“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
How Condemnation Hinders Repentance
A particular issue for all Christians is that of feeling we are condemned when we see our sin, or, in contrast to this, feeling we are not condemned simply because we do not see our sin. Many of us rarely see just how inclined we are to these conclusions. The issue is we are quickly set at ease simply because we are oblivious to our own sinful condition or the degrees of it, and, alternatively, when we do see our sins we are prone to look upon ourselves in undue condemnation. The true heart that God calls us to have is one of repentance, and this repentance neither gives room for self righteousness nor condemnation.
In our day many people are hindered from seeing their own sins and walking in repentance because of the self righteousness of those around them. The world we live in today is far more self righteous than we realize; indeed, every person has a false righteousness that is based upon themselves (Luke 3:8). And it is often this self righteousness that hinders us from viewing our own sin, but also hinders others from truly acknowledging their own sins as well.
Below we want to talk about a few issues that hinder people in their right approach of repentance and holiness, and how these may become ensnared by condemnation.
I. Distraction from Right Repentance
We believe at Watchpost that one of the greatest needs in the church today is that individuals would see their own sins and respond to Christ’s deeper call of holiness. Too easily we settle for a half-hearted morality and miss the great significance of these things that God reveals to us by His Word and Holy Spirit. At the same time, we recognize a persistent issue today: that when sin is spoken of, many people ignore it altogether but others struggle deeply with condemnation because of it.
Where we are meant to see our lack, our sin, and the true upward calling of holiness, many are rather cast down. These people are accused by the devil for their lack and they’re often accused by other Christians. It is our hope at Watchpost that, as we call people to realize the depths of their sin, they would take our words for this purpose: that they would see these standards of holiness to be walked in rather than as meant to condemn them. In addition to this, we hope that people would see this same application in listening to other godly teachers and ministers. That they would aim to listen for what is from God and obey it.
When we see our sins, when a pastor, teacher, or God Himself shows us our sin, it is important that we understand that this is a good thing. However, it will not be a “good thing” if we only see these things as our condemnation and not as a pathway forward. Many of us need to understand that the moment in which we see our sin is not a moment in which Christ shuts the gate upon us, but rather is the moment in which we are offered the opportunity and the means to walk forward on the narrow road. God shuts the gate only after it has been long open to those who have chosen, after a lifetime, to never walk through such a gate, to never seek repentance and faith, and who have adamantly denied the Savior, Christ Jesus our Lord.
The issue here is where people believe God is condemning, yet this is not where God’s condemnation belongs. While God’s condemnation is real, we have to remember that God’s condemnation belongs to those who refuse Him and not those who seek Him through Christ (Rom 8:1). We may find ourselves weak, sinful, slow to understand, lacking in faith, and yet if we are faithful to seek Christ in these things, in spite of these things, then we should not imagine that God is unjust so as to condemn us. We should not imagine that God’s wrath or judgement doesn’t exist, but trust that God is righteous, and His condemnation remains where it does. The error is to think God’s condemnation extends beyond its legitimate sphere.
So it is very important for us to understand this distinction: there are those who are seeking—however feeble, however sickly—to obey the Gospel (2 Thess 1:8) and those who are not seeking to obey it in the least. As we see our sin we should keep our eyes upon the work within the path of righteousness and not turn our eyes to look upon condemnation as if the two are the same!
For many of us, the true issue that God is getting at with us is where we are failing to press on in our duty to walk further in repentance and holiness. Often this is what God is rebuking us for, and we are very guilty for this sin, yet we are easily distracted from our focus upon this by condemnation. This sin is very real, yet it is separate from condemnation. The Lord absolutely may be rebuking us and yet we must realize that the Christian is characterized by going on in repentance and obedience. When condemnation creeps in we will feel that we are not permitted to go on. We must remember what is righteous, and that is walking in repentance, over and above condemnation.
When we listen to ministers from the past, for instance, or any of those who labor to show sin, we should always remember to hold this so as to not feel we are condemned when we see our sin, but so that we see our sin in order to repent of it. This is a true minister's aim. Those who seek to see their sins are not the ones who are condemned, but those who do not seek to see them! It is the natural man within us that thinks he is condemned when seeing his own sin and therefore seeks to hide the truth about his sin (Gen 3:8), and it is the natural man in us that thinks he is not condemned merely because he does not see his sin. In reality, the reverse is what is true.
