Now shame is a scar which runs through the soul of every woman and man, for sin and the law of God condemning that sin are written on the heart of every-one (Rom. 2:15). Calvin writing on Genesis 3:7 writes of the “cold and faint knowledge of sin”
In short, the cold and faint knowledge of sin, which is inherent in the minds of men, is here described by Moses, in order that they may be rendered inexcusable.
It must be absolutely understood that sin, the subjective sense of guilt and defilement which derives from sin is the basis of all shame – shame before God and shame before human beings:
The biblical concept of shame is basically that of the mental state of humiliation due to sin, and to departure from the law of God, which brings obloquy and rejection by both God and man.
p.w, “Shame” In , in New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard et al., 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1085.
We sometimes tie shame especially to matters involving sexuality. And while we often feel shame most painfully around questions of sexuality and sin, sexuality is not the least itself a basis for shame; rather it is sin mixed with sexuality which leads to sin. The Bible passionately celebrates the beauty of sexuality and sexual union between a husband and wife (Gen. 2:21-25; Song of Solomon).
John Piper in his wonderful book This Momentary Marriage ties the matter of shame to the matter of covenant love:
Consider a second possibility for why they are naked and not ashamed. My suggestion is that the emphasis falls not on their freedom from physical imperfection, but on the fullness of covenant love. In other words, I can be free from shame for two conceivable reasons: One conceivable (but unreal) reason is that I am perfect and have nothing to be ashamed of. The other reason I could be free from shame is that even though I am imperfect, I have no fear of being disapproved by my spouse.
The first way to be shame-free is to be perfect; the second way to be shame-free is based on the gracious nature of covenant love. In the first case, there is no shame because we’re flawless. In the second case, there is no shame because covenant love covers a multitude of flaws (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Cor. 13:6).
The division caused by sin created the basis for shame to enter in. The breakdown of the relationship between God and man (and thus between human being and human being) creates the basis for shame. Shame comes in when true covenant love – between God and us — has left the room.
Shame is the valuation that one is wrong, dirty, defiled. It is the reception of a judgment. As human beings we all stand under the judgment of God. As Paul explains, the wrath of God – God’s judgment against sin – is revealed and known (Rom. 1:18). We know ourselves to be wrong before God.
What then of shame before human beings? It is merely the public recognition of what we know to be true before God. When Adam and Eve hid, they hid from God – and from one-another. Their blameshifting and excuses merely proceeded from the sin and shame before God. Knowing ourselves to be wrong before God (that cold faint knowledge of sin), we know that we are wrong.
Thus, the accusations of other human beings, their condemnation and rebuke ring true because they are true. We are wicked and sinful and thus we should be ashamed.
It is this space in which Christ comes:
How do you explain the persistence of the Christian church? Men and women would have ruined her long ago. Look at the heresies that have come in. Look at the false teaching that has had to be cleared out. Look how people put organizations in the place of the living Christ. See how the church has become an institution, dead and filled with pomp and power, having silver and gold but no spiritual authority. See how she has become political. Ah, people would have destroyed her long since. There is only one reason she still persists: It is this living Christ. Throughout the centuries He has taken hold of men and women—lame, hopeless, impotent, helpless in sin and iniquity and shame—and lifted them up and brought revival and authority and power. So, on goes the church.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, vol. 1, Authentic Christianity, 1st U.S. ed., Studies in the Book of Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 248.