Within the past several weeks I have talked with several sincere Christians who independently told me that they live under a constant weight of guilt and condemnation. The worst part of that struggle was the uncertainty of the source of their feelings. None of them were able to know for sure whether God was condemning them, or if they were living with a false guilt that was generated from themselves or the enemy.
There are some people I know who are harder on themselves than anyone else ever could be. Most people, on the other hand, are like me and make too many excuses for their bad behavior. There are some people who can sin overtly without the slightest sign of guilt or remorse. On the other hand, there are people who feel condemned by God most of the time, even when they haven’t knowingly done anything wrong. Where is the proper balance?
Let’s look at the difference between conviction and condemnation in the hopes that God may use this study to give you clarity and direction if you struggle with this issue.
Did Jesus Condemn People?
“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
“When Jesus had lifted up Himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, ‘Woman, where are those thing accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?’ She said, ‘No man, Lord.’ And Jesus said unto her, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more'” (John 8:10-11).
When Jesus was on earth, His mission was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In Luke 19 Jesus was going to eat at the home to Zacchaeus, who was a well-known, wealthy sinner. Jesus was condemned by onlookers for entering his home, but Jesus was on a mission of redemption. Zacchaeus was so touched by the relational evangelism of Jesus that he declared that he would give half of his goods to the poor and if he had cheated anyone, he would make restitution, four-fold. Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house!” (vs. 9a). Jesus goal was not to condemn Zacchaeus, but rather to see him brought into a right relationship with God.
Should You Feel Condemned?
Jesus was clear that one day there would be a final judgment (Luke 11:31-32), and people would condemn themselves, by their own words (Matthew 12:37, James 5:12), actions (Matt. 25:31-46, Jude 1:14-15), and failure to believe (John 3:18).
It is true that some people live under the proclamation of condemnation. We are all law-breakers (Rom. 3:23). If you have not surrendered your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then you are under the condemnation of the law (James 2:10). An unbeliever has every reason in the world to feel separated from God and under the weight of judgment.
If, on the other hand, you are a faithful believer and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, than you are free from the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13) and are set free to live in newness of life (2 Corinthians 5:17). All of your sins from the past are forgiven (Romans 3:25), and “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
What is Conviction?
If you are in covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and have been bought by His blood, you have an obligation to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 4:1). If you are a child of God, you are not permitted to live any longer in sin (Romans 6). If you do sin once you are born again (1 John 1:9), you must confess and repent (turn 180 degrees) from your sin.
When Jesus left the earth, He promised that the Holy Spirit would continue His work. “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would teach us all things and bring to our remembrance the words of Jesus (John 14:26). The words of Jesus are to teach us, in part, to “go and sin no more.”
The work of the Holy Spirit is not to condemn us. The Holy Spirit empowers us to overcome sin and live a holy life (Romans 8:9 & 1 Corinthians 3:16), and if we allow sin in our life the Holy Spirit will convict us so that we can repent and turn.
If we are children of God, we will receive discipline from God if we stray (Hebrews 12:6 & Revelation 3:19). This discipline is a mercy to us. The teachings of Jesus, the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the discipline of our Heavenly Father (Heb. 12:9), are all redemptive in nature. “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The conviction of the Holy Spirit is always specific and always serves the purpose of allowing us to turn away from our sin and make restitution when appropriate. The condemnation of the enemy, on the other hand, is always vague, undefined and never satisfied.
We should pray as David did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) If we honestly pray that prayer, with an open heart, the Holy Spirit will reveal our sin to us. We will know exactly what we have done wrong and what we need to do to make it right. We can repent, restore and move forward in freedom and joy.
Who Condemns Us?
In Romans 8:34 the Apostle Paul asks the question, “Who is he who condemns?” If you read the context of verses 8:28-39, you will see that Paul is addressing people who feel that they are being attacked (v.31), accused (v.33), condemned (v.34), and separated from God’s love (v.35). There is reaffirmation and consolation for those who love God and are the called according to His purpose. We are reminded that all things will work together for our good (v.28), none can be against us (v.31), God has justified us (v.33), Christ died for us and makes intercession on our behalf (v.34), we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us (v.37) and nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love (vs.38-30). What precious promises!
Satan, the enemy of our souls is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is also the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10, see also Job 1:9-11). We are told that he accuses believers before God day and night.
When the enemy speaks to us, he tells us lies. He speaks things to us that God has not spoken. His purpose and intent is to discourage us, destroy our faith and leave us in defeat. His goal is to get us to curse God and die. He wants us to go around speaking words of death. He wants us to declare how terrible we are, how worthless we are, what rotten sinners we are, how we can never be forgiven, etc. All of these things keep us from becoming who we need to be in Christ.
Paul says in Ephesians 5:8, “You used to be darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” He says to those with a sordid, sinful past in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Paul calls us to remember that our past is in the past, and we should leave it there.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Paul gives the believers a stern warning to live a holy life. In a previous letter, he had to rebuke them for some things they were doing that were unGodly and immoral. He is quick to add however, “I do not say this to condemn you.; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” (7:3-4) Why was he so encouraged? He explains in 7:8-13 that while his letter had made them sorrowful, he was happy that they responded with “godly sorrow,” rather than a “worldly sorrow.” “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
One of the fruits of Godly sorrow is that it produces a life of no regret. When you merely feel sorry for yourself, you get no relief from the sense of guilt. When you merely feel sorry for what you did, you will have no release from the weight of condemnation. Even Judas eventually felt sorry for betraying the Lord, but it was not a sorrow that led to salvation and deliverance.
A Godly sorrow (true repentance) always brings change. A worldly sorrow only brings a sense of defeat and discouragement.
What Do You Do When You Feel Condemned?
1. The first thing you should do when you feel a weight of guilt and condemnation is to ask yourself if you are truly a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is there any area of your life that you have not fully surrendered to His control? If you are still trying to be lord of your own life, you need to repent and seek salvation from your sins and yourself. You will have no true peace in your life until you give up the reigns of control to God.
2. If you are a born-again Christian, and Christ is truly Lord of your life, ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there are any hidden sins in your life that are keeping you from experiencing joy. Do you have unresolved anger or bitterness towards people who have hurt you? Have you ever done wrong to someone and not made restitution? Have you been unloving toward your wife, husband, children or parents? Have you gossipped about someone, or have envy in your heart? If you are really honest in your request, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to show you your sin that is separating you from fellowship with God. Don’t make excuses for your sin. Make sure you deal with it, forsake it and make it right, or else you will become hardened and your problem will be worsened.
3. If you know that you belong to Christ, and that your heart is clear before God (you have no specific sin of which to repent), you need to draw near to God and resist the devil (Eph. 6:10-18, James 4:6-10, 1 Peter 5:6-10).
Our feelings and emotions can lie to us. We have to trust what God says, and not what we feel. “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God” (1 John 3:20-21). If you are in this third category, it really doesn’t matter whether you feel condemned or not. You ARE NOT condemned. What you are feeling is probably oppression from the enemy. Sometimes the enemy can even use physical weakness to play with our emotions and make us confused and depressed.
You may need to make some practical changes in your life. You may need to seek out some Godly friends with which to share your feelings and concerns. You may need to improve your diet, exercise, get better light and fresh air or even get a physical examination. You may need to fast and pray until the enemy’s hold on your feelings is released. Whatever the cause of your feelings, you need to rest in what you KNOW to be true. God loves you and He does NOT condemn you. You are a child of God, bought with the precious blood of Jesus. He has come that you might have life and have it to the fullest (John 10:10)