Religious shame is unfortunately deeply ingrained in many people's hearts. In this post, we'll examine symptoms of religious shame and how you should deal with it. There is freedom!
Table of contents
How does this happen?
Religious shame usually comes from bad leadership, lack of faith, and, most importantly, a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Churches, where the old and new covenant is mixed, can also experience religious shame among many other things.
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:22 (NIV)
Here are some common symptoms of religious shame. In the event that any of the following points relate or speak to you, it is most likely that you suffer from religious shame. God will never make us feel shamed or fearful. Those are the works of the enemy. Of course, there will be times in our lives when we feel shamed or scared. It is important, however, to find the root cause of constant pressure if it keeps repeating itself in our or others' lives.
One thing is clear, Jesus took all the guilt, shame, and fear on the cross. He who was blameless took your spot. We don’t need to burden other people and for sure not do it on ourselves.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Romans 10:11 (NIV)
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”
Isaiah 54:4 (NIV)
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
Let’s start with the symptoms.
- You live two lives (double-life) — one for the church on Sundays and one for the outside.
- In church, you're happy and smiling
- Outside the church, you're angry and selfish
- You're scared to share your vulnerabilities with other people in the church, and members don't cover each other in their weaknesses, or vulnerabilities because "everything is always fine".
- You’re required to ask for approval from a leadership team for personal matters.
- You’re not allowed to depart the church without the leadership's blessing, and if you do, there’s slander, shame, and suspicion.
- You feel you need to do certain things to please other church people instead of focusing on your high priest Jesus Christ.
- Laws rule you, and through them, you try to be right by God instead of looking at what He did on the cross for you.
- There's pressure on you to do certain things that the church commands.
- There is more focus on your life to follow the rules and regulations instead of building an intimate relationship with Christ.
- You want to do something for God, but leaders do not support you in it.
- In your eyes, is God a loving God or a punishing God?
- If your first thought is punishing, then you might be suffering from religious shame.
You will never have an intimate relationship with God if you entertain these types of thoughts from the enemy:
- You're never good enough
- You feel like you're always breaking the rules
- You always have the feeling that you're not worthy
- You think God will punish for every little mistake
These thoughts above are a work of the enemy, so you can't live in the Spirit.
Authority figures can shape our thoughts. Most people have shaped more beliefs from authoritative figures (fathers, pastors, elders, etc.) than the Holy Spirit.
If there are any authoritative figures in your life, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you able to open your heart to them?
- Were you ever happy or warm inside when you had conversations with these leaders?
- Do you feel good in their presence?
If not, they might be using religious shame or spiritual manipulation that is not according to God's Word. Leaders might do this unintentionally or intentionally to make someone do something (convince them about things they believe to be true).
A lot of times, when these things happen, these leaders have unhealed wounds that need to be healed. These unhealed wounds can be unforgiveness, or they are simply not walking in love or the fruit of the Spirit because the full gospel hasn't been revealed to them.
💡 Please note that it's important to forgive them and not hold a grudge against them. They are God's people dealing with their own journey. Forgive and pray for them.
Internal and external shame
This is a set of beliefs that are based on distorted messages or experiences in life. They are formed by leaders and teachers around us who indoctrinate us with a perverted gospel which is no gospel at all.
Religious shame makes us feel like everything we do is wrong. We are so careful not to mess up that every time we stumble, we fall into condemnation. That guilt keeps us stuck in a cycle of death.
- You're not allowed to play chess
- You're not allowed to play sports
- You are not allowed to explore other opinions, matters, or voices
Is chess and sports bad? No, they are not. Can they be bad? Yes, it depends on the context.
- Why are you doing it?
- How are you doing it?
- What is the outcome?
- Is it great to read the Bible? Of course! You need the Word of God and let Jesus speak to you.
- Should you feel bad that you didn't read the Bible today but instead went out with friends one night? No!
Breaking the chain
Now that you’ve identified a few symptoms of religious shame, you need to learn how to break out of it.
But before we go into the steps of breaking out, you need to know what happens if people break out of religious shame.
One of the risks is that they run all the way into the other extreme. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t break out of the shame; in fact, you must do. But it's also important that you don’t go to the other extreme.
Here are some examples of extremes:
- "Oh, I can get drunk; who cares? Jesus loves me."
- "Jesus set me free, no more of this religious garbage; now I can do whatever I want."
- Jesus never saved us so that we can live freely in our flesh.
We always have to ask ourselves why we are doing something. If it’s a reaction to an action, then usually, the outcome will be negative.
Everything that's a reaction is bad. For example, leaving a church because of a reaction to an action is bad. Any change or action needs to come within your heart, not from something else such as an emotional response.
1 Corinthians 10:23
“I have the right to do anything,” you say--but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”--but not everything is constructive.
How to get set free
Now you might be wondering how you can be set free from religious shame. Below you will find five steps to break free.
💡 Please note that if the religious shame has turned into depression, abuse, or any other critical condition, get in touch with a loved one you can trust and let them know what happened.
Step 1: Unforgiveness
You must first forgive anyone who has put you into religious shame. If you don’t close these wounds, healing will be impossible. Unforgiveness is an open door for the enemy to enter you for work of destruction. God can do His work only if we get rid of all bitterness and unforgiveness. If we are bitter towards anyone, it grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). Without the Spirit, we can’t be led by Him into a new life.
"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Step 2: Looking back
Your victory isn’t in front of you; it’s behind you on the cross where Jesus took all the shame on himself. He died for you so that you may live. We often try to find a solution by looking in the future, but it's important we look back to Jesus and meditate on what He did for us.
- Pray to your saviour Jesus and thank him for dying for your sins, that he redeemed you of death and that he gave you a new life. Thank him that you no longer need to live in shame, guilt, or condemnation and that he has given you freedom from all these things.
- Ask Jesus to help you change any false beliefs or pull down any religious strongholds in your life.
- Ask Jesus to reveal your heart so you can fix any holes and/or repent.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”
Step 3: Taking down false beliefs
We can’t change our hearts if it's full of false beliefs. It would be best if you replaced false beliefs with the right beliefs.
- Make a list of all the things that might be associated with religious shame.
- Find Bible verses that speak against these false beliefs.
- Memorize these verses and repeat them over and over again.
- The repetition will change the belief of your heart.
- Whenever a thought of the enemy comes in, you will be able to fight it with the Word of God.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Step 4: Walk in faith
The currency of any believer is faith. You must pray and walk in faith. Fully surrender to Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you. If you ever feel confused, the Holy Spirit is there to help. Put your faith in Christ and his work on the cross that he did for you.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
For we live by faith, not by sight.
Step 5: Change your influence
It’s important we have the right leaders and teachers in our area of influence. If you hear a wrong message over and over again, it will eventually become truth for you. Change your church, work or whatever you need to do to stay away from communities that don’t transform you. Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom! Freedom from guilt, shame, condemnation and sin.
If you need more help, you can contact us.