I’ll admit it—I am the worst sinner I know. I often fill my mind with thoughts of how ashamed I am of myself. How could I be so selfish? So unloving? So judgmental? But at their core, these thoughts are nothing but self-condemnation.
As you and I jump into this topic, it will serve us well to have a clear definition to work with. Self-condemnation is blaming yourself after you have failed to do or be something you know you should do or be. Instead of responding to conviction by confessing, repenting, and being empowered by God’s grace, self-condemners choose to heap condemnation on themselves.
Self-Condemnation makes you inward focused.
“I wish I wouldn’t think of myself as much as I do,” is something I often find myself thinking. As I see my shortcomings each day, I analyze what I could have done differently—or even more, how I could be different. I should be slow to speak. I should be a faithful reader of the Word. I should be encouraging. But, I’m not. I know I should be or do these things, but I have failed. So, I sulk in the disgrace I have been to myself, to others, and to the Lord. In the process, I somehow believe that thinking about myself in these ways will produce a being who is, in fact, different. But instead, I find a woman who has jumped into an ocean of pride–not the kind of pride that delights in thinking much of herself, but the pride that finds great satisfaction in heaping condemnation, rather than grace, on herself.
C. J. Mahaney, in his book Living the Cross Centered Life, says this: “Don’t buy the lie that wallowing in your shame is pleasing to God.” God is pleased, sister, when we die to ourselves and call upon the name of Christ to make us a new creation at the moment of salvation, and to continue making us new each day (2 Cor. 5:17). We no longer have to fix our gaze inwardly; we can fill our minds with thoughts of the great grace God has and continues to show us.
Self-Condemnation makes you works-driven.
Often our response to combat self-condemnation is to do more better. Tomorrow I will read twice as much as I did today. Next week, I’ll meet with three people instead of one. I’ll leave an encouraging note for the friend I hurt last week, and I’ll be sure to sign up to serve on the kitchen team at church.
Upon first glance, these things seem to be good—helpful, even. But, when the motivation behind these activities is to somehow make-up for past sins, we run into a response that is not found within the pages of Scripture. So, “Don’t try to fight condemnation by promising to pray more, or fast more often, or memorize more Scripture. Future obedience is certainly important, but it’s impossible to resolve issues of yesterday by doing better tomorrow. Our promises of future obedience, however sincere, can’t resolve condemnation for past sin” (Mahaney). If I live in self-condemnation and I sin, my guilt and inadequacy take over and push me to make myself better on my own merit, to earn the favor of the Lord. If, however, I live in gospel-grace and I sin, my drive to kill my sin and to bring glory to the Lord leads me to my knees in repentance and worship of a Father who loves me despite my sin.
Though we should not strive for good works in order to make up for past sin, desiring to do better once we have been convicted of sin is a proper and biblical response to our sin. We should not continue in sin that grace may abound (Romans 6:1); our hearts should long to be obedient to God, and one of the evidences of our obedience is often seen by the good fruit our lives produce. So, we should pray against condemning ourselves and pray for the heart to see and understand the conviction of the Lord. There is a difference in responding to conviction from the Lord and reacting out of condemnation from ourselves. The motivating force behind the one is the God who disciplines and sanctifies us for our good and His glory, while the motivating force behind the other is my own sinful heart. God is the one who has the authority and power to radically change our hearts and to produce in us works that are pleasing in His sight—this, dear sisters, is far more glorifying to Him than trying to convict and fix ourselves.
Self-Condemnation makes you gospel-forgetful.
Have you ever shared advice with someone in conversation, and their response to you is, “you should take your own advice”? For the Christian who struggles with self-condemnation, this is important for us to hear.
We know the truths of the gospel as laid out in the glorious pages of Scripture. We’ve witnessed the transforming power of the gospel in our own lives and in the lives of others. We sing of God’s grace on Sunday mornings and remind others of it through the struggles of daily life. But, when it comes to speaking this truth to ourselves, we become gospel-forgetful. “Our sinfulness is a reality. But the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is even greater,” Mahaney reminds us. We can hold fast to the promise in Romans 8:1, that, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
So, what’s the better way forward?
Mahaney, once again, states it well: “Some of us have been carrying so much for so long that we think it’s normal to go through life weighted down. And the truth is that, apart from the cross, condemnation IS normal”. But, we don’t have to live apart from the cross. God sent his only son, Jesus, to be the perfect sacrifice—to stand in our place and receive the condemnation and punishment we deserved. God did that, not so you and I could sulk in our shame, but so we could marvel at the grace of God in caring for lowly sinners such as you and I. He did this so we could live in the grace He has shown to us. Confess your sin before Him today, and trust in Him for the remainder of your life—God has an infinite supply of grace that will cover even you today.
“So, admit it: You’re the worst sinner you know. Admit you’re unworthy and deserve to be condemned. But don’t stop there! Move on to rejoicing in the Savior who came to save the worst of sinners. Lay down the luggage of condemnation and kneel in worship at the feet of Him who bore your sins. Cry tears of amazement” (Mahaney). The God who gives us redemption and restoration—even from our own self-condemnation—is worthy of our love and amazement. Let’s take our eyes off our own failings and look instead at the cross where those failings were laid to rest once and for all.
Below you can find three practical responses to self-condemnation that I have found to be immensely helpful in my own battle against it.
Meditate on Scripture. Memorize it. When you feel the need to rain down condemnation on yourself, call to mind the great truths we find in God’s Word.
Regularly confess and pray for power to move forward in grace. God does not leave you alone to fight your sin but has provided you with the Spirit of God to comfort you, sanctify you, and rightly convict you of sin.
Plug in to a gospel-preaching, Bible-believing church that allows you to live in community with other Christians who are striving to fight off sin and live in God’s grace.
Editor's Note: This originally published at Thinking & Theology.