How do you handle doubts and self-condemnation? by Rev Stephen Brooks

I know all too well how easy it is to be hard on yourself. I’m regularly my own worst critic. Whether it’s after writing an article or delivering a sermon, I wonder if it was good enough. The fear of failure and external criticism is one of the biggest hindrances humans face, causing stunted personal growth and missed opportunities. On one side, we are confronted with the reality of self-condemnation and, on the other, the hope we now have in Christ.

Jesus began His ministry with a message different from the message of the religious   leaders of His day. He proclaimed that He came to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18). This message is still relevant today.

How do you handle doubts regarding your salvation, or how do you handle self-condemnation when your heart keeps telling you “You are no good and you don’t belong to God”?

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 4 and 5, explains the idea of ‘justification’, which means  because Jesus, who was totally innocent and sinless, pleaded guilty in our place, we are forgiven, declared not guilty, and are set free. 

In 1 John 3, John was dealing with the problem of believers who doubted their salvation. We are going to see two reasons why someone would doubt their salvation.

John’s primary purpose is outlined in 1 John 5:13: “These things I have written to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Here were people who said: “I believe in Jesus Christ”, and yet they were still having doubts about their salvation. Why? Someone was telling the believers a lie that they really weren’t saved and were able to deceive them. 1 John 2:26 says: “These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.”

In John’s day, there was a group of people in the church who were saying: “You really don’t know God; you really don’t have salvation because you don’t have superior knowledge like we have.”

They were saying:

• if you want to have salvation, you have to have a special revelation, a special knowledge and superior intelligence.

• all flesh is evil, and it doesn’t matter what you do with your bodies; they are evil anyway. (They were talking about a separation of the physical and the spiritual.)

But John is saying: “No, don’t listen to them, they are trying to deceive you. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you do have eternal life because the Holy Spirit is in you.”

They had doubts because:

• they were hearing teaching that was different to the truth. This is one thing that will cause you to doubt your salvation. Someone may say: “If you plait your hair, you are not saved.” Then you begin to doubt. This is a doctrinal doubt; it stems from a teaching that tells you that if you do not believe a certain way, behave a certain way or do a certain thing, then you are not saved.

• they were having problems – not only externally with what they were hearing, but internally as well. They believed they were not saved; their heart condemned them.

When self-condemnation or doubt comes, how do you handle it? 

How have you behaved since the day you accepted Jesus Christ and were born again? You may have failed now, but have you always failed in the past? Has there been a change in your behaviour? Now, when your heart condemns you, look at your past track record; don’t look at one single incident. If you do, it will distress you. You need to look at God’s completed work at Calvary. Trust Him that it is over, finished, forgotten, no longer there, ended … You get the message!  

1 John 3:18-20 says “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our hearts before Him, in whatever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.”

If God is not condemning you, you look past your heart to God. 

2 Peter 3:9: “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Did you come to repentance? God is a God of truth, a God of mercy, a God of love, a God of compassion. He is not willing that any should perish.

Is your heart condemning you? 

The Bible is the answer. 

• ‘The Lord redeems the life of His servants, and no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned ’(Psalm 34:22). 

• ‘He blots out our sins and does not think of them’ (Isaiah 43:25).

• ‘He does not punish us for all our sins or deal with us harshly as we deserve’ (Psalm 103:10).

• ‘There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

• ‘If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).

It’s important to note that there is a difference between condemnation and conviction. The Holy Spirit will let us know when we’ve sinned by convicting us. The Holy Spirit doesn’t aim to make us feel ashamed, unworthy or fearful, but leads us to repentance. 

Condemnation, on the other hand, is brought on by the devil, and he wants to make you feel unworthy, afraid and guilty. He will often invade your thoughts or use people to undertake his assignment.

The Gospel is good news for all who have made mistakes, and it’s the best news in the world for people who struggle with feelings of self-condemnation. 

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