For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:17)
Much of human heartbreak stems from feelings of condemnation. People feel inadequate, insecure, and unloved. Often these feelings run contrary to what they know to be true. They may know they are loved, for example, but feel they are not.
Psychiatrists and counselors spend countless hours trying to get their patients to overcome feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. They devise new theories and therapies and, while their efforts sometimes bear remarkable fruit, these practitioners admit no magic cure exists, and they confess that their work is strenuous and taxing.
Of course depression, feelings of guilt, and fear are often deep-rooted. Sometimes they are physically generated and require medication and persistent counseling. Psychoses and neuroses are real diseases that don’t respond to simple solutions. Outside of a miracle, no magic wand will cure such illnesses.
Having said all that, however, far too many people–people who are not severely emotionally ill–suffer emotional stress. Born again Christians are no exception. Our churches are filled with people who hurt badly and often find little relief. Counseling is a primary and worthy function of the Church, but a function that strains pastors and Christian workers, diverting them from other tasks–evangelism, for example.
I have pastored, counseled, and taught in the Body of Christ for more than 45 years. In my opinion many of the emotional battles Christians fight are unnecessary. Often Christians simply knuckle under to condemnation–condemnation they should never have received in the first place.
Where does condemnation come from?
One of the first things Christians learn is that condemnation does not come from God. Before we were born again, we often thought God “was punishing us” when we faced difficulty in our lives. Even after conversion we sometimes givve way to the temptation to believe that. But very soon, mature Christians (correctly) convince us that God is not angry with us.
He only acts lovingly towards us: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
If we find a home in any part of the healthy Body of Christ we slowly realize that Christ took our guilt and condemnation upon himself. We realize we have been declared “not guilty.”
But though we know the grace of God intellectually–or even if we experience it, holding on to it is another matter. At times, we cannot seem to hold on to the knowledge that our unrighteousness is covered by Christ’s righteousness. We feel guilty, unlovely, fearful, frustrated, and rejected.
It is as though we have come to see our salvation in two parts: We are indeed saved and heaven bound because of Christ; but we must walk in painful dissatisfaction because we are still carnal.
In a sense that is true. It is certainly true that sin causes guilt and guilt causes worries and fears. But if we mistakenly believe that we cannot have peace and happiness until we rid ourselves of sin, we miss the whole point of the Gospel.
While it is true that outward holiness is not optional for a Christian, we do not have to wait until we have overcome our sinful nature in order to dwell in full peace and forgiveness. In fact, focussing on our sinfulness will only make things worse!
Sources of condemnation
God identifies “the accuser of the brethren” as Satan. (Rev. 12:10) However condemnation is delivered to us through spouses, coworkers, friends, and even perfect strangers. Sometimes the criticism is ugly and overt; sometimes we read it in a glance.
Make no mistake, condemnation, like a missile, flies relentlessly toward us. Sometimes it is malicious, sometimes benign, but always deadly. We cannot prevent the missiles from coming our way. But we can learn to refuse to accept their delivery!
By far the most consistent attack comes from within. We are our own worst enemies. Thoughts arise within us to condemn us. We must learn to reject those as well. This is job number one! We must unfailingly send those thoughts to the cross and cover them with the blood of Christ.
A lesson I learned from a friend.
Back when I was first saved in 1975, I came under a lot of good teaching about “the righteousness of the believer.” At some point I woke up to the sound doctrinal revelation that–in God’s eyes–I was as righteous as I would ever be. You see, righteousness is not a part-time thing.
There are only two kinds of people in the world, righteous and unrighteous. According to God’s word, all of man’s attempts to be self-righteous amount to nothing:
But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isa 64:6)
I came to understand that my righteousness before God was imputed. Paul the Apostle said it this way (actually he quoted King David):
Blessed [are] they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7)
And Isaiah wrote:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…(Is. 61.10)
All of this came home to me one day during a conversation with a young pastor, a man who has since become one of my dearest friends. He was under unjustified accusation from some of his parishioners. As we talked about the situation, I watched as something boldly rose up within him and he said, almost in anger, “I will not receive condemnation!”
He did not say this in a way to defend himself or the charges against him. It mattered not at that moment whether his accusers were right or wrong. What mattered was that condemnation was aimed at him and he–because he understood who he was in Christ–also knew that it was as wrong to receive condemnation as it was to give it!
Since the day I saw that drama played out on the face and in the voice of my friend, I have often heard myself say (even when no one was around me) “I will not receive condemnation!”
What I am not saying
I’m not talking about listening to legitimate criticism. I’m talking about being a sponge that absorbs ungodly condemnation.
How to refuse condemnation:
In order to stand firmly against condemnation, we should remember four things:
- I belong to God and He is the vinedresser (John 15:1)
- God never comes to me with condemnation, only loving invitation to change.
- It is as sinful to receive condemnation as it is to give it.
- The accuser of the brethren is relentless in his attempt to bring us down and he will use anyone who is unwise enough to be a conduit for his condemnation
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from Condemnation and death unto life. (John 5:24)
It is time to read Ephesians, Chapter 6 Again and apply it to our lives.
Put all the Full Armor of God
The Full Armor of God Ephesians, Chapter Six
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should
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