It’s been a hard day. You’re finally sitting down on the couch; the lights are dimmed and the curtains are shut for the night. Everything has stilled; and though the house is quiet, it’s not peaceful. As you hug your cup of lukewarm coffee to your chest, the voices begin to speak.
Do you remember what you said today to your husband? In front of your children? What kind of wife are you?
Look at that dust on the coffee table. You are such a poor housewife.
Did you hear what your daughter said today? Who do you think she got that from? Probably you and your terrible example.
Did you smell supper tonight? What a mess that was! Sure, they ate it, but only because they were terrified to do otherwise.
You take a slow sip of your coffee and close your eyes to hide the tears that threaten to slide down your cheeks. You already prayed about each of these today, asking for God’s forgiveness, but that doesn’t silence the voices. A heavy sadness lays on your chest; the sense of guilt remains.
And so you listen to condemnation the rest of the night, even as you rest your head on your pillow, until you fall asleep.
How do I know this story so well? Because I’ve lived it. If this is your story as well, I want to help you find joy again, and freedom from this self-condemnation. But first, we need to understand why it’s wrong.
What’s Wrong With Self-Condemnation?
1. You’re trying to pay the price Christ already paid.
We would never tell someone they should condemn themselves—that such self-talk is good for them and they deserve it. But don’t we make that argument to ourselves? When we wish the sadness would go away, we murmur to ourselves that we deserve it. It’s almost as if we believe that self-condemnation helps pay the price for the sin. We make it more forgivable by suffering for it.
When you believe that, you are saying that Christ’s sacrifice was not enough.
Friend, if you have faith in the Lord Jesus, then the price for each of your sins—future, present, and past—was already paid. Jesus Christ fully atoned for your sins on the cross so that you don’t have to. And because of his atonement, you received his righteousness by faith so that you can stand blameless before the Holy God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says,
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
When you attempt to punish yourself or atone for your own sins with self-condemnation you only diminish Christ’s atonement in your own eyes.
2. You’re believing a lie, rather than God’s truth.
Self-condemnation often rains down lies that you’re worthless and unforgivable. But we know God’s Word says otherwise. It says you have worth because you are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26; 9:6). It says that God has loved you, despite your rebellion (1 John 4:10). It says that you are forgiven as God’s child (1 John 1:9). It says that the Holy Spirit enables you to obey and glorify God (Romans 8:12-14).
And yet, we choose to listen to lies rather than God’s truth. Though we claim to believe the Bible to be inerrant, in our self-condemnation we slam the Bible shut, put it on a shelf, and say, “That is not true.” And that’s exactly what Satan, the father of lies, wants.
Friend, don’t give way to the lies. Fill your heart with God’s true Word; trust him.
3. You’re focussing on yourself, rather than fixing your eyes on Christ.
Sometimes we believe that our self-condemnation is a good sign of humility. I’m humbly recognizing myself as a sinner. Friend, true humility looks nothing like self-condemnation.
Self-condemnation does the opposite of humility—humility turns our focus outward onto God and others, but self-condemnation turns us inward. Self-condemnation is self-centred. It keeps us from concentrating on God and serving others because we are gazing at ourselves.
Freedom From Self-Condemnation
Freedom from self-condemnation starts with repentance—changing our direction: We trust Christ’s sufficiency for our atonement, we believe God’s Word, and we turn our focus outward.
Preach to yourself.
To do this, we must make it a practice of preaching the gospel to ourselves. Whenever those self-condemning thoughts and voices begin their tirade, shut them up with the gospel.
I am forgiven by God—he has paid the price, I trust in his atonement, he still loves me.
If you have asked for forgiveness and repented of your sins, there is nothing left for you to do for your salvation. Rest in the peace Christ has already worked between you and God.
Second, hide God’s Word in your heart. When you are tempted to condemn yourself with thoughts of worthlessness, the Holy Spirit will bring God’s Word to mind so that you can fight off those thoughts (John 14:26). Hide God’s Word in your heart by memorizing it, pinning it on your wall, and studying it daily. Like Christ did when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, fight the lies with God’s truth (Matthew 4:1-11).
Finally, take your eyes off yourself and look outward. When self-condemnation begins, focus on God and his greatness. Yes I am a sinner, but God is the holy and gracious Savior. Yes I am weak, but God is strong. Think on his perfect attributes rather than the self-condemning accusations. Then, look around and see how you can serve others. I have found that service can be the best remedy for self-condemning sadness.
Ask For Help
Self-condemnation is not easy to put off. You may fight with these thoughts daily. You may feel weak—like you have no strength left to fight them. But cling to Christ; pray each time these thoughts come, remembering that you cannot defeat them in your own strength, but only in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
So when you start to hear those voices, pray for God’s help to be obedient, to trust Christ’s work for you on the cross, believe God’s Word, and turn your focus outward.
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