This is why Christians must be very careful in their discernment to not condemn those who are seeking to walk within repentance and not acquit those who merely deny their sin! Too easily this is exactly what so many people do. And as we seek to move forward with God, seeking a greater repentance and faith in Christ, we must keep this before ourselves, both for others and for our own selves.
II. The Loss of Permission
One constant hindrance to repentance is our own sin, our willfulness in refusing to submit to God and obey Him. This should never be denied nor minimized when it is happening. We must recognize when it is happening, either in ourselves or others, and rightly call it what it is. However, another hindrance to repentance is a wrongful condemnation that gets in the way. Both of these things can exist, and they can both exist in a person simultaneously. We can both struggle against condemnation and also struggle with our own sinful pride and be unwilling to repent.
We will not understand the true issue of condemnation if we do not see that the devil is often at the root of the issue. Only when we see just how much this is his work will we perhaps be willing to take a stand against him. The devil has many ways of trying to harm believers and cause them to stumble—he absolutely can do this by tempting us to sinful lusts, pleasures, wealth, and pride, he can deceive us into false doctrine or a perverse grace—but the devil absolutely uses the weapon of condemnation quite regularly to get in the way of the believer. And that is because it is another means of turning a believer from the right road, leaving them to wander within dark forests of fear, and keeping them from the path of life that, though filled with trials and struggle, is filled with peace and joy for those who seek to obey Christ.
It is the work of the devil within this to provoke believers to believe a lie. What Christians must realize is that no lie is ok! To that we might say, “Well, of course, I agree!” And yet far too many Christians are biased in what sort of lies they’ll permit. If it’s a lie that leads to wrong doctrine, perverse lusts, or cheating others then they are quick to hate such lies. Yet when it is a lie that is based upon a fear of “what might be true”, then they are far more prone to allow it. Meaning: many Christians fail to realize how the devil lies most by misapplying truths.
The devil is crafty in this and understands that a blatant and obvious lie is far more easily seen as incorrect and condemnable, therefore, he often lies by misapplying the truth instead. And here lies the issue of condemnation. Condemnation is very often the issue of a misapplied truth. Therefore many people struggle to cast off condemnation because of the “truth” they will feel they are walking in opposition to, feeling they are walking in opposition to God Himself. The devil misapplies truths in order to make people believe that the authority of God is backing the accusation upon them. And it is precisely this lie that so many ministers are, themselves, too slow to remove, rebuke, and stand in true authority against.
It is exactly this issue of misapplied truth in which so many believers are weak, and ministers, who should be opposing such lies, are often too afraid to stand against them. This is a great failing on their part. They are so afraid of those who abuse grace that they will practically half starve others by neglecting to give them the right permission for which they are in such desperate need. These ministers fail to realize that authority is both in commanding what not to do and in permitting what a person is allowed to do: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)
It is only therefore in rightly handling both—the issue of condemnation and the issue of upholding right doctrine—that we are able to rightly hold the authority God commands in His Word. The need today for upholding pure doctrine is so great, and yet the need of upholding godly permission is also great. It is this permission, in part, that many “liberal” types realize the need of, and yet they are not faithful to God in obtaining it, not keeping also to right doctrine.
We must realize that the commandments of God are twofold: having both permission and refusal. When we lack either of these things we bring harm. Yet so many Christians today believe that there is only harm in failing one of these: the failure to uphold the commands of refusal. And it is precisely because of this that they bring harm upon themselves, other believers, and are easily made pawns of the devil. We easily go from guarding against one great evil to being wide open to the other.
We must realize that truth is where we must reside, and that we must be faithful to all truth. We hate the lies that give perverse permission for sin, but do we hate the lies that keep people back from right permission to have confidence before God? Or do we think it is some “safety” for ourselves to ensure we keep back only from a perverse permission for sin?
The point here, to be most clear, is not one which endorses reducing the commands of God. The point here is only this: keeping the commands of God both in what He permits and in what he forbids. And recognizing that when we only keep one, whether that be only refusal or only permission, then we do harm and are very wrong.
