What is the difference between guilt and shame?
We will be in 1 Peter 2:4-12 this morning. Part of my job as we begin is to show you how this is relevant to your life, to create interest, and to try to help you enter into the world of the Bible. Sometimes that is easy. This week it’s a bit difficult because of that question I asked at the beginning. The difference between guilt and shame.
This is a bit simplistic but you might say the difference is this. A concern with guilt asks the question, “how does this make me feel”. Whereas shame asks the question, “what will others say?”
If somebody calls you on something, points out a sin or a wrongdoing, and you feel really bad for it then we’re talking about guilt. But if that person says, “I’m going to broadcast this on Facebook” now we’re talking about shame.
For many years we lived in a predominately guilt-motivated culture. That’s why sermons so often centered around moral law keeping. And that’s why many churches would struggle with things like legalism. The emphasis in previous generations was on how to escape hell. God says, I’m guilty. If I die with sin on my record—then I’ll end up separated from a holy God for all eternity. From a guilt/justified perspective the predominant question is, how does my guilt get covered?
Now that is a theme and a concern in the Bible. Very much so. That is a massive component of the gospel. But 1 Peter was not written within a guilt-motivated culture as much as it was a shame/honor driven culture. That was the chief concern for his audience. Because of this difference, though, it makes our task a little more difficult. Their question wasn’t “how do I get my guilt covered” it was “how do I not bring shame upon my community?”
We live in a very individualistic culture. And our culture places a greater value on achieved honor over ascribed honor. Let me ask you this, who is worthy of more honor the guy who goes against the crowd, earns everything he has ever gotten, wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and scratched and clawed to make something of himself OR the guy who was born into a wealthy family with a tremendous reputation, he stuck to his successful family business, didn’t rock the boat, and made good on everything his family had given him. You’re cheering for the first guy, right? That’s what documentaries and History channel shows are made of. It’s the American way. Achieved honor is more valuable than ascribed honor.
But that’s almost opposite the way Peter’s audience would have been thinking. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to you in this culture would be to “lose face”. To do something or be something to bring reproach upon your family—that was unthinkable. Yes, it is connected to individual guilt. That is part of the equation. But the bigger story is to live in such a way that your family, your tradition, is held in honor.
In Rome you live out the station in which the gods have placed you. You live within your class. You don’t do something to bring shame upon your family. You sacrifice to the gods. You do the things that a good Roman citizen are called to do. There are social expectations upon you. There are cherished values—there is a way you are supposed to live. You need to fall under this civic umbrella. Pax Romana. “Roman peace” depended upon this. And to fall out of line with this would bring great shame upon your family.
Christians would have stopped participating in traditional rites and they would have refused to give give honor to any of the gods of Rome. The majority of people believed that to dishonor the gods would have threatened the stability of the Empire. This is why early Christians were accused of being atheists.
I think David DeSilva summarizes it well:
Their strict avoidance of anything that smelled of an idol meant that the Christians withdrew their presence from most every civic gathering and even private social event, and the social life of the city was organized in large measure around public sacrifices and festivals.
Christians were being anti-social. Their old friends and neighbors would have felt rejected. And in respond the Christians would have endured a great amount of shame. Their way of life was most unacceptable.
I’m laboring so much here to help us see this because I think we hear something like this and think, “well that way of thinking is stupid.” And we think the solution is to embrace the Western mindset. There is a nobility in our culture of even being persecuted. Of being the one who stands out in the crowd. Of being the guy who doesn’t conform. Of saying I don’t care if everybody doubts me I’m going to be an original. I’m going to do me, you do you. Cool?
But that’s not even in the mind of Peter’s audience. That isn’t an option. My following Jesus is bringing shame and dishonor upon my family and my people. I’m losing my job. I’m losing status. I’m losing face. Certainly God wouldn’t want me to lose face. Surely God wants me to be held in honor. So why then, if the gospel is true, is this leading to my dishonor? Should I not as a faithful Roman citizen do what I’m called to do?
All of this shame and dishonor can be over if I just sacrifice to the gods. Now as we read 1 Peter 2:4-12 see if you can spot all of this talk about honor and dishonor. Rejection and acceptance. And see if you can tell what Peter is doing.
READ 1 Peter 2:4-12
Peter didn’t reject the idea of shame/honor. He didn’t say, “you need to not worry about being held in honor”. Instead he changes the question. You need to be asking whose approval are you looking for? What is the basis for your judgment here? Who are you wanting to be accepted by?
