others to determine if we are ok with them or if we need to behave differently to keep/make them happy with us.
This insecurity, resulting from the inner shame, causes us to take our selves too serious. We become so self-centered that everything that happens around us is a commentary of who we are and our worth. When people mistreat us, rather than seeing it as them making a mistake, we perceive it as a judgement that I must not be loved. When loved ones betray us, rather than seeing it as their error, we conclude that we must be of less value. (Think of how many children blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, or those who have been abused blame themselves.)
Every mistake or embarrassing situation becomes another opportunity to beat ourselves up, to self-condemn, because we feel it reveals the shame and failure to others that we know too well and believe to be the truth about ourselves.
It was for this reason that Jesus came to set us free from this shame and death. And He accomplished this through the cross. While the forgiveness of sins is wonderful, it alone is unable to remove our shame. For forgiveness removes the guilt of what I have done, but it is powerless to remove the shame of who I am. Fortunately the cross accomplished far more than just our forgiveness.
In Galatians 6:14-15 Paul tells us that he boasted about the cross of Jesus Christ, not just because he was forgiven, but he boasted of the cross because it was on that cross that he died with Christ.
What is interesting to note in verse 14 is that Paul says his death with Christ set him free from others. He was teaching that he no longer was concerned with the opinion of others because the cross made him into a new creation. A new creation that has no shame, but is instead righteous, holy and perfect. Loved and accepted on their worst day because it is a love and acceptance that is greater than, and independent of, his behavior. If he was this loved by the God of the universe, why would he need to be concerned of making a mistake and looking foolish?
I remember a time when I was invited to lead a weekend retreat of 80 university students. While waiting to go up and speak for the first time I was fidgeting with a water bottle. With about one minute to go before I was to stand up I noticed that the cap of the water bottle was not properly secured and I suddenly had a rather large, obvious wet spot that looked like I had lost some of my bladder control.
I had a choice to make. Do I hide it for fear of what the group would think of me? Do I feel inner shame from my innocent mistake? Instead, I counted on the fact that I am loved by Jesus and I got up and laughed at myself with these students. This wasn’t some way of deflecting the shame through humor, instead there was great freedom in Christ that I got to make a joke and laugh at myself.
Because of the cross, we are free of shame, free to not take ourselves too seriously, free to make mistakes and fail, and free to be ourselves – new creations in Christ.
In Christ who is our Life,