III. Waiting for God’s Judgement
Now what must be mentioned following the last section is one of the reasons why we shift off-balance in regards to both permission and refusal. In order to be rightly balanced, in order to uphold these things correctly, we often have to learn to let people do as they will. We do this, knowing that God will judge them rightly. Clinging too tightly to how we want things to be rather than accepting the reality of things is what quickly throws us off balance. Within this, we have to learn to allow people to choose what they will in order that we might maintain our focus where Christ commands us. This means that, firstly, we should be far more occupied with those who are repentant, those who are seeking, than those who aren’t. Secondly, we should hate sin and yet also trust in God’s judgement. To a certain extent, when it comes down to it, we must choose to allow other people to do wrong rather than choose to do wrong ourselves.
It is good that we hate sin. Hating sin is essential to holiness and there is much evil in this world that poses as goodness, denying said hatred of sin. But while we seek to hate sin we must remember something essential in this: we are to be concerned with holiness itself. We should be far more occupied with what is of God than with what is not of God.
Now of course, many people twist this rule. Calling themselves “positive people”, they are worthless physicians, untouched with a right hatred of sin. They pretend to be serving the “higher good”. Such people are deeply lacking and are not “lights of the world” as they imagine. I do not point towards us being anything of the sort. Instead of this, we must learn the principle that Christ clearly understood: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Pet 2:23, emphasis added) Our trust must be that God will judge such sins.
This means that on the one hand we speak against sin, warning people to repent and believe the Gospel, and yet on the other, it means leaving people to their sins rather than trying to fight them within them. I believe this is, at least in part, what Christ means in Matthew 5:39. “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Christ teaches us to entrust ourselves to God who will judge these things. Another example of this is Romans 12:19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” (Emphasis added) The heart we are meant to take is one that trusts God for His judgement upon sin, knowing fully that He will judge such things. One last example of this is 2 Peter 3:16, “There are some things in [the letters of Paul] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (Emphasis added) What Peter shows here is that these people do these things to their own harm. It is the absolute fixed certainty of this destruction. In a sense, he is not overly anxious about their sins precisely because he knows that it is to their destruction that they do such things.
The problem for us is that we don’t have a right view of God’s judgement. Either we think that God will not judge or we think God is wrong to judge and we do not leave such sins to Him. Both of these things actually cause us to not be occupied rightly where we should, and in this, take the bread away from the children of God and give it to the dogs. This is often because of the other issue, which is that as we see people doing these things to their own destruction, we are unwilling to allow the judgement of God to stand. We fail to comprehend how people are choosing these things, and fail to allow people’s choices to be their own. In another sense this is also because we try to preach our enemies into obedience rather than pray them into it.
All of these issues often cause us to be overly occupied with the things we shouldn’t be. We fail to understand and accept what Christ says to us about shaking the dust from our feet (Matt 10:14, Acts 13:51). Christ did not shrink back from this judgement, He did not grovel in the dust as we so often do today. Rather, he saw people’s unbelief to be their own sin and he walked according to this (Matt 13:58). He also taught us to not give pearls to swine and what is holy to dogs (Matt 7:6). A question here for us is this: do we equally expect ourselves and others to obey these commandments? Our failure to do so has far reaching effects, least of all us wasting our time and giving the children's bread to the dogs (Matt 15:26). All of these things teach us that we are to be very concerned with where we are putting all of our energy. And one of the great failings of the church today is that she is overly occupied with dogs rather than with Christ’s sheep: “feed My sheep” (John 21:17).
The issue here too is that we are not submissive to God’s will and decisions. On the one hand, we should readily accept those who are repentant, whoever they are (Acts 9:17), but we must also realize that the doorway hinges upon repentance and faith in Christ. While we are not selective in who Christ chooses for His kingdom, we have lost the truth that we are to be selective on what is allowed in His kingdom. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral. . . nor thieves, nor the greedy. . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9-10) While we are not to stand in the way of whomever Christ chooses, we have lost the fact of Christ’s standard of holiness and that it is absolutely divisive, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14)
When we accept man’s responsibility for their choices, choosing sin or repentance, then we will see clearly what Christ understood. Part of the issue today is that we have far too much pity for man and lack a true regard for his repentance and calling him to this. When we are blinded by such pity, we think this good! But in reality, we are unable to see clearly where Christ’s division applies, and to walk within this.
