The Unholy Trinity- Guilt, Shame, and Fear

Adam and Eve’s original sin in the garden of Eden introduced a real unholy trinity of humanly unsolvable problems: guilt, shame, and fear!

Gen. 3:10: “And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’

When Adam and Eve broke God’s law, they were in a position of guilt. When they broke God’s relationship, they were in a position of shame. When they broke God’s trust, they were in a position of fear.

I want to focus briefly on the issue of shame.

  1. Shame Comes From Listening to the Enemy’s Lies - Genesis 3:4-5

Shame wears two faces — one true and the other false. Nevertheless, even the true face of shame in the life of the believer is a tormentor unless they respond in repentance to the conviction the Holy Spirit follows true shame up with.

There is true shame and false (or toxic) shame. There is illegitimate shame that comes when we fail to measure up to our goals and expectations, or other person’s goals and expectations for us. Toxic shame follows on the heels being told that we are at fault, or from self-imposed feelings that it’s always our fault because if we had not done this or that, or had only done this, then we would not be constantly feeling so empty, alone, exposed, embarrassed, ashamed.

Legitimate shame involves the exposure of our sinful hearts. The Spirit of God living within the child of God convicts us for grieving or quenching Him and sinning against love. Thus, legitimate shame is the same inner experience as biblical humbling and Holy Spirit conviction.

Daniel 9:8: “To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.”

1Cors. 15:34: Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

Shame is both the fruit and the root of sin. Shame is both a subjective and an objective reality.

  1. Shame Leads Us to Self-absorption — Gen. 3:12-13

Dr. Dan Allender notes: “Shame creates an absorption with self that can make us feel as if we are drowning in quicksand.

True shame says, “I made a mistake.” False shame says, “I am a mistake.”
False shame says, “I am unloved”, I am unwanted.” “I am unclean.” “I am not ever good enough.” “I am a failure.” “I will never amount to anything.” “I am stupid.” “I am unacceptable.” I am always feeling like I’m on the outside looking in.”

  1. Shame Lures Us Into Hiding — Gen. 3:10

“And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Shame prompts a flight to some self-created world of safe numbness. “Dissociation” is a fancy word that means, “I’m out of here.”

  1. Shame Labels Us as Dirty and Dishonorable

Shame connects four human experiences:

(1) Feeling Untouchable — You feel like an outcast. You don’t belong.

(2) Feeling Unclothed — You feel naked, exposed, vulnerable. You feel that others are looking at you even when they aren’t and that what they see is ugly, repulsive, and cheap.

(3) Feeling Unclean — You feel dirty and contaminated — a carrier of a deadly contagious virus — SHAME!

(4) Feeling Unvalued — A sense of having lost honor and respect. This sense of having lost one’s honor is unbearable to many. In many countries of the world, especially in Muslim lands, respect from the community is more important than life itself.

Listen to the recent words of a Muslim immigrant in Europe: “There is nothing in this entire world that you need to protect more than your honor. Because you’re nothing without your honor. You’d be dirt, just dirt and nothing else. If someone tried to take my honor, then I’d do anything to get it back. Literally anything.”

  1. Shame Causes Us to Look for All Types of Solutions and Lose All Sense of Direction
  2. Shame Causes Us to Cover Up Our Mess with Inadequate MeansGen 3:7: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Someone said, “Imagine the scene: Adam and Eve, hiding behind a bush, ashamed, alone, separated from God, aware of their own guilt, dishonor, and sinfulness, trying to fix their problems with some fig leaf underwear!”

  1. Shame Causes Us to Seek Shelter in Silly Places — Gen 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

When guilt, shame, and fear has left us exposed and feeling untouchable, unclothed, unclean, and unvalued, we seek shelter and solutions in some ridiculous places. We try to play hide and seek with the omniscient, omni-present God of the Universe! How dumb to think that we are going to hide from the Creator amidst some of the things He created?

  1. Shame Causes us to Run From the One We Should Run To — Gen 3:10, “And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

The moment Adam and Eve believed the devil’s lie over God’s truth, the voice that used to draw them in, now somehow repelled them. The presence they used to long for and thirst for, now somehow filled them with fear and dread. The glory and majesty, the greatness, goodness, and holiness that used to fill their lives with such light and love, now only reminded them of their own sin and weakness.

False shame, embraced by the Believer, will do the same today. We listen to our flesh and the lies of legalistic religion, made operative by demonic affirmation and feel that we are too dirty, too distant, too unworthy to come running to the mercy seat and find the forgiving heart of our Father in heaven. We feel like confessing our shame and sins and trusting Him for forgiveness and cleansing is just too easy. So, we punish ourselves, and then hand the whip to others so they can add their lashes to our loathings.

A three-fold solution is needed for the humanly inescapable prison the unholy trinity has confined all mankind to: Anot-guilty, declared-righteous verdict for our guilt; a hope-filled, mind-renewing, soul-cleansing for our shame; a soul-saving, demon-delivering experience from our bondage to fear.

The astounding truth is that the gospel of God provides all that we need, both before we are saved and after we are saved, to fix the mess and the mistaken shame and blame we wear. The gospel is the solution for true shame and false shame. It’s the answer for factual guilt incurred by our sins, and false guilt imposed by ourselves and others. It’s the answer for fear that runs from the Father instead of to Him.

Jesus’ death on the cross was a perfect answer to our guilt problem. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus’ crucifixion was also a perfect answer to our shame problem. He “endured the cross, despising its shame” (Heb. 12:2).

On the cross our naked Savior took responsibility for our spiritual nakedness. And now, with the veil of the temple torn, we can approach our holy God without shame. To all who believe in him he offers white clothes to cover our shameful nakedness (Rev. 3:18).

Christ’s death on the cross and triumphant resurrection showed once and for all his power over all things. Because of God’s love, the power of sin over us was broken and fear was wiped away. The Bible tells us that perfect love drives out all fear (I John 4:18). Through the cross-work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives us the only true fear needed – fear of God that draws us to Him in awesome reverence and loving relationship.

“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more“(Is. 54:4).

(More next week on how the Christian is to deal with false, toxic, illegitimate shame.)