The Terrible Trio


I don’t know why, but I love trios. I look at my favorite rock bands and a large percentage of them are trios. Rush, The Police, Cream, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience occupy a big chunk of my secular music collection (of which there is not much, let me tell you). On the Christian side, I think the best live performance I ever saw was the Charlie Peacock Trio. So trios capture my imagination.

Even bad trios.

The last few weeks have found me thinking about the state of the Church on a more visceral level. Not the high-level stuff about how to better small groups or preach more effectively, but real A hellish triomeat issues that penetrate us to the core of who we are as individual Christians.

In the end, I see three paralyzing factors that stop us dead:

  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Guilt

I have an idea that this terrible trio robs more people of effectiveness, joy, and growth in Christ than nearly anything else. Start searching the roots of the modern American Church’s problems and almost all of them can be traced to this trio.

Take any issue facing the Church today and you can filter each issue through that trio and it will make sense as to why we’re not reaching our potential in Christ.

Let’s consider evangelism. On the surface, what’s hard about evangelism? A Christian tells a non-Christian about Jesus. Simple, right?

Now add the terrible trio and see what happens to our evangelistic zeal!

  • Fear – we are inadequate for the task.
  • Shame – we may not know the Scriptures well enough to answer an inquirer’s questions adequately.
  • Guilt – we don’t share Christ often enough—or at all.

Or how about being a single Christian?

  • Fear – we will always be single and will never find lasting love in this life.
  • Shame – we keep making one relational mistake after another while others enjoy happy marriages.
  • Guilt – we’ve failed to remain sexually pure.

Or how about accepting a call to the pastorate?

  • Fear – our new congregation will wither and die while we’re on watch.
  • Shame – others have been established for years in the pastorate, so why did it take us so long?
  • Guilt – no one knows that we’re just as messed up as the average guy in the pews.

See, the terrible trio of fear, shame, and guilt can be applied to nearly any situation/event/idea that rises up in the Church. You can postulate outcomes, discern motivations, and uncover hidden belief systems all by filtering reality through the lens of the terrible trio.

This may be more personal than some folks can handle, but do you recall your wedding night? The first time you and your spouse stood naked before each other? Was that a shame-filled moment? It wasn’t for me, nor was it for my wife. In fact, what struck me in that moment more than just about anything was the utter lack of shame. Not one fleck of shame intruded into our time together. I understood then what it meant to be back in the Garden, to be as God created us. Even as a sinner, I tasted what it meant to be free from shame.

Now what if we lived out our lives in such a way that we took that lack of shame with us everywhere we went? What would happen to us as Christian if we lived without fear, without guilt?

Don’t you know that’s EXACTLY how we should be living?

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
—Hebrews 13:6

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
—Romans 10:11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
—Romans 8:1-2

The terrible trio are bondage, pure and simple. As Children of the Heavenly Father, we’ve been released from those chains! Are we then living as a free people? Or do we reshackle ourselves and others?

What would a Church look like that was free of fear, a stranger to shame, and unbound from shackles of guilt?

Lord Jesus, make us a people who are devoid of fear, shame, and guilt. By Your grace, extend to us that freedom so that we might live as You intended from the beginning of time. You have bought us that right. By your Holy Spirit make that freedom real in the lives of your children. In Jesus name, amen!

4 thoughts on “The Terrible Trio

  1. WARNING!! Extreme sarcasm coming up.

    The church is very good on heaping shame, guilt and fear on people, not take it away. Shame, guilt and fear is a great way to manage people. How else are you going to motivate them to do what must be done?

    Wake up, smell the coffee. Take those away and we might as well give up church as we know it. How else will we know what a “good” christian looks like? You have to compare the successfuls with the unsuccessfuls in order to get the unsuccessfuls to work harder at being a good christian. Shame on them for being so useless. Be like me, a humble man, just doing what must be done to make the church a better place. Not like THOSE losers over there. God will punish them for doubting Him. They keep on falling over the same hurdle. If they only follow my advice, but NOOOO. I pray for them every day, but they don’y have enough faith, because nothing is happening.

    Shame, fear and guilt. Yes, I agree with you Dan. I would like to see a church free of these three. Are we ready?

  2. I agree with you and with the comments of abmo. How many Christians do we know who aren’t plagued by “the terrible trio?” Just think of all the ministry that hasn’t gotten done because of them, people not prayed for or told about the love of Jesus, churches that “rot on the vine,” sts, etc. And, I see the effects all too clearly in my life of almost 60 years. In the words of the liturgy of the ancient church, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”

  3. Fear is tool #1 in the Devil’s arsenal. It’s the opposite of faith, so it puts those in it at a relational distance from God. They hide in the bushes rather than walk with Him.

    Guilt and shame are brothers that exist only in the darkness, like the monster under our beds when we were kids. If the light went on, we’d discover they’re just dust bunnies. I wonder how much could be healed in the body and mind if the secreting covers were removed.

    If we could just buy into those three verses you quoted and let nothing disturb the grasp our hand has in the hand of God, think of how well things could proceed.

    Once again, Dan, a very good post.

  4. abmo, sarcasm? Seems real life, unfortunately.

    We know 2 Timothy 1:7, so fear is never from God.

    We know Romans 8:1, so condemnation/shame is not of God.

    Guilt, well, if it’s condemnation see above; if it’s conviction, let’s repent and be done with it.

    Great post. Let’s stop worshiping the things that cause fear, shame and guilt and start worshiping the one who loves us, gives us power, and calms our minds and spirits.

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