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The Supper of the Lord and Our Shame

April 13th, 2017

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28 NIV)

I mentioned in my sermon this past Sunday that the Lord has given us two rituals to observe in the church family. One ministers mainly to our guilt and the other mainly to our shame. The first is believer’s baptism and the second is the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism is a picture of our sins being washed away. It is brief and done only once – biblically, baptisms were always done, and only done, after someone believed in Christ, and they were done by immersion. Baptism is a picture of a new life beginning, the old life dying with Christ and a new life beginning in Christ.

In this sense baptism for the believer is a picture of our guilt being taken away. We are saved through faith and not through baptism, but as a picture to the believers and to the world, it reminds us that we are instantaneous forgiven for all our sin – past, present, and future – the moment we trust in Christ. Guilt produces fear of punishment, and in the gospel we learn that Christ took the punishment that was due us upon Himself, and paid for our redemption.

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NIV)

For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. (Rom. 3:25 NLT)

This is saving faith – genuine repentant faith in Jesus Christ, believing that He died for our sins and rose from the grave. As such guilt can be resolved rather simply, through faith in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper, however, ministers to our shame and it is done repeatedly. Shame is more complicated and is an emotion that makes us feel excluded, embarrassed, inferior, dirty. The Lord’s Supper shows inclusion in the body of Christ, acceptance by God to sit at His table, and the church family.

The Lord’s Supper involves the biological mystery of the digestion of food, of turning grain and wine into body mass and strength. A bath can wash away dirt quickly, but it takes time to digest food. The Lord’s Supper enables us to sit and contemplate the grace of God, to confess our sins, to be assured of our forgiveness.

One of the most primal human fears is this fear of rejection. “If these people really knew who I was,” we reason in our insecurity, “they would not accept me.” We feel often as though we do not belong in some situations, and especially our sense of shame and spiritual weakness makes us wonder what we are doing at the table of God, eating the body and blood of His Son.

The Lord’s Supper tells us that we are accepted by grace, and grace means inclusion, not only forgiveness. So we come together to sit together, to eat and drink together, to acknowledge the inclusion, and the acceptance, of every believer in Christ. There is no seat at the Lord’s table that is elevated higher than the others. Each is there by grace, and none by works. Each considers not only himself but the entire family of faith as being invited by Christ.

It is one thing for God to forgive a guilty sinner. It is another thing for God to convince that sinner that he is forgiven, that his shame is removed. This is the work of the Spirit in our lives, and we as the body of Christ should seek to do that for each soul that confesses Christ as well.

Daily Devotions, Forgiveness , , ,

Ashamed of Christ

February 29th, 2016

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)

Shame is a universal human emotion. In our hearts, shame and guilt govern, or try to govern, our actions and responses. Though related and even interconnected, shame and guilt are not identical.

Guilt and shame: Guilt is intimate, individualistic, and personal. It is the personal knowledge of my personal failure in my responsibilities that produces remorse. It was guilt that David felt when he prayed to God, “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). In Christ our guilt is absolved by the cross, and resolved in our hearts by the application of its truth to our inner consciences. The Bible says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). It is faith in the effectiveness of the payment of Christ for our sin and the ministry of his Word and his Spirit in our inner person that brings inner peace in our hearts. We must, as the Bible says, accept this forgiveness by faith and whatever guilt you and I carry we can find in Christ cleansing and forgiveness. “Come, let us reason together, says the Lord, though your sins be like scarlet they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

Shame is also intimate and private in its origin, but it is more public in its expression and feeling. For example, someone might feel guilt for betraying a friendship, but they could then feel shame for being the type of person who would betray another. It is the feeling not that I have done wrong – that is guilt – but that I am wrong. This is what Isaiah confessed, coupled with guilt, when he said:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

It was what the woman caught in adultery must have felt when, by the Pharisees, she was made to stand in front of Christ in the shame of her sin. And Christ ministered to her shame asking her, “Where are your accusers?” and then adding, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). It was the nature of Christ to bring back into the fold of God those who had been like straying sheep, and we help to resolve people’s shame by assuring them of their acceptance in Christ and their inclusion in the body of Christ.

