Sharing the Gospel in a Shame Based Culture

(With our January 7 trip to India nearly here, I thought I’d run some blogs about one of the most basic theological differences between Indian culture and ours.  I have found this VERY helpful in knowing how to better communicate the Gospel to those from different cultural backgrounds.)

When I speak in India I use guilt-innocence illustrations and references to show the legal aspect of how God paid for our sins.  That is true and important to know.  But it isn’t the only way, nor the main way, I convey the truth of God’s grace and love. 

I enjoy speaking of Jesus’ might, of His miracles and power.  It is a pleasure to show how He overcame the power of Satan and demons and how that power is available for us today.  Many in India have been raised in a fear-power mind set, and virtually all of them have been influenced by that in some way.  So seeing God’s victory in Jesus speaks to their fear-power world view.  That is always a large part of what I share.

More recently I have learned to speak to their shame-honor system as well for it is part of the very fabric of what it means to be ‘Indian.’  It’s important for me to speak to all three and it’s important for each Christian to understand all three.  Not only does this enable us to be released from guilt, shame and fear, but we are able to share this freedom with others.   There are millions in this country living with the shame of past actions.  Muslims, Arabs, and Asians of many various cultures are living around us in the country now and we must be able to reach them as well.  Then there are the young people in this country, and older ones who haven’t been churched and have turned from absolute truth and a right-wrong world view.  They then find themselves in a shame-honor system.  We need to know how to minister to them as well.  Paul says he became all things to all people so he could connect with them and reach them with God’s truth (1 Corinthians 9:22).  We need to be able to do the same in this day and age. 

So how can we best minister to those with a shame-based value system?  We don’t have to convince them they are shamed, without honor or worth.  They already know that, that’s why they try to run from rejection to acceptance.  The hope we offer is in Jesus, what the mall owner did for the disgraced teen.  We need to let them know that God sees them as people of worth, that He respects them and wants them to be accepted as part of His family.  He wants to shower them with honor and blessing for all eternity.  They need to know Jesus took their shame and will share His honor if they let Him.  They need to know that true honor and acceptance is only found in Jesus Who loves them so much He took their shame so it would be removed.  There is a degree to which they need to understand the legal action of removing sin by His work on the cross, but their main response must be to His unconditional love and acceptance of Him.

As they allow themselves to have hope and belief in that truth, and as God’s Spirit works in their hearts, they will open their hearts to His love and presence.  They will seek His comfort and fellowship.  They will want to know more about Him, and to know Him Himself.  They will respond to His love with their love for Him.  It may not be a once-and-done business transaction type of commitment like we often see it, a legal transaction made, signed and sealed in a moment of time.  It more likely will be a growing awareness, a gradual shift in how they see their position and God’s role in their life.  It may take time for these truths to settle in and become part of their thinking, replacing lies that have been hammered in for many years. 

            But when the change does come it is complete.  There is no question of how they will live.  Living for Jesus is an honor and privilege, not something they will have to be coaxed into.  There is no demanding things of God or questioning if what He is doing in their lives is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’  He is God and they are not, of course He can and should do whatever He things best.  We are not to question.  He is above all things totally honorable so we don’t question what He does.

That does not mean there is not much growing and learning to take place for there is.  As with us from a guilt-based culture, we must change our whole mind set to view life from God’s Biblical world view.  That is not quick and it is not easy no matter the previous paradigm life was viewed from. 

There is much in God’s Word we can use to reach those with a shame-based slant on life.  Adam and Eve in Eden were shamed and hid but God reached out to them and clothed them, removing their shame and dressing them in His righteousness.  The Jews were slaves in Egypt but God brought them out and elevated them to great honor.  We go from slavery to sin to being joint-heirs with Jesus.

The whole Jewish ceremonial and religious system was based on clean and unclean, being washed to be acceptable to God (Exodus 30).  As we saw, cleansing lepers is a clear picture of having honor replace shame (Leviticus 13 and 14; Luke 5:12-14 and many accounts of Jesus’ healings in the Gospels).  There was the cleansing of the woman who was bleeding 12 years and was rejected from the temple (Mark 5:25-35).  There is the shame of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) who was rescued and restored by Jesus.  The woman at the well (John 3) was too embarrassed to come draw water with the other women because of sin in her life. She was rejected and dishonored.  Jesus showed her respect by asking for a drink, talking with her and ultimately restoring her honor by removing her shame.

Then there is the prodigal son (Luke 15:22), a clear story of moving from dishonor to acceptance and honor again as the Father forgave and restored him.   We are sin-crippled illegitimate children rejected by the Father, but through Jesus our infirmities are healed and the Father accepts us as His own.  The illustrations from the Bible are limitless when we look for them.

Make sure you apply these truths of God’s victory over guilt, shame and fear to your own life, but use them and apply them to the lives of those you come in contact with.  God is truth.  God has it all covered!  We have the privilege of sharing that truth and freedom with others.  Ask Him for opportunities to do so starting today.

1 Peter 2:9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

What does it mean when God says we are ‘holy’?

Why is it so important to God that we be holy?

What can you do each day to help live a holy life?

(I’d be very interested in your comments, observations and experiences as they relate to what I’ve been writing about in these blogs.  I’m still learning about these world views and would appreciate any insight you can share with me.  Jerry Schmoyer

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