And I think that question is just as valuable for us today, isn’t it? I think the insights of a Chinese Christian named Jackson W. are particularly insightful here:
Whose approval do you seek? This question applies equally to believers and non-believers…Who, with a single comment, can make or break our day? Who can most easily change our mind or crush our spirit? These questions reveal our motives and our moral compass. How we look at other people also shows our standard of honor and shame. Whom do we criticize or praise, and why?
Shame is usually associated with nonconformity, yet conformity can also be an expression of sin. As long as we satisfy social expectations, we can handpick certain sins to condemn while we ignore others. So long as we gather with people who agree with us, we can overlook our own vices. We face the subtle temptation to use tradition, custom, and history to justify behaviors or attitudes as normal and right. Community, denomination, and culture mask our injustices and insecurities.
We scarcely hear the voice of conviction amid the applause of a crowd. Those in the church might confuse social conformity and godly character. We secure good reputation by following social rules. At the same time, those norms can blind us to sin. No one is free from sin simply because other people do not know about it...
What he is saying is that we all seek approval. And when we find our place that we fit in we can become blinded to the particular sin within our own little tribe. We’ll think, so long as I’m still meeting the approval of the group or person whose opinion I really care about then all must be well. This is why things like social media can be so dangerous. We have a tendency to put ourselves into an echo chamber and it blinds us to the work that God is doing in our life. And so we can engage in things which might fall under the category of shameful activity but we won’t feel shame because our approval circle is giving us a thumbs up.
Guys, even the person who says, “I don’t care what anybody thinks about me!” is likely reacting to feeling as if they don’t fit in, or if they don’t have approval. The biblical answer is never to something like people pleasing isn’t to say, “I don’t care what they think about me” it’s to say, “I care more about what God values.”
And that will be absolutely vital for Peter’s audience. And incredibly important for us as well. I don’t really have three points and a poem to this sermon. It’s really just one main point and I want us to really get what is happening in this text—I want us to feel in our bones what this text is meant to do to us and in us. In Christ you are held in honor by God Almighty.
That point is simple. You might be rejected in society, you might experience dishonor and rejection and all of the pain of that BUT in Christ you are held in honor. Seek to honor God first and foremost. The fundamental question in this passage is “Am I honoring God”. And the way you answer that question is found in whether or not I am taking refuge and sanctuary in Christ and living out of that identity.
So let me show you where I’m getting that from this text.
v4 As you come to him is language of conversion. It’s worship language. But it’s also a continual coming to Christ in relationship.
He is a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious. Peter will pick up on this metaphor in a couple of verses but especially note that Christ is a “living” stone. That’s pointing to his resurrection.
But also note that he is “rejected by men”. Their evaluation of him was that he was nothing but a common criminal. To the Jews he was a blasphemer who dishonored God and deserved to be hanged outside the city gate. To the Romans he was a rebel and revolutionary who talked about setting up a kingdom that was greater than Rome. He needed to be put back in his place. He was a nobody.
That was their evaluation. But in the sight of God he is chosen and precious. Chosen. Elect. Picked. Selected. Valued. “I want that one”. And precious. of great worth. Priceless. Honored.
v5 you yourselves like living stones…see what he is doing there, he is connecting the identity of the follower of Jesus with Jesus. You too are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Peter intentionally mixes metaphors here. But think about this for just a moment culturally. According to the Jewish people of the day what is the most important building? The temple, right? What about to the Romans? It was the same answer. But it was their temple. Why were Christians being rejected? Because they weren’t offering acceptable sacrifices. They weren’t sacrificing to the gods. They didn’t offer sacrifice to Dionysius and so the wine crop failed that year. Their refusal to offer any temple sacrifices and instead give their life to Jesus was offensive to everybody. Their sacrifices were held in dishonor. But notice what Peter is saying.
You are being built into a spiritual house---that’s the most important building—and this for the purpose of offering sacrifices which are acceptable to God. What you are doing is accepted by God. So what matters? Their approval? Or God’s approval?
v6-8 Then he quotes Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14. All connected by this word “stone”. The image especially in Psalm 118 is of builders searching through piles and piles of rocks to find the most valuable stone that they’d would use as the cornerstone to anchor the entire structure. You pick a faulty cornerstone and the whole building is messed up. So they would labor to find this.
But the image here is that the stone that was rejected—not even put in the “we can use for something else” pile—the one that is thrown in the garbage, tossed aside, good for nothing. No honor. No approval. No acceptance. Worthless. Well this particular stone was actually the most valuable stone. This has become the cornerstone.
