Ashamed means embarrassed or feeling guilty.
Before I became a Christian, I felt both in regard to Jesus, but mostly embarrassed. That is to say that it bothered me in the same way being mocked or laughed at bothered me; a kind of toxic humiliation that were it possible, would have made me blush.
This I think is the natural human reaction, and although in many instances “natural” might be good, when it comes to the unrepentant human heart, “natural” is synonymous (means the same) with evil.
It is interesting that the name Jesus does that. There are many so-called holy personages in history, but only Jesus evokes this kind of shame, and only Jesus is used as a curse and swear. There is something about Him and about that name that is inexplicably different from any other name.
It is as if God imbued (saturated) it with some kind of spiritual essence that is poisonous to the unbeliever, but gives life to the believer.
When I became a Christian, this was one of the facts about Him that confirmed His reality to me – this irrational response to His name. It made no sense unless everything in the Bible about mankind, God, sin, and salvation through Christ were true.
In the light of Scripture, all the pieces fit together, and I realized that this is all part of God's plan, ordained before the foundation of the world.
To a hostile and rebellious world, Jesus means death and judgment. In another place, Paul puts it this way:
To the one [Christ is] the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:16, NKJV).
This is why the world hates Christ and Christians, and deep down, wants to persecute and kill us, because we remind it of its evil.
Don't ever be surprised at this reaction, and don't ever underestimate its potency. Jesus Himself warned of it:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18, 19, NKJV).
It is not you, but Christ in you, that is hated, but although it is never easy being hated, do not be afraid, for He also says:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NKJV).
Perhaps now it makes a little more sense at how and why the gospel causes shame. This is as God intended, and He uses that intense reaction to bring sinners into His Kingdom, because that shame shines the light of truth on the human heart.
Indeed, the most hopeless person is one who hears the name of Jesus and remains indifferent. That person's heart is so hardened and his or her conscience so seared that not even the shame penetrates it.
I do not really know how it feels to have been a Christian all your life, since I came to Christ late in adulthood, but I suspect that one of the things it entails is shock at how truly hateful unbelievers can be; even unbelievers who are blood relatives, or who are in the same household.
It grieves me beyond words to think of the impact of such unreasoning antipathy (deep-seated dislike) on children who have been raised in Christ, and who know nothing of such hatred in their own tender hearts.
But I know it is part of His perfect plan, and while I may not see or understand it all, I fall back on what I do understand: that He loves us with an everlasting love; that His thoughts towards us are good and not evil; that His thoughts toward us are more than we could number; that He will keep us and protect us and bring us into eternal life.
And for those things that I fail to understand, I remember this:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV).
One final point: shame is a subtle enemy. It is possible, even for a true Christian to be tempted to feel shame at the gospel, especially in the face of all that pressure and hostility from the world.
My advice when that happens is to remember who Jesus is and what He has done.
He is the Son of God, Someone so powerful, so good, so heroic that we can barely conceive of His true nature.
He is Someone who loved you so much that He willingly went to the Cross and suffered death on your behalf so that you could be pardoned from the eternal punishment of sin.
He is Someone who, for your sake, humbled Himself and became human to pay the price for your freedom.
There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about Him. There is not the slightest darkness in all that He is.
He is light and life and love and majesty and power and He has called you from sin and death so that you can forever be in His company and presence because He loves you and wants you to be safe and blessed beyond all that you could ask or think.
The world in its sin is speechlessly ugly. He is the embodiment of beauty.
And remember this too, from Hebrews:
For both He [Christ] who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified [you] are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call [you] brethren, (Hebrews 2:11, NKJV).
Jesus has gone to incredible lengths to adopt you into His family and bring you under His protection... forever.
So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, NKJV).