Shame vs. True Conviction: Knowing the Difference at the Heart of the Battle

Jim Grimes

Shame and true conviction are very difficult concepts to grasp for shame can easily masquerade itself as true conviction. In addition, both produce very strong emotional reactions that result in changed behavior. So what are the definitions of shame and conviction? Shame is a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment, while true conviction is a firmly held belief or opinion. Knowing the difference is at the heart of the battle in dealing successfully with sexual addiction. Let’s take a look at where the resulting behaviors that come out of shame and true conviction lead.

On a recent visit to the discovery science center with my family, we spent some time at the sand and water exhibit learning about the effects of erosion. In reflection, this exhibit is a visual picture of destruction that shame can cause, and the devastating effects of shame on the spiritual health of men.

To begin with, the interactive exhibit allows you to construct a dam using sand, thereby backing up the water behind. Once the water accumulates, it literally tears away the walls of the dam, creating a small canyon for the water to escape through. Observing this phenomenon I was struck with how it reflects the effects of shame when dealing with addiction, and was reminded of Matthew 7:26 where the foolish man built his house on the sand.

Shame is sand when it comes to building relationships with ourselves and others. When the storms of life such as stress, problems at work, or conflict with your spouse arise, the coping abilities you possess can crumble because addiction provides you with a false sense of mastery. This is sinking sand because it produces shame. These strong negative emotions can lead to isolation, hiding, denial, division of the self, depression, decreased self-esteem, and feelings of anger towards oneself and others.

In Philippians 3:18-19 Paul speaks of people who are ‘enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.’

Shame focuses on the here and now, just like in the sand and water analogy of the exhibit. Once a breech was created, we had to focus our attention towards that one area, and we found that considerable effort was required in order for us to seal the breech and restore the dam.

Having seen that shame erodes away the very fabric of relationships with self and others, what are the results of true conviction? First off, a person receives numerous blessings from living out a life based on true conviction. Where shame led to the destruction of relationships, true conviction leads to strengthened relationships and community, openness, acceptance, union of the self, joy/happiness, healing, and increased self-esteem.

Living through true conviction is like building your house upon the rock. The storms of life will come and rage against you, but you will stand because you have built wisely. Proverbs 28:13 states, ‘he who conceals his transgression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.’ 1 John 1:9 says that ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Within a humble man, true conviction leads to confession. In confession, you find compassion, and in compassion, healing and restoration.

This week, I challenge you to spend some time engaging in an object lesson: create a dam in your backyard using dirt and a garden hose, and observe the devastation that transpires when a small break is formed in the dam you built. As you do this, train your mind to listen to and respond to true conviction rather than to shame. Shame works to destroy your inner life and your sense of self, just like water quickly erodes away a dam once it’s broken. Instead, stop the break and erosion. Rebuild your life and character by responding to the true conviction of the Holy Spirit through confession, openly taking responsibility for your actions, and choosing to build your house upon the Rock.

For more help on this subject, see Every Man’s Battle.

Ministering Through Our Experience of Recovery

Pastor Ed Grant

I began counseling Sarah almost eight years ago. Her addictions and self destructive behavior were misguided attempts to keep her painful feelings at bay, to keep her ‘in the land of numb’. Recovery has been an inch by inch experience as we plumbed the depths of her painful past. Despite some occasional emotional struggles and setbacks, she and her husband now have a marriage neither could have imagined before they began the journey toward recovery together.

As our congregation prepares to begin ‘Celebrate Recovery’, a wonderful program based on the Beatitudes, I asked Sarah to lead the group for sexually abused women. Though she stills struggles with the shame of her past she sincerely desires to use her experience to help others. Recently she said to me, ‘It would be a shame not to use my experience to help others.’

Satan’s purpose is to keep us bound in the shame of our sins and secret past, isolated from God and from one another.

God’s intention for our recovery was demonstrated most clearly on the cross when He defeated sin, death and the devil. The open tomb on Easter declared to the world God’s power to rescue those held by death’s bonds and by the devil’s lies, to free them to experience His amazing, unconditional love.

St. Paul writes, ‘He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.‘ (Col.2:13b-15).

The scars on His resurrected body became the evidence of Jesus’ triumph. Ministering to others through our recovery requires that we show them our scars. God has chosen to use our scars and the vulnerability it takes to show them to offer hope, wisdom, encouragement and warning to those embarking on the journey toward recovery.

Our scars give hope.
Ted Rose, a former elder who has gone home to be with Jesus, loved to visit the sick and shut-ins. Once he visited a man who was to undergo heart surgery the following day. He was visibly shaken at the thought of having his body cut open. Ted offered to pray with the man and to show his own scar from heart surgery. Seeing Ted’s scar had a very calming effect. Our scars show the world that we survived our wounds and that there can be healing for those whose wounds are still bleeding.

Our scars offer wisdom.
It is important that we learn from our mistakes, but heaven help us if it is the only way we learn! How much better to learn from the mistakes of others. King David sinned and, for a time, was in denial about it. God’s hand was heavy upon him until he finally came clean about his secret sin. After he confessed his sin and received forgiveness he wrote, ‘8I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. 9Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.‘ (Psalm 32).