This is a comment on our ability to accurately assess things, to accurately value things. They rejected Christ. And so also they are going to reject you, says Peter. They aren’t going to see things the same way as you do. You are going to be held in dishonor. What happened to Jesus is going to happen to you. You aren’t going to be popular. The world isn’t going to hold you in honor.
But his point is found in verse 7 and 8. The honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe—they stumble, as they were destined to do. In Christ you are held in honor. The honor belongs to you. You might be losing face in the here and now—but when you stand before God you won’t lose face. They will. God will hold you in honor.
v9-10 Peter builds on this by grabbing hold of a ton of images which described the Israelites and he applies them to these Gentile Christians. These phrases were all used in the OT to describe the people of God. And so what he’s doing here is showing how these titles belong to the church—to those who are in Christ.
You belong to God. That’s what this is saying. Now, I think we feel this maybe in a different way than they did in the first century. Neither are wrong. They are just a different way of seeing and experiencing something. For us we hear “you belong to God” and we attach to it feelings of acceptance and warm feelings—maybe associated to something like adoption. You belong now. You are part of the group. And again, that’s a very right and true and theologically correct way of looking at this. But there is another emphasis here that I think we often lack. And it’s the idea of us being benefactors of God.
That’s not a term we use much anymore. A benefactor would be like someone who takes a young kid under his wing and says, “I’ll pay for your schooling. I’ll provide all your needs so you can focus on your education and starting your career”. There would also be great pride in who your benefactor was. If your benefactor is someone who is held in dishonor in the community then you wouldn’t wear that as a badge of honor. But if your benefactor was somebody then it kind of made you somebody. But there is another side to this benefactor relationship—the benefactor expects you not to bring shame upon him. What you do is a reflection of him.
This, I believe, is why Peter says what he does in verse 9, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. This is a purpose clause. God is saying here, “I called you out of darkness and into the light” and I did this not only because I’m kind or because I love you or because I wanted to see you held in honor, I did this so that you’d reflect my glory. It’s going back to creation. We were created to enjoy God and to extend His glory. We made shipwreck of this. And started spreading our own glory and it led to a world of darkness. God rescued us from that. And he’s saying I didn’t do that so you’d go back to it.
The language of verse 10 actually comes from Hosea and it’s again pointing to the new covenant and the work that God has done in redeeming. Peter is saying, God has changed everything. You once were held in dishonor but God now holds you in honor—you are now his people. His identity is your identity.
But…look at verse 11. That means you are a sojourner and an exile by the world’s standard and the way they view things. You still live here and so you are going to have this battle. You are going to have this war raging within your soul. This impulse to go back. This drive to love what the world loves. This temptation to walk away. These thoughts of, “maybe they are right. Maybe I need to worry about the world’s honor.”
Now notice this....it’s why, “I don’t care what people think of me” isn’t really the Christian response. He says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” That’s not saying honorable according to their standards. It’s saying honorable according to God’s standards. It’s reflecting a life changed by God. Even if they still speak against you as an evildoer…they will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. When they are given eyes to see when they stand before God then they’ll testify that you are to be one held in honor.
Peter is pointing out that his hearers will still be held in dishonor among their pagan neighbors. But they are to exemplify love. They will say you are an evildoer because you aren’t sacrificing to the gods—because you are blowing up the Pax Romana and displeasing the gods. But you keep loving them, you keep doing good to them. That’s your calling…and we will see this more next week, Lord willing.
So that is why I say the point of this passage is “you might be rejected in society, you might experience dishonor and rejection and all of the pain of that BUT in Christ you are held in honor. Seek to honor God first and foremost. The fundamental question in this passage is “Am I honoring God”. And the way you answer that question is found in whether or not I am taking refuge and sanctuary in Christ and living out of that identity.
I want to give you both an OT story and a NT story to show you what this looks like practically. One of the verses that Peter quotes here is in Isaiah 8. It’s the story of Ahaz and his response to the threat of an invasion.
In Isaiah 7, Ahaz the king has just heard news that the Syrians and the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom are upset with him and they are coming to do battle. “…the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as trees”.
Now this causes the nation to go into a panic. The national question, the thing on all the news talk stations, is what do we do about this Israel/Syrian alliance? This is what everybody is talking about. If you don’t have an opinion on this—if you don’t speak to this—then you don’t matter.
But God, through the prophet Isaiah, came to Ahaz and told him to trust instead of fear. “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands”.