This is absolutely necessary in order that we might be rightly occupied with where God calls us to, again, “feed my sheep”. The trouble today is that we have far too much pity for wolves and have hardly any for God’s sheep! These wolves walk around in contempt of God’s Word and yet we pour ourselves out against their hardness of heart. We should be far more concerned with those who are repentant rather than those who are not. We should be offering our help to those who are seeking God and far less preoccupied with those who are not. This does not mean we forget those people; indeed, we must always walk humbly in the truth that everything we have we have received by grace, and truly pray for them, loving them. The trouble is that we see this one truth that all we have is by grace, and we often use it in contradiction to Christ who clearly teaches us also to be occupied with righteousness and to turn away from those who persist in unbelief.
We must learn to let these dogs do what they will rather than directing all of our energy towards them. Our failure to do this means that we are not rightly aware of our role. We are also unaware of the weak Christian and are not ready to help them with their chains of condemnation and other needs. Rather, we actually think it's good to simply leave God’s sheep to their own (because they are “already saved”) and go full tilt hunting down wolves. This is our thinking. Is this really what Christ taught? Does He teach us to leave the sheep to find their own bread while the shepherds are off on some wolf-wrangling expedition? Or does he tell the servant of the house to give the other servants their daily bread (Matt 24:45)? Many ministers need to learn that this is their work, and that actually failing to do this leads them near the terrible danger of “beating the servants” (Matt 24:49). Many people who treat the weak sheep so cruelly, neglectfully, and harshly are those who are actually found beating the sheep rather than feeding them. The most common way we beat the sheep today is in denying their needs, neglecting them, and judging them for these needs as we seek to be occupied with that which Christ doesn’t call us to, ideas born of our naive heroism and not of truth.
Christ teaches us this: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” (Rev 22:11) He teaches us this because there will be a day of judgement for all of these things, and we are to be centered upon this fact. The lesson here is not about being passive—that is its own sin—but it is one of allowing things to take their course, as God allows them to. Still being merciful, still praying, and yet being rightly occupied as Christ commands us.
This is because we trust this verse within our own sufferings, and trust it too for God’s judgement of others. This is righteous. It is not righteous to either not trust in God’s judgement or not permit God’s judgement. Many people think they do good precisely because they resist God’s judgment, when this is contrary to Him. We must allow God’s judgement to reside, and live according to His judgement, not our own. Only when we rightly grasp this will we be rightly preoccupied with that which Christ is preoccupied with: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:9) Only then will we have the right balance between love for our enemies and love for Christ’s sheep. And within this, focus our own lives upon righteousness. We should be far more concerned with those who are seeking the truth and to obey than wasting all this time with these people who spit on the truth and twist the Word. Our failure to do this actually reveals a heart that doesn’t respect God’s judgement nor trusts it.
We must realize that our calling is to feed God’s sheep, and we must accept this. While we call for people to become sheep, to enter the fold, we must guard that gate outside, against the goats, and we must also learn to be preoccupied with feeding the sheep of God, and not with trying to feed all the goats! Rather, we should let them do what they will so that we can focus on giving bread to God’s children. When we are consumed with such people, we are unable to give right biblical permission, and this starves the sheep of God, because those who ARE walking according the truth need permission. Without both the permission and refusal being understood and reaffirmed, the lines of what is right become unclear, and while some will walk into sin, others will fall under the lies of condemnation. Warn those who do great sin, and yet not to the point that we starve those who are walking according to the truth.
IV. Self-Righteousness in Others
One of the main reasons this article was written is because of the issue of self righteousness and how this hinders repentance—both in ourselves and in others.
We often do not recognize the self righteousness in our culture. We are prone to see the self righteousness of legalistic and ritualistic people, yet we fail to comprehend what self righteousness truly even is. We must see that self righteousness is not just for the overly legalistic or ritualistic; it is something that every person will have in one form or another. It is “fundamental” within our sin nature. This is because self righteousness is always one face of pride.
