We have been hearing a good bit of preaching from the end of the Sermon on the Mount about “hearing and obeying” as a natural and essential fruit of our salvation, and a significant part of our confidence and assurance of eternal life. While I don’t want the “punch” of Jesus’ admonition to be softened, I thought it would be good to also encourage you to think thoroughly about how genuine assurance is first and foremost grounded in our trust in Christ and His finished work. In that regard, I found this post by pastor Mark Altrogge to be extremely encouraging. I’ve pasted the text below, but you can also link to the original post by clicking above.
I can’t believe I fell into that sin. How can God possibly forgive me? I shouldn’t even call myself a Christian. Will I ever get the victory? I’m such a miserable failure. How can God accept me?
Have you ever felt like this? Most of us have been there. The black hole of condemnation. We can feel hopeless, depressed, discouraged. We grieve over offending God. Our sin stings. And we often regret the pain we inflicted on others or consequences brought on ourselves. Sometimes we can be filled with regret for years of sin or failure.
The greater the sin, the deeper our grief can be and the deeper the hole of self-reproach. We can believe we must do penance or punish ourselves. Or that it’s wrong to have any joy or to try to remove the weight of our sorrow from our backs.
We hear Scriptures like “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro 8.1), yet still feel condemned. We know technically we’re accepted by God, but just can’t believe he really loves us now. We feel like if we let go of our guilt, we’re not really sorry for our sin. How do we escape the swirling vortex of condemnation? Here are a few thoughts:
Know where condemnation comes from
Sometimes it comes from Satan, “the accuser of our brothers,” “who accuses them day and night before our God” (REV 12.10). The devil has a round-the-clock ministry of condemnation. If he can’t keep us from Christ, he’ll try to keep us from experiencing joy in him.
At other times our own hearts condemn us (1 JN 3.19-20). Our hearts – our thoughts, emotions, feelings – are always interpreting our circumstances, but not always accurately. Our culture has taught us to trust our feelings, but feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.
For believers, condemnation never comes from God. There is now therefore NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. None. Zero. Jesus bore the full penalty for every one of our sins and God won’t punish the same sin twice.
Focus on Jesus
Someone has said we should take 10 looks at Jesus for every one look at ourselves. Condemnation tends to make us look inward. We must continue to look to Jesus, our great Mediator and to his great work on our behalf. Look to Jesus and see God’s love for you. Look to your Redeemer who ever lives to intercede for you. If you find yourself thinking more about your failure than Jesus, you need to shift your focus.
Fight to believe the gospel
It’s not enough to hear there is no condemnation. We must believe it. We must mix God’s word with faith:
For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest…(HEB 4.2-3)
Our legal standing before God as his justified, blood-bought children never changes. We must fight to believe God’s truth rather than our subjective feelings. Take up the shield of faith to quench Satan’s fiery darts of accusation. Commit pertinent Scriptures to memory. When condemning thoughts come, wield the sword of the Spirit like Jesus did when he was tempted. Say “No! I am not condemned, for ‘It is written…’”
In a follow-up post the next week, the writer (Mark Altrogge) encourages us to consider some other helpful suggestions for avoiding the “blackhole of condemnation.” You can click on the link above if you would like to read his explanation of each. In summary, he reminds us to:
- Trust God’s character
- Grieve appropriately
- Beware of self-pity
- Give thanks
- Get back up
- Trust God to finish the job
I hope those words of advice are helpful and encouraging. They were to me! They help balance in my mind and heart the proper “poverty of spirit” we should have over our sin, with the “rejoicing always” that should permeate our Christian life.