Unashamed of the Shame

by Doy Moyer

Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name” (I Peter 4:15-16).

There are many reasons why people suffer, but they are not all equal. Suffering as a murderer or thief is not the same as suffering a disease through no one’s particular fault. Part of being human and living in a world cursed by sin means that suffering will likely be an inevitable outcome. Even those who may suffer less than others will still face decline and death. There is no way around it. This is the world we are in.

Peter, however, is talking about a different kind of suffering. This kind of suffering is chosen and based entirely on being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Suffering as a Christian means that one has identified completely with Christ and is willing to take on whatever may come because of that decision. Scripture is clear that there is a form of suffering that attends to being a Christian:

“In fact, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12).

You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same understanding…” (I Peter 4:1).

The passages can be multiplied to show that Christians have put themselves in the path of suffering when they choose Christ. Yet there is more than just suffering.

Notice again, though, how Peter points out that Christians ought not to be “ashamed” in suffering for Christ. The ancient world placed great importance on honor, and the one thing they did not want was shame. The temptation would be to think that associating with Christ could bring shame, and if so, maybe He is not the one to follow. Why would this be?

Bear in mind that the cross was a torturous instrument of shame and humiliation. To claim to follow Christ, in the world’s eyes, was to side with shame. That shame is even something that Jesus despised (Hebrews 12:2), yet He did it for the greater outcome of salvation. There is a sense, then, in which Christians associate with that shame. The Hebrews writer also said, in following Christ, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing his disgrace” (Hebrews 13:13).

On the one hand, then, we knowingly identify with the shame and reproach of the cross. On the other hand, we do it without actually being ashamed of our Lord and what He has called us to be. In order to follow Christ, then, we must identify with shame without being ashamed. Jesus told His disciples that “whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

What would cause people to be willing to suffer with Christ, to side with Him in His shame, and to bear His reproach? Why would people want to do this of their own free will? The answer is found in the same reason that Jesus bore the shame of the cross. There was, and is, more to the story than just a shameful death. Back to Hebrews 12:2, we are told, “For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” There would be joy, and He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. In other words, He was raised from the dead and now reigns over His kingdom.

Resurrection is the “more to the story.” There may have been weeping on the day before, but the next morning the tomb was empty and Christ was demonstrated to be the King of kings! He came through the shame to be glorified. Likewise, we identify with the shame of the cross, but we know that resurrection comes. The shame is temporary, seen only through the eyes of those who see the cross as folly or as a stumbling block (I Corinthians 1). We see the power of God through Christ. Our identification with Him is ultimately not about shame, but about His power, His grace, His love, and His desire for reconciliation.

In the end, we will see that there is no shame in following Christ, so there is no reason to be ashamed of the shame. Embrace it. Go outside with Jesus to bear His reproach, then know that there is joy on the other side of the suffering. “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

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