This means that we are easily deceived by our own version of self righteousness. We quickly adopt what we hate by taking on our own means of self righteousness. We are prone to hate the self righteousness in others, yet, in our fallen minds, the way we seek to overcome such sin is most often through creating our own version of superiority—and this is self righteousness. Hate those rigid and judgemental types? Then just become superior to them by being entirely “flexible” and non judgemental! Hate those “lazy bums”? Then just become superior to them by “working hard” and making busyness a virtue!
The problem is we are fooled by this. To our natural eye it seems we are fighting evil, yet our means of “fighting evil” is only by our own pride, and not by true righteousness.
It is always a problem of hating a certain sin and yet permitting our own by this. We should understand that we should hate such sin, but this is commonly how we are actually overcome by this sin, rather than overcoming it with good (Rom 12:21)—when we allow ourselves to adopt our own self righteousness, rather than walking in true righteousness regardless of other people’s pride. Self righteousness is pride in others that provokes us to our own pride.
We miss the path of true righteousness precisely because we choose the path of a different type of self righteousness. And this is the greatest hindrance to right repentance today. It is a false repentance, a godliness without power (2 Tim 3:5).
The mark of the true path of righteousness is to be found only within what is of God, that which is done in obedience to His Word. Anything outside of this, no matter how good and right it seems to us, will be a false righteousness. Man thinks they can reject God and have righteousness of their own. It is a false righteousness that has contempt upon God and His ways, and it has a contempt upon man. Always judging ourselves to be superior than others, and judging ourselves to be better guides than God. THIS is the mark of self righteousness, not legalism or being “overly religious”. Those are only versions of self righteousness, not the definition of it.
One of the hardest pills for us to swallow is accepting the truth of our own self righteousness and repenting of this. This is what it means to own our own sin.
The trouble in the midst of this is that we often feel provoked by the pride in others as if their self righteousness is justified by our repentance. This too is a real problem and it hinders right repentance in our lives.
The problem here is that self righteousness is always attempting to make a claim upon others by one's own self righteousness. Believing one has the right to lord over others precisely because of one’s self righteousness. This means that one of the hindrances to turning away from our pride will be the pride in others that is always provoking us to grasp our own self righteousness in response. These people try to “claim” some form of lordship over us precisely because of our repentance—as if they own this. It will also try to suggest to us that the only “real humility” is for us to submit to such self righteousness in others. That if we were “really” repentant, then we would show it by acknowledging their superiority. It sounds very stupid, but this is very much alive and well in our world today. And these provocations and attempts to lord over each other are a great hindrance to repentance, both for the person doing such things but also for the person they are attempting to subjugate. This is another way man seeks to steal that which belongs to God and deny his neighbor their own welfare.
The self righteousness within our culture is seen by man’s attempts to claim possession of truth. And it is by this claiming to be the “founder” of truth, goodwill, wisdom, or good works to others that we claim such “lordship” over others. The sin here, if not most obvious, is that these things, all of them, belong to God alone. Christ is the Truth (John 14:6). It is of God that we have righteousness, truth, wisdom, life, and light. Yet it is precisely these things that man will try to claim as his own, as coming from his own mind, heart, or strength. This is… self righteousness. And it is here that such great evil begins. It seeks to claim that which only God possesses. Doing this is great contempt upon God and it is great conceit against our neighbor. The world today acts as if they are simply running to do good when in reality they are most often found to be running towards these good things for this secret pride. The distinction between self righteousness and true righteousness is that which claims to be of self versus that which claims, humbly, to be of God. “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21) “For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7, BSB)
A False Morality with False Condemnation
Within this arrogance is man’s attempt to deny the truth of God’s Word, which tells us that we are fallen sinners and that God alone is good: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom 7:18) Man seeks to believe in his own goodness, and it is here that we have the pride of self righteousness.
The trouble is that fallen man also sees that there is evil within this world, therefore man makes a system of his own mind in which there are “good people and bad people”. Using this system, man can maintain a belief in his own goodness while also being “truthful” about the evil in this world. This system only serves to exalt the self righteous by condemning others. Within it, people will continue to shift away from true righteousness and repentance because they will continually merge off the right path for this false righteousness.