The mistakes we have made can serve as warnings to those considering a short-cut to recovery. Our failures can expose the traps and pitfalls Satan conceals from view.

Our scars offer encouragement.


Those beginning recovery usually have a difficult time receiving God’s love for them because of an overwhelming sense of shame. Those who bare their scars give great encouragement to accept what cannot now be felt. Their scars testify to the healing power that flows from God’s loving touch. When the walking wounded see us and hear our candid testimonies they are encouraged to believe that God could love even them.

Paul often recalls his past life for this very purpose: ‘15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.‘(1 Timothy 1:15-16).

To Titus he wrote, ‘12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

As we share our scars with the wounded I believe that God continues to work healing in our own lives. Certainly the telling of our stories and the response we receive dispels the commonly held belief: ‘If you really knew me you wouldn’t love me’. We are refreshed and encouraged as we see the way God uses our scars to touch the lives of others.

When we get to heaven and see Jesus, we will gaze upon His scars. They are ‘the marks of love the Father chose never to erase.’ (Michael Card)

Knowing the ROCK: Knowing TRUE Intimacy in Recovery: Part 2

David Mackey

Just as false intimacy was part of what fed our addiction, True intimacy will strengthen our recovery. So this series will look at 4 of the many facets of intimacy which can be found in an intimate relationship with God AND with others.

This is our design: to have intimacy with both God and Others.

Last month we looked at the Psalms and discovered that David used the word pictures Rock, Refuge, and Fortress interchangeably. For David, God, as his Rock, Refuge or Fortress is intimacy. Most often when David uses these descriptions they are associated with terms and phrases that are actually part of intimate relationships. In other words, David equated knowing God as his Rock, Refuge, and Fortress with knowing God intimately.

Perhaps one of the more common and basic counseling issues I come across in my practice has to do with shame. Is it any surprise? We are a people based in shame. It can manifest itself in so many different ways. It is first seen in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned and we have carried the shame mantle ever since.

Check out our primary text: Psalms 31:1, In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame’‘.

David begins by equating taking refuge in God with never being put to shame. Again, in Psalm 25:20 David says ‘let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.’ Yet again in Psalms 71:1, David repeats Psalm 31:1 saying In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.’

Is there any greater source of shame then the misuse of our God-given sexuality? That’s why it was such a well hidden secret. We wouldn’t have dreamed to actually share this with anyone. Certainly we carry shame in our sin.

What a wonderful invitation God gives us through David! God invites us to know Him as our Rock, Refuge, and Fortress and in so doing never be put to shame! This is what He wants in our relationships with others as well.

One of the more profound observations at the EMB (Every Man’s Battle) Workshops is to see men arrive Wednesday night with shame (along with fear) written all over their very countenance.

Then a remarkable thing happens. The men tell their stories in all their shame to other men and strangers in a small group. And perhaps for the first time they know they are being listened to, heard and understood and NOT put to shame. In understanding they are accepted. In the listening is heard repentance and sorrow. They are tasting of an aspect of intimacy. They have shared their shameful secret with another and they have been understood and accepted. They have allowed ‘In-To-Me-See’ and have been accepted; not judged, not condemned, not belittled.

These men also find themselves on the giving end of intimacy. They listen to another’s story; they see into another and find themselves listening and understanding and accepting that man.

Everyone connects, perhaps in a way never experienced previously. False Intimacy had hindered and destroyed any possibility of True Intimacy in the past. Now they are experiencing it for perhaps the first time. This needs to be a piece of recovery.

God, of course, offers us a far greater acceptance. He will not put us to shame as we let Him be our Rock, Refuge and Fortress.

Certainly He throws our sin as far as the east is from the west’ because of the work of Christ on the cross. But that is not the emphasis David focuses on. He focuses on the picture of a man sitting in the safety of the cleft of a Rock or within a Fortress or Refuge. God is that Rock and so surrounded by, held by, and protected by God we share our sin, our struggle, our failure and He only holds us tighter, listens more deeply, protects use more. He does NOT put us to shame. He just accepts. He just loves us deeply.

Intimacy: Knowing God as your Rock.

What will recovery be like knowing God in a way in which we are no longer put to shame? We can sit and look Jesus in the eye and share our deepest struggles.

What will recovery be like knowing others in a way in which we are no longer put to shame? We can sit and look another in the eye and share our deepest struggles.

One final thought: Intimacy is a two-way thing. It is not just being able to share with God but him, through His Word and Spirit shares with us. He lets us look into His heart and mind. How wonderful is that?!! And how powerful is that in recovery?

In our recovery, we need to develop intimacy with God and others. We also need to invite others to find shame-free safety in finding intimacy with us.

In Psalm 31, David starts with one of the deepest aspects of intimacy perhaps because we all long so deeply to be free of our shame. We long for someone to look ‘In-To Me and See’ past our ‘ugliness’ and find value and wonderment. Remember, God told Samuel that David was a ”man after my own heart.’ Perhaps this is because David, as seen in the Psalms speaks to God, full of emotion, with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

In your recovery pursue the path of true intimacy with all you being. This is not a command from God but it is an invitation. Terrifying, in our sin to be sure, but it is what we were created for and it will bring real fulfillment and a strong recovery.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5