How to overcome condemnation
I wish I could say that fighting the battle against condemnation was as easy as throwing Romans 8: 1 – 2 at your feelings a hundred times a day:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
But the truth is, sometimes the scripts of condemnation run so deep, that there is a bit of mental reprogramming that needs to happen before you can get out of the condemnation rut.
It took me a long time to learn how to unravel the condemnation ball of yarn in my mind. The main stumbling block was that I believed condemnation was God’s primary communication tool of getting me to “live the way I should”.
But condemnation is rooted in fear, and God’s very nature is described as love, which according to the Bible, has no fear.
So, that is the foundation from which I built:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”1 John 4:18 ESV
Learning the difference between condemnation and love
This is a dirty dishes story, because God’s gift of life is so good that sometimes profound mysteries can be unraveled in something as simple as dirty dishes.
We have a rule in our office about washings your own dishes. Inevitably, there will be those that 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 very minimum requirements. 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.
That little “ah-ha” moment led to quite a few other thoughts that centred around the shortcoming of condemnation, and the effectiveness of love.
The shortcomings of condemnation and the wonder of 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.
Condemnation isn’t God’s voice nudging you on, it’s too unlike God
After I looked at condemnation and love like that, I realised condemnation isn’t something God would ever use to speak to us. It wouldn’t work. Fear will only carry us as far as the pain inside is stronger than the pain that’s coming from the outside. And death is far scarier than any form of condemnation that might live in us.
On the other hand, condemnation wasn’t what God endured before He chose to come to earth. And it wasn’t what made Him endure the cross. In fact, John 3:16 starts with:
So why would He use condemnation on us to get us to live “a life that He prefers”? Why would He use condemnation to ask us to lay our lives down for others, when He knows full well that it wouldn’t be enough to sustain us past death?
He wouldn’t. He’s smarter than that. (Way, way, way smarter.)
Let that sink in before you continue.
Condemnation – Not to be confused with guilt
I have to add a caveat. Don’t confuse condemnation with guilt.
Condemnation is an enemy of your faith. It makes you turn away from God in fear and to your own devices to “get up to scratch” with “God’s standards”.
It shouts at you that you’re a miserable failure, and that you should be doing more. Ignoring condemnation, or reminding yourself that this is not from God is good and to be encouraged.
Guilt on the other hand, is a healthy sign that your conscious is alive and kicking and that you messed up somewhere. It is a gift from God to point you in the right direction, and often draws you closer to God.
Ignoring guilt, and your conscious, and telling yourself it is not from God is foolish and extremely dangerous to your wellbeing. (Yes, there isn’t a sugar coating on this one, because frosting on a steak will taste terrible.)
So, discern the difference. When your gut is tumbling around in knots, and your mind is in disorder, ask for wisdom from God and sit down to listen to the answer. Sometimes it’s clear-cut, sometimes you need to work through it. But you must stop and work through it with God, we’re not made to tackle these things alone.
May the God of peace grant you wisdom as you renew your mind, and may His all-encompassing love cast out every fear and doubt, that you may live in the fullness of all that He has bought for you.