To be a Christian is a public decision as much as a private decision. In life we form relationships with people, and these are broken down into groups. The primary group we associate with helps to form our identity. We relate with them and see ourselves as part of them, and we feel that they, by extension, are part of us. Acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord reorders our life, to the point that old associations mean less to us and the new association with other Christians means much, much more. We not only have a relationship with God through Christ, we also have a new spiritual family, a new relationship with them.

This is what Paul described when he wrote:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:16-17)

As we come to Christ, or as we decide to seriously follow Christ, we will love our former worldly friends more than ever before, and wish them also to be saved. But we no longer find our identity in them. We no longer have a “worldly point of view.” We have a new life and a new identity in Christ and in his people. We love our former friends, but we do not care about their acceptance of us. In Christ we are glad for our new relations and happy to identify with them. We find joy and peace in knowing on earth some members of our eternal family. We are, as Paul described, crucified unto the world and the world to us (Gal 6:14).

When shame dysfunctions: In the passage above Christ taught about shame that came by the dysfunction of our human moral compass. Because shame has something to do with the reaction of the crowd, we can feel shame for all of the wrong reasons. In a world that is rebellious against God, and with hearts that still bear the mark of sin – the old man or the old sinful nature – we may feel the world’s rejection and be ashamed of good. If our goal in life is to please our worldly friends, if our chief identity as social people is found with them, then we will care what they think of us more than what God thinks of us.

Does this describe someone who has lost his salvation? I do not believe so for several reasons. First, it more clearly identifies someone who has never been saved to begin with. It describes someone who has not made the transition from the dead association with those lost people of the world to the new association with the family of faith. The one ashamed of Christ has never trusted him, never known him, and never bonded himself in loyalty to him.

Remember the context from which this statement followed. Christ was teaching about discipleship, what it means. He may have had his mind on Judas here, who had presumably become a disciple of Christ, but yet he never truly believed in Christ and never truly bonded with the other disciples. “The proof is in the pudding,” as we say in English, and the authenticity of true discipleship is found in the continued commitment to Christ. It is not that continued commitment makes us authentic disciples, rather it is that authentic disciples show they are truly committed to Christ with a lifelong commitment.

Secondly, if this is a sin that causes us to lose our salvation, then we have to admit that it is not clear what it would be exactly. There are numerous reasons that we may feel some type of embarrassment about expressions of Christianity while not rejecting Christ. Have we not all been embarrassed at one time or another by the behavior of other Christians? They were legalistic, ungracious, perhaps even sinful, so we felt ashamed to be among them. Did that mean that we had rejected Christ? Not necessarily. I have a pastor friend, for example, who has just publicly endorsed Donald Trump as a candidate for president. That embarrasses me that he would do that and, frankly, I am ashamed of his action. I will pray for him and love him, but what he did makes me feel uncomfortable.

Thirdly, there is often a matter of personal growth in this area when we become Christians – especially for older children and teenagers. One of the matters that we need to work out in our lives as Christians is where our loyalties lie. We may have innocent friendships as children with others who are lost, but then as we grow into teen years we find that our loyalties have shifted. We found our identity elsewhere, with the people of God. But in those years in between we may have some moments when our shame misfired, and we had to come back to Christ in confession.

To me one of the clearest teachings on this passage is found in Albert Barnes New Testament notes. He wrote:

The meaning of this verse is, whosoever shall refuse, through pride or wickedness, to acknowledge and serve Christ here, shall be excluded from his kingdom hereafter. He was lowly, meek, and despised. Yet there was an inimitable beauty in his character even then. But he will come again in awful grandeur;—not as the babe of Bethlehem; not as the Man of Nazareth; but as the Son of God, in majesty and glory. They that would not acknowledge him here must be rejected by him there; they that would not serve him always, will never enjoy him; they that would cast him out and despise him, must be cast out by him, and consigned to eternal, hopeless sorrows.

I believe the bottom line here is that true believers in Christ will not deny him – we will remain faithful to the biblical account of his deity, his life, death, resurrection, and glorious return. We will remain loyal to his standard of righteousness. We will not forsake him but will stand in loyalty to Jesus of Nazareth. We may find ourselves in disagreement with other Christians, even embarrassed by some of their actions. We may not interpret every line of scripture exactly the same way. We may find ourselves on different sides of ethical arguments or political movements or even worship styles. But at the end of the day we believe in Christ, we believe in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah, Lord, and Savior of the world.

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