We see this type of thing everywhere. Everyone is running off doing some version of good: saving the whales, doing some humanitarian work, telling others to do good, or being some guru. The problem with all of these is that they are done from the desire to believe oneself to be “good”. In this is the failure to acknowledge that righteousness only comes from God and that which is of God. Every other version of good, wisdom, truth, whatever it be, is a counterfeit.
All of this is a false godliness, one that is built entirely upon self righteousness rather than true righteousness. And it is by this false righteousness that many are deceived into fearing, serving, and being judged.
This false righteousness has its own commandments (recycle, be tolerant of everything, live minimally, fight against global warming), its own appearance of good, and its own repentance. It even has its own version of “faith”. And this is one of the greatest hindrances to true godliness, obedience to God, faith, and repentance. Man would rather settle for this counterfeit than turn to God through Christ. People exchange true goodness, a true heart, for the mere appearance of it.
This is the great danger to themselves of hindering right repentance, and yet these sins don’t stop there, because much of what these sins do is hinder others from right repentance. They do this by commanding others into a false repentance, by provoking them to pride, and by a constant form of false condemnation.
The problem within this system of self righteousness that has those “good people and bad people” is that they claim that unless you obey what they call “good” you are one of those “bad people”. This means a near constant fight against their false condemnation in the pursuit of true goodness! They are the great hindrance to true goodness, captured by the devil to do his will, and yet they fully believe they are the ones doing good.
The error of self righteousness will always be seen with those who think they have any right to command others within their own “commandments of men”. The only true place to command others is by declaring the commandments of God. One is entirely sinful and evil, born of greatest conceit against God and man; the other is entirely holy, of God, true, and leads to right repentance. And this is where that fight is: between false repentance paid unto man (or purely none at all), or true repentance that is done unto God. Here, the conceit of man constantly hinders true repentance because man in greatest self-righteousness thinks he can command man in how to live, repent, and do good. By this he turns man away from God to himself.
A System of Victims and Villains
In this system today there is a near constant set up of “victim” and “villain”. If a person does not walk according to the mandated commands of men, nor the mandated commands of the victim, a person is automatically labeled as the villain. And a person who will seek to obey God, rather than man, will have to fight against the constant stream of accusation of doing evil. It is here that many people are turned aside. They are easily persuaded they would be doing evil to walk against these ideas and therefore they relent under these accusations. They fail to allow God to be the only authority of good and evil, and to obey Him alone. Instead, they fear a false god, the god of this world. And they do this not necessarily by being fully given to the desire for man’s praise (though, that is certainly a part of it), but by their self-ruled hearts’ push towards what they have deemed “good”. By their own foolish thinking of what is good. They are turned from the right path precisely because of what they think is good, rather than what they think is evil (Prov 14:12). And it is because of this that they fail to discern what is truly good.
Within this system of “good people and bad people” is a strange form of self righteousness, and it is given to those who are “victims”. It is expected that those who are “villians” occupy themselves with a form of repentance towards those who are labeled as victims. In this system, the victims rule as “sinless” or at least, “minimally sinful”—they’ve been sinned against so their reactions are excused— and the villains are expected to lay themselves low before such victims. Therefore everyone is avoiding being one of those “bad people”. Everyone wants to be either the victim or the one who gives no offense to the victim. That is because this system believes that those who are victims are the ones sinned against, they are not sinners but are oppressed by sinners. And these people only ever do wrong because of “what wrong has been done to them”—removing complete accountability. Everyone is afraid to be considered one of these oppressive people. This system leaves no room for true repentance, for everyone is busy fighting for this self righteousness as proof they are not the bad guy. It deters all people from repentance, breeding self righteousness and condemnation all at once.
In fact, many people are so desperate not to be considered a villain that they look for ways they can fit under the victim label. But being the victim is not a sign of purity nor amnesty. It’s important for those who are victimized to understand that they do not get to lord over others, and that while they have been sinned against they also, separately, have their own sins elsewhere. This means that being a victim in no way removes the truth or accountability of our own sins or our state as fallen man, it is in no way a place for us to hide. Yet it is precisely this idea of victimization in which a great many people trust.
The problem within this system is that we take people’s offense as our guide, rather than the Word of God. We trust man’s offendedness but fail to realize man is fallen so this means his offendedness will also be fallen. Case and point, they were wrongly offended at Christ (Mark 6:3). Yet it is exactly this offense that man is so afraid of and they allow this to be what controls them, trusting this to guide them in what is “good”. Too easily, we accept man’s offense at God and His Word.
