Law, Gospel & Shame…

The Law and Shame/The Gospel and the Removal of Shame

            Psalm 119 is about God’s Word of Commands and Promises, Imperatives and Indicatives, Law and Gospel. Throughout, the psalmist speaks of God’s Word with respect to one of these two senses, and this is why the word shame appears in both instances1`. With respect to the Law, the psalmist tells us that it is by obedience to the commandment of God that one avoids being clothed in shame.[1]This immediately calls to mind the contrast between prelapsarian man in Genesis 2:25, where stark nudity was not a source of shame, and postlapsarian man in Genesis 3:1-11, where transgression against the Law of God brought shame to man and woman who upon eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had their eyes opened to their nakedness. We see this connection made by the psalmist in three different places.[2] Failure to keep the Law of God brings shame, for after it has been broken we are completely exposed, naked as Adam and Eve after they broke the Commandment of God.[3]

By itself, the Law only brings condemnation as it agitates our sin nature, and it exposes our hearts before God. We are left naked, hopeless, and covered in shame. The remedy, therefore, is not in the Law, but in God’s mercy and grace, in His Gospel where He promises that “…whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”[4] Indeed, He Himself tells the Laodiceans to “…buy from [Him]…white garments so that [they] may clothe [themselves] and the shame of [their] nakedness may not be seen…”[5] It is only in the Gospel where the shame of our sinfulness is covered by the righteousness of Christ who Himself bore the shame of His elect people, who was stripped naked and hanged on a cross for the sake of His beloved bride.[6] Hence, the psalmist, knowing his own sinfulness, says: “I cling to Your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame!”[7] Not only this, but he further makes this Law/Gospel distinction explicit when he later says: “Uphold me according to Your promise, that I may live, and may not be put to shame in my hope!”[8]

In ourselves, there is no hope of shamelessness; however, in Christ, as we are covered with the righteousness of Another who only experienced the weight of our shame because He lived and died as our Substitute, the shame that covers us in consequence of our rebellion against God’s Law can be removed. Hence, we can say with the psalmist that we will speak of God’s testimonies before kings and not be ashamed.[9] We are not “ashamed of the Gospel [the Good News/Fulfilled Promise of justification by grace alone through faith alone] for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[10]

We see, then, that when the psalmist speaks of shame he speaks of it in light of the Law and the Gospel. The Law exposes our nakedness and shamefulness as sinners against it and the Lord God who gave it; the Gospel promises the removal of shame by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the impartation of life to those who were once spiritually dead. [Amen!]

-h.


[1] Cf. Ps 119:5-6

[2] Cf. vv.5-6, 78, & 80

[4] 1 Peter 2:6b

[5] Rev 3:18b

[6] Cf. Mark 15:22-32

[7] Ps 119:31

[8] v.116

[9] v.46

[10] Ro 1:16

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