You Can’t Shame People Into Repentance

Social media has made us experts at shaming.

We see something outrageous on Facebook (which happens approximately every 3 minutes), and we immediately start lobbing shame grenades.

How could they do such a thing? What a lousy scumbag! Humanity has sunk to a new low! They should be utterly ashamed! 

It feels so good in the moment. So uplifting. So self-affirming. As the shot of self-righteousness courses through us, we thank God that we aren’t like those people. We thank God that our moral standards are still intact in the face of the cultural onslaught. We thank God that we, the remnant, still remain.

And we don’t only play the shame game with non-Christians.

  • We shame each other.
  • We shame our children.
  • We shame pastors who have fallen into sin.
  • We shame parents whose children have wandered away from the faith.
  • We shame those who are struggling with same-sex attraction.

We treat shame like a spiritual weapon which we can use to bludgeon people back to Jesus.

But it doesn’t work. It never works.

Why?

Because we can’t shame people to repentance or godliness. 

We think we can because in the moment, shaming makes us feel powerful. Strong. In control. When we shame someone, we feel like we’re putting them in their place. When we shame our kids, we feel like we’re controlling them. When we shame those in the church, we feel like we’re keeping moral boundaries in place.

But in Scripture, we rarely see examples of Christians shaming other Christians to repentance (1 Corinthians 6:5 and 15:34 being exceptions – but then again that was the Apostle Paul, and we’re not him).

We repeatedly see God bringing people to shame, often out of a desire to bring them to repentance. God brought shame upon the Israelites when they abandoned him.

But you don’t see shame as a discipleship technique used between believers.

I suspect one of the primary reasons for this is because we can’t dispense shame appropriately. When we dispense shame, it’s way out of proportion to the actual offense. The amount of shame we discharge far exceeds the sin committed. Shame is like fire: very easy to start, very difficult to control.

Additionally, shame isn’t redemptive. Shaming doesn’t bring believers closer together in fellowship. Shame doesn’t lead believers in paths of repentance and righteousness. Rather, shame causes people to hide. It causes them to withdraw. To disappear.

Think about your own experience. The times you’ve been shamed by other Christians. Did that produce godliness in you? Did it increase your love of other Christians? I suspect not. Shame is destructive rather than redemptive.

Finally, when we shame others, it puts us in the position of God. People should be ashamed of their sins against God. That is the right kind of shame. But God is the one who, by his Spirit, creates that shame in a person for the purpose of leading them to repentance. When we try to shame people, we are saying that they should be ashamed of their sins against us. We are putting ourselves on the judgment seat and rendering a verdict.

Our churches should be places where sinners can feel safe. Where those struggling with sin can find a refuge. Where weary, worn-out sinners can find peace.

Yes, we will call them to repentance. Yes, we will point them to Scripture.

But we will also make them feel safe, loved, and accepted.

I love how Ray Ortlund puts it:

Gospel + safety + time. It’s what everyone needs. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

God is the one who does the saving and he’s the one who does the changing. When we forget this reality, we resort to shaming.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer, & Mixed Martial Arts Salsa Dancing Champion. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook