Overcoming condemnation isn’t a simple formula that involves repeating “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 12 times a day. Condemnation is a deeply rooted fear that God is going to punish you for every single wrong you do, and every good thing you fail to do.
As such, overcoming condemnation is a slow process of renewing your mind. The renewal won’t come by parroting scripture, but rather comes through changing the way you think about God and all that it means to be a Christian.
Five years ago, when I first started my journey, I couldn’t choose my morning coffee or breakfast without fearing if it is “God’s will for my life”. Yes, I would start 80% of my days in fear, because I chose oats over toast (or vice versa). So, the tips I share here isn’t theory, but rather the things that helped me overcome condemnation.
1. Meditate on the difference between love and condemnation
A tipping point for me was realising what the difference between love and condemnation is. The important thing to keep in mind is that the pre-assumption is that God is love. I’ll share the story that triggered my “aha!” Moment:
We have a rule in our office about washings your own dishes. Inevitably, there will be those who won’t wash their dishes, and this often happens with teaspoons, because it’s really “not that messy”.
To be honest, I’m one of those who sometimes just want to drop my spoon in the sink, especially at the end of the day, because “there are already like ten in the sink, what’s one more?”
One afternoon, after making my cup of coffee, I dropped my teaspoon onto the growing collection of dirty spoons when a jab of condemnation hit me. I rinsed and dried my spoon dutifully and put it back in the drawer. In that moment, I realised what the difference between condemnation and love was:
- Condemnation made me comply to the minimum requirement. I rinsed my spoon and felt OK with that.
- Love would have stopped and washed all the spoons in service of the receptionist who usually cleans up after everyone.
The shortcomings of condemnation compared to love
As painful as condemnation is, there will come a point where the things you are doing to alleviate your feelings of condemnation will be more painful than the feeling of condemnation ever was.
As much as condemnation can start the journey of “self-sacrifice”, it will certainly not have the carrying power you need to go through with laying your life down completely.
Love on the other hand is a free will decision. A decision only you can make to put someone else above yourself. In fact, a decision of love often comes with the expectation that there will come a point where you will have to lean into the pain and discomfort involved with your decision. But that it will be completely worth it. Condemnation never thinks that far ahead.
2. Get to know God’s character through studying the Bible
As a Christian, the primary source of our faith story is the Bible. (This statement shouldn’t be confused with the assumption that the Bible is inerrantly factual.)
The Bible contains the story of a God who created everything, assigned humans to have dominion over it, and declared that is very good. But, through our free will, we’ve made a bit of a mess within this good creation. Instead of leaving us to our own devices, he chooses to partner with us to return this very good creation to its original state.
As another author once put it, “In Revelation we see a beautiful city, and what is a city if it isn’t a collection of small gardens?”
If you read the Bible through the lens of Genesis 1 – 3, it is a collection of stories that capture God’s journey with humanity to bring us back to the Garden. There are a ton of hiccups along the way. Billions of people who are remarkably inept at fulfilling the partnership requirement, yet God remains faithful, patient, and hopeful of the future He is returning us to.
But, you can’t know this unless you study the Bible. And when I say study the Bible, I don’t mean memorising key verses. I mean digging into each book in the Bible, understanding it’s context, the audience, and its purpose. The Bible Project is an amazing resource you can use to help you understand the Bible. They have videos on each of the books of the Bible that has helped me immensely.
3. Read books that encourage different ways of thinking about God
This, combined with prayer and a lot of trust, is probably one of the things that helped me the most. This shattering, scary as it was, was extremely helpful in bringing about peace instead of fear.
I have a list of books that helped me which you can refer to, but this isn’t the penultimate list of books you can read to break down the condemnation tapes in your head.
In many cases, I had to be courageous to read these because of the stigmas surrounding them. Or simply because they can shatter so many of my preconceived ideas that I can lose my sense of identity as a Christian.
4. Get out of toxic, condemnation driven, environments
This is probably the hardest one of all. Because the toxic, condemnation driven, environment will weigh you down with its condemnation for wanting to get out. However, it doesn’t help you if you live in a “faith” community that showers you with acid rain every Sunday and repeats the process when you share a meal in your small group.
This is also the most important one of all. Walking into a church, Sunday after Sunday, with friendly skies was the one factor that made all of the above possible for me. It helped me heal, slowly and systematically, as I heard every week about a God who loves me. A God who willing takes our mess and uses it for good. A God who is more concerned about who I am (in my heart of hearts), than He is about what it is I’m busy doing. (Ironically, once He gets hold of your heart, your doing changes without much difficulty).
Finally, there is hope for overcoming condemnation
There is hope for your battle with condemnation, because your freedom from it is in your hands. It’s a fight you can fight. It is just a process where you need to rewire your brain, and with a ton of grace that comes with cultivating the fruit of the spirit, you can overcome it.
I can’t remember when the last time was that I fretted over what I should eat for breakfast. And when I mess up, I don’t nail myself to the proverbial cross for weeks on end. It does get better if you keep going at it.