Smoldering stumps of firebrands. Do you know what that means? It means they are going to go out on their own. They will eventually consume themselves. You don’t have to answer the national question. You don’t have to let this consume you. Do nothing. Just trust. That’s the counsel.
No need to defend yourself. No need to fall into shrewd political maneuvering. Don’t bother going to Assyria or Egypt for help. Show your trust and confidence in the God of the universe by doing absolutely nothing to put out the wildfire.
But the text says that Ahaz’s heart wasn’t firm and so he came up with another plan. Something a bit more tangible. He’d go to Assyria for help. You’ll feed what you fear. Ahaz was afraid of the carnage that Israel/Syria could bring about. And it created so much unrest.
Isaiah the prophet stepped into this unrest and gave a message which actually upset everyone. He kind of refused to answer the nation question. Everybody was asking, “what will help us to be honored among the nations?” Will it be better for our comfort and prosperity to pay tribute to Assyria? What do we do?
Isaiah didn’t answer the question. Your answer is to do nothing. To honor God. Let them burn themselves out with their own rage.
But we’ve got to do something, Isaiah. We cannot just let Israel/Syria run us over. If we do nothing we lose everything we hold dear. Those who do nothing aren’t going to be held in honor. He wanted the people to hold him in honor. He wanted to go down in the annals as Ahaz the shrewd king who stamped out the Northern Kingdom and the Syrian invasion. He certainly didn’t want to be known as the guy who blew it and lost the kingdom. He doesn’t want to bring dishonor upon his people. That’s driving everything he does. And he wants approval.
And when Isaiah challenges this everybody hates him. And so God has to give Isaiah comfort. He says this:
For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
That’s why Peter picks this verse up because Ahaz—just as the people in his day—stumbled over Christ the rock of offense. God saves sinners. That’s the gospel. And that’s essentially what was proclaimed to Ahaz. But he would have none of it.
God will give me honor and that’s all I need. If that’s not the driving force of our life we’ll make all kinds of choices that don’t “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. We’ll go around fighting for a spot in the kingdom of darkness.
But if the fact that in Christ “the honor is for you who believe” is the driving force in your life. That changes everything. I’ll close with Acts 4.
This isn’t the first time that Peter has quoted these verses from Isaiah and Psalm 118. He does something similar in Acts 4 when he is standing before the religious leaders—having been arrested. He’s before them and they ask, “by what power or by what name do you do this?”
Do you hear it? Who are you? Who is your benefactor? By whose authority are you doing this? You don’t have enough honor in our society to do such a thing. You aren’t a religious leader you are a fisherman. And unqualified fisherman. What do you know?
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
What Peter is saying is that it’s all about Jesus. He is the stone on which everything rests. You are either in Christ and if so you have all the honor. Or you are not in Christ and you stumble. You either find rest and refuge in the fact that Christ alone saves sinners or that is the stone that you stumble over. Take refuge in him.
If you do—then it doesn’t really matter what happens with the other details, does it? You can be greatly dishonored this side of glory. But if God is pleased with you. If he is smiling. If you have his face—then all the shame here doesn’t matter one bit. His approval reverberates through all of eternity. And his approval is fixed in Jesus Christ. If you are in-Christ if you belong to Him—then you are chosen and precious before God. And that’s what it’s all about
We’re going to close by singing a new song. Christ Our Hope in Life and Death and it’s really what this is about. You don’t know if you will or will not be persecuted. You don’t know if society will hold you in honor or dishonor. You don’t know how your actions will be interpreted. You don’t know if you’ll lose your job, your house, your reputation. You don’t know any of that because it’s not ultimately in our hands. There is much that is unknown. But our hope isn’t fixed on those unknowns. Our hope is fixed on Christ. Christ alone. And this hope is unshakeable:
What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone.
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to Him belong.
Who holds our days within His hand?
What comes, apart from His command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand.
O sing hallelujah!
Our hope springs eternal;
O sing hallelujah!
Now and ever we confess
Christ our hope in life and death.
What truth can calm the troubled soul?
God is good, God is good.
Where is His grace and goodness known?
In our great Redeemer’s blood.
Who holds our faith when fears arise?
Who stands above the stormy trial?
Who sends the waves that bring us nigh
Unto the shore, the rock of Christ?
Unto the grave, what shall we sing?
“Christ, He lives; Christ, He lives!”
And what reward will heaven bring?
Everlasting life with Him.
There we will rise to meet the Lord,
Then sin and death will be destroyed,
And we will feast in endless joy,
When Christ is ours forevermore.