Addressing Objections: What About Shame?
In the previous chapter, Isaiah 45:23 was briefly mentioned. This is the Old Testament verse that says: “To me [God] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” The reason I bring this verse up again is because some people have argued that the bowing and swearing are forced, citing the fact that those who were angry with God will be “ashamed” (Isaiah 45:24). From this, it is argued that those who are ashamed are hell-bound and reluctantly bowing with rebellion still burning in their hearts. Let’s now examine why this interpretation is deeply flawed.
Now, we’ve already discussed in an earlier chapter that the New Testament passages that reference Isaiah 45:23, use language that indicate true worship of God when people bow their knees and confess with their mouths. Here are the New Testament passages for reference:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord , to the glory of God the Father.
Romans 14:11 (ESV)
For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. ”
In these passages, the word for bow is kampsei (κάμψει), which refers to bowing in worship and veneration ( http://biblehub.com/greek/2578.htm ), and the word for confess is exomologēsetai ( ἐξομολογήσεται) which refers to wholehearted free agreement from the heart, and also connotes giving thanks and praise ( http://biblehub.com/greek/1843.htm ). In Isaiah, the Hebrew words used do not have clear connotations, but rather could be used in a positive or negative sense. Given the fact that the New Testament writer (Paul) clarifies the connotations of the words, it is most reasonable to agree with his interpretation if we take the whole counsel of Scripture. The context of the passage is further confirmation that the apostle Paul’s interpretation in Romans and Philippians is correct. Let’s take a look:
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior ;
there is none besides me.
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
“Only in the Lord , it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
all who were incensed against him.
In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall be justified and shall glory.”
It is clear from the passage that the people who are bowing and swearing allegiance are not being false. It is also clear that God swears by Himself that everyone will acknowledge Him and swear allegiance, saying that only in Him “are righteousness and strength.” This is emphasized in Philippians when Paul states that those who bow will be all “those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Clearly, everyone knee means every knee. Bowing will be universal. By the way, swearing allegiance means that you are solemnly promising loyalty. It is impossible to interpret it in a different way and be honest. So, the context of the passage is clearly talking about the ends of the earth finding salvation in God and turning to Him.
But those who wish to promote the doctrine of hell will say that we must ignore all of this contextual evidence and focus on the fact that “all who were incensed against him” will “come and be ashamed.” See, they will tell you, they are ashamed and that means that they are going to hell!
But let’s think reasonably about this. Does being ashamed mean the same thing as going to hell? Can we write the following equation: ashamed = eternal fiery damnation? Clearly not.
In fact, we have all been ashamed and I would argue that this is one of the prerequisites for coming to God. We repent and turn to Him because we recognize our sins, and come face to face with our unrighteousness. Why else would we repent and acknowledge that only in the LORD are “righteousness and strength?” Let’s look at some Biblical examples now of shame leading to repentance.
In Acts 2, Peter is preaching to the crowds on the day of Pentecost. Let’s see what he says and how the crowd responds:
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “ Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins , and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
After Peter tells his hearers that the mercilessly crucified their Messiah, they are “cut to the heart.” In other words, they felt deeply ashamed. This should not be surprising. They are being told that they cried out and persuaded the Roman government to murder their Savior, the promised one. Of course they were ashamed!
But notice the result of this shame. They ask Peter what they should do and he responds that they should repent and be baptized. And three thousand of them respond to this call to repentance. Why do they respond and repent? It is apparent that the reason for this repentance was acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Shame drives repentance and the desire to come to God for forgiveness.
The fact that even believers are ashamed of our mistakes is confirmed in Romans:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
Notice that believers are ashamed of their former sinful conduct. Won’t those who bow the knee and swear allegiance to God also be ashamed of their former sinful ways? Does this preclude them from salvation? Of course not. Indeed, the reason why they are ashamed is because they have had a change of heart. Otherwise they wouldn’t feel shame, but would rather boast in their sinfulness. So being ashamed of their anger toward God is not evidence of being hell-bound, but rather evidence of a repentant heart!
If you are a Christian, consider your former life, prior to Christ. Are you proud of your sins? Think back on the reason why you chose Christ. Was it because you felt self-righteous and self sufficient, or was it because you were ashamed of the evil in your heart? It is clear that we turn to God because we acknowledge our unrighteousness and our need for Him.
In other words, shame is the stimulus that results in the response of repentance. It is evidence of a changed heart that wants to please the God to whom we will all bow and swear allegiance, “a righteous God and a Savior,” the One who says: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!”
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