Book Review: He Is Not Ashamed, Erik Raymond
Erik Raymond, He Is Not Ashamed: The Staggering Love of Christ for His People. Crossway, 2022. 176 pages.
At the risk of over-simplifying things, there are two kinds of bad responses to the message of Jesus’ love for sinners. A lot of people in the West, intoxicated by a lifetime of self-esteem training and well-catechized in the gospel of self-acceptance, find the message of Christ’s love to be strange and even offensive. Why would God refuse to love people on the basis of their personal goodness and intrinsic worth? Why would God insist on loving me despite me? How could a loving God insist I recognize my inability to earn his love?
The second unhelpful response comes from people who are ashamed of their sin and acutely aware of their unworthiness. Perhaps they were raised in a legalistic environment, where what mattered was how well you kept an impossibly high standard.
Or perhaps, like my friend Kyle, they had long ago come to the conclusion that God’s love wasn’t intended for messed-up people like them. Kyle had been coming to a Bible study I lead for people who are in a substance-abuse recovery program. He was making an effort to get his life together—he had been released from prison, gotten himself off drugs and alcohol, and was trying to rebuild his relationship with his family. For the first few weeks he attended, he just listened and didn’t say much as we read through Matthew’s gospel.
But one evening after we finished, Kyle asked to speak to me in my office, and he got right to the point.
“Early on in life,” he said, “you get some clues about who you are and who you aren’t. I knew from a young age I was never going to be an NBA basketball player, because I can’t jump and run well. I knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor, because I’m not good in school. I always figured that being a Christian was just like that—it might be nice, but it’s not for people like me. It’s for good people. But as we’re reading the Bible, I’m getting the impression that Jesus actually wants people like me to follow him as well. Am I missing something?”
I assured him that he had, in fact, understood perfectly. And a few evenings later, Kyle joyfully put his trust in Jesus.
Kyle is a great example of the kind of person who would benefit immensely from Erik Raymond’s new book He is Not Ashamed: The Staggering Love of Christ for His People. The book is an expansion on the principle communicated in Hebrews 2:11, that Jesus “is not ashamed to call (us) brothers,” and it holds out a great source of joy to people who struggle to believe and remember the heart of Christ toward sinners.
HE IS NOT ASHAMED OF WHOM?
Raymond presents us with seven chapters discussing different kinds of people of whom Jesus promises to never be ashamed.
1. Chapter one reminds us Jesus is not ashamed of people with embarrassing stories. Reflecting on the presence of Tamar, Ruth, and Bathsheba in the lineage of Jesus, the chapter brings home the point that Jesus’ “family portrait” includes all sorts of people who have tragic stories or shameful pasts.
2. Chapter two unpacks the truth that Jesus is not ashamed of people who had once opposed him. Through the story of the apostle Paul, and by pointing out that Jesus sent his disciples to preach the message of reconciliation to the very people who killed him (Acts 2:22-23, 37-39), we see that the Lord pursues his enemies in love.
3. Chapter three tells us Jesus is not ashamed of those who are overlooked by society. By looking at Jesus’ interaction with those who lacked social status (children, women, blind Bartimaeus), we are reminded that Jesus doesn’t value people according to the world’s standards.
4. Chapter four explains that Jesus is not ashamed of those who are far from God. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and this chapter illustrates that principle through his interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4), notorious sinners (Luke 7:39), and the ritually unclean (Mark 1:40-42).
5. Chapter five shows us Jesus is not ashamed of those who have nothing to offer him. Through the story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9:7) and Jesus’ interaction with the thief on the cross, we see a beautiful picture of grace—a king showering kindness on a man who can do nothing for him.
6. Chapter six argues Jesus is not ashamed of those who are weak. This side of glory, we all must walk through our lives beset by the physical weakness of our bodies and the spiritual weakness of our souls. This chapter reminds us Jesus doesn’t despise us for that weakness, but is able to sympathize with us (Heb. 4:15).
7. In chapter seven, we see Jesus is not ashamed of those who continue to struggle with sin. This is perhaps the hardest thing for us to believe, but Jesus loves us even after we repeatedly stumble and fall. Looking at his restoration of Peter (Mark 16:7) and his provision for reconciliation within the church (Matt. 18:15-20), this chapter shows us that our sin doesn’t put us outside of the love of Christ.
STRENGTHS OF ‘HE IS NOT ASHAMED’
With that said by way of summary, there are four things I particularly appreciated about this book:
Erik is a clear writer. It would be a shame if a book like this were written in a complicated, inaccessible style. Fortunately, the writing is lucid, terms are explained, and necessary background is provided. This is the kind of book you could give to someone who does not know that Bible well, and they would be able to benefit from it.
He is Not Ashamed does not simply inform the reader about the love of Christ, but it leads them to taste and see that this love is very good. Throughout the book, I found myself identifying with the people in the biblical narrative under consideration, so that Christ’s kindness mercy to them made me feel his kindness and mercy to me. The section discussing Mephibosheth in chapter five (“we are all Mephibosheth”) was particularly moving.
I struggle with sin and weakness; I disappoint myself and others. I have to keep coming back to the Bible to convince myself that Jesus loves me. I wish it were not so, but so far it looks like life is going to be that way until I get to glory. Thus, I appreciate it when I can tell an author inhabits the same universe that I do. Erik regularly applies his principles to real people with real struggles. I found myself on the pages of the book over and over.
If there is a danger with books that celebrate the extravagant love of Jesus, it might be that they fail to warn the reader against presuming on God’s love. He is Not Ashamed is obviously helpful to people like my friend Kyle, but it also contains a balanced warning to the first kind of person I mentioned above—those who assume Jesus lovingly accepts everyone, no matter what. The last chapter of the book (“Whom is Jesus Ashamed of?”) reminds the reader we can miss out on the love of Christ if we are ashamed of him and fail to see the worth of his love (Luke 9:26).
He is Not Ashamed is an excellent meditation on the staggering love of Christ for his people. It’s a wonderful resource for someone looking to disciple a younger believer, and it would also be appropriate for small group studies or individuals reading devotionally.