As a Christian, one of the most powerful resources that God has given to us is freedom from condemnation. Yet so many Christians live under cloaks of condemnation as a permanent state of being. I know a bit about this, because that used to be my modus operandi.
Before I continue, I must pause to define condemnation. Mirriam Webster's dictionary defines condemnation as :
"To declare something reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation" and also as "to adjudge unfit for use"
Simply put, condemnation focuses on your guilt by magnifying your shortcomings instead of appealing to your position in Christ. It leaves you feeling incapacitated and unfit for use in God's Kingdom.
Condemnation in the life of the Christian can assume many forms. It can be a state of dwelling in the guilt of having done wrong, similar to the struggle Paul described in Romans 7:21-25; it can be making assessments about ourselves and others in terms of how much progress in the Christian walk has been made. Condemnation can sneak into our lives in various ways.
One of the main reasons that Christians allow and even celebrate condemnation at times, is because it often disguises itself as other worthy things.
1. Condemnation disguises itself as Godly sorrow over sin - Every true Christian will experience grief over having done wrong to the Lord Jesus - the one they love most. Dwelling in this sorrow without repenting and moving on, however, is not recommended. It saps the Christian of the recognition of the prevailing truth which is that, in Christ, the power to conquer sin comes from the Holy Spirit (who indwells every true Christian). Therefore the solution to conquering sin is complete submission to the Holy Spirit. The truth empowers, while Condemnation paralyses you.
2. Condemnation disguises itself as Constructive Criticism/ Godly Correction- So many times, in an effort to spur each other on to further Christian victory we overstep our bounds, and our "constructive criticism" becomes nothing more than condemnation. How so, you ask? Condemnation looks at the evidence - at what exists, and places a sentence on you based on what is seen. It tells you, for example, "You lied today, therefore you're a liar". What we learn in the book of Romans, however, is that sanctification is a process, and although by no means we cater for or endorse sin in our lives neither do we take ownership of the fleshly identity that we had before Christ. Whenever Paul corrected the various churches to which he wrote letters, he was careful to avoid some major faux pas that we as Christians tend to commit. Firstly, he would address them all as believers, reminding them to take hold on the tools they had received through grace. Secondly, with every rebuke he presented the solution - Christ. Condemnation tells the Christian that he is rejected and useless, while Godly correction empowers him by reminding him of the solution- Christ within, his hope of glory.
Condemnation hits us at the core of our souls (the mind, will and emotions), diminishing our desire to persevere in Christ. So many Christians hit a time in their walk where they give in to their own rebellion and allow sin to war against their own spirits. They then face a conundrum- their actions condemn them even though they know within themselves that Christ has started a work in them. What should such a person do? Condemning condemnation allows that Christian to return to the Lord, recognizing that He has given them everything that they need to live a victorious Christian life on this earth. (see 2 Peter 1:3). They can come before God and repent, being assured of His love toward them.
Condemnation breeds fear, and fear and love do not abide in the same space. 1 John 4:18 says "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear". How is this fear cast out? It is cast out by the realization that, in Christ, we can approach God and expect that His heart and His eyes are turned favourably toward us, and that He will forgive us our sins and empower us to please Him, even after we mess up. I once told a person that now that I have been saved, I serve God out of love. The person then asked me, how do I explain the verse that calls Christians to work out their salvation "in fear and trembling". I could not answer then, but I decided to study that verse in context to see what I would discover, and in light of the topic of condemnation, I was surprised at my findings.
When examining the Greek, I found that the fear and trembling referred to the person's view of their own efforts toward pleasing God. In other words, Paul was admonishing the believers to be deathly afraid of self-reliance in actualizing their salvation. It follows perfectly then that the subsequent verse should be:
Here we see the that the power to be victorious in the Christian life is the indwelling Holy Spirit and His work within us as Christians.
Ultimately, condemnation is exposed when we realize that it has the same root as every other sin - a focus on self. When we dwell in condemnation, we focus on OUR FAILINGS, OUR EFFORTS (our lack thereof), our hopelessness; but the message of salvation ALWAYS brings us back to the cross and Jesus' powerful work to redeem us to Himself.
As such, if I could encourage you to do one thing this week, it would be to meditate on this verse:
In it, God speaks to both the condemner and the condemned. To the one who would condemn another believer He flatly says " THERE IS THEREFORE NOW NO CONDEMNATION..." no ifs, buts, ands or maybes. To the condemned, he gives a solution " WHO WALK NOT AFTER THE FLESH, BUT AFTER THE SPIRIT". We don't have to dwell in condemnation because the Holy Spirit is available to us to bring us to victory.
Therein lies the key by which we condemn condemnation, and walk in Christ's freedom.