The Power of Sin
Self-condemnation is being unable to let go of a past sin and our anguish over something we did a long time ago—maybe in the recent past or the long-ago past. Or, it can mean being shaped by sins committed against us by other people. We can condemn ourselves and whatever the source, whether it was a sin we did or a sin committed against us, we see it showing up in situations like these.
I’m such a failure. I’m a terrible friend. I could never get involved in that organization or church because I have nothing to offer.
The remedy we hear today when we’re struggling with self-condemnation is that you just need to forgive yourself. That’s become very common. We read about it, we hear about it in Christian literature, it’s in both the secular and sacred world. We hear all the time that we need to forgive ourselves in order to get past something that’s gone wrong in our lives—either something we’ve done or that was done to us.
The Power to Forgive
We forget—or maybe we’ve never known—that we don’t have the authority to forgive ourselves. Only God has the authority to forgive us and if he forgives us in Christ, then we’re forgiven. And so, it’s more a matter of recognizing God’s authority to forgive us and realizing that we don’t have that authority, we don’t need that authority, and we don’t need to forgive ourselves. If the Lord has forgiven us, that’s sufficient. We do deserve condemnation, we are guilty, and it’s freeing to recognize that.
So the answer isn’t in trying to feel better about past sin or to forgive ourselves. The reason that doesn’t work is not only that it’s up to God to forgive us, but that we can’t do it. We are guilty. Just saying I forgive myself doesn’t get rid of that guilt from some very real things I’ve done. It minimizes our sin to do that. Forgiveness and freedom from self-condemnation come as we acknowledge the depth of our sin and how bad it really is. When we see the magnitude of Christ’s payment for that sin and how his blood covers it, we can see how free we really are.
Flee to Christ
Fleeing to Christ and taking refuge in him is our only hope. It’s our only hope whether our feelings of condemnation come from something we’ve done or from something that was done to us. Christ is our identity. We don’t have to be defined by the past at all. We can be defined by him. We are meant to be defined by him, the path of Scripture always points us forward.
We’re called to leave the past behind. And it doesn’t mean that the scars of painful things are gone. We live with those scars. But it means that they’re redeemed and restored in Christ and we can look forward knowing those things are redeemed in beautiful ways. So the answer—the remedy—to self-condemnation isn’t self-forgiveness. It’s the forgiveness we have in Christ.
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