People believe that the path to self righteousness is through victimhood or by subjecting themselves to these people, and that those who don’t possess this “badge” are obligated and/or condemned by not subjecting themselves to it. This is a great hindrance to true repentance. It has people occupied with man’s system of “righteousness” rather than God’s.
It also means that to own our own sins we must fight against this claim that people try to make upon us. In the world today people fully believe in their self righteousness and that to own one's sin in the face of those who do not own their sin means we are apt to be treated in contempt by them, and reduced by them. This easily distracts us, and it is made worse when these people try to lord over us and speak great evil against us for not obeying their commands, confusing us as to what is good.
This use of shaming others for one’s own pride is a heaping on of condemnation. Believers, doing so is such wickedness. May we repent, and no longer be one who stands in the way of others who would repent.
A quick note on this: the way out of this issue is not by contempt upon such people or one’s own pride. This, as discussed previously, is only producing one’s own self righteousness. We have a great need of fighting against such contempt from others and yet to fight our way out of this with pride is great sin on our part. We cannot overcome evil by walking in our own sin! We must overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). We must learn how to fight these things in true righteousness. For more on this subject, please read Fear of Man.
Making Substitutions for Right Repentance
The problem within all of this is no one owning their true sins. One issue with a false righteousness is making up what we think we should be repentant for or do morally, yet these things are not the actual things in which we should be walking. The world is full of this, and many Christians are also very caught up in this. Even when people are “repenting” they’re not repenting for what they should be. They repent at the surface but don’t grasp the true heart of the matter. Or they’re busy repenting for things they shouldn’t even be repenting for—just finding a cheap apology for whatever they think is bad rather than honestly examining themselves for the real sin and repenting for that humbly. Yet when they’re convicted for lacking repentance they only dig deeper into this misplaced morality rather than the true morality of God.
These things create both the problem of no repentance and a false repentance that people become occupied with.
The greatest hindrance to repentance is self righteousness. Both our own self righteousness and the self righteousness in others. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, one of the problems for us is that we believe that the mere lack of seeing our own sin is somehow a security, and then when we do see our sin we are quick to believe in our own condemnation.
However, looking at the account of the Pharisee and tax collector we see that Christ Himself corrects this false thinking (Luke 18:9-14). In God’s eyes it is the person who acknowledges their sin, the one who walks in repentance, that is justified. And it is the person who does not acknowledge their sin that is not. We need to see the different ways this self righteousness takes form and be prepared to fight against it whether coming from others or taking it up within ourselves, all for the sake of obeying Christ and walking in true repentance.
The world around us is racing to be one of the “good people”, and yet in this race they miss the very path to goodness—through the road of repentance and obedience to God. The conservative person has their own self righteousness and the liberal person also has their own form of self righteousness, and both forms are wicked and a delusion. This is not to say that other people’s sins are not a problem, they most certainly are, nor does it mean we have to be untouched by them. It means setting aside that self righteousness within us that seeks to exalt ourselves precisely because of other people’s sins. It means putting off our own ideas of what is right and giving room to God’s. And it means acknowledging that the center of self righteousness is believing what you have of yourself, when humility and godliness is believing what you have of God.
Casting off the self righteousness of the world means accepting yourself as bad in their eyes. It means putting off this badge of self righteousness that is so highly prized today, being aware how easily we are made to feel confident and comfortable in ourselves precisely because we do not see our sin. And realizing that regardless of what the world or the devil throws at us in condemnation, we must never allow these things to hinder us from pursuing true knowledge and genuine repentance.
Recognize that the world condemns us for seeing sin precisely because they do not see their own, they do not believe in sin, and they certainly do not believe in their own sin. We must set aside their condemnation, casting such condemnation off for repentance and repentance alone.
Repentance on the Road to Damascus
One hindrance to repentance comes when we have gone long and far in a certain direction only to be found wrong within it. When we are in such a position, we often fail to walk in repentance because of the amount of effort we’ve put into this “wrong direction” and because of people’s conceit that hinders us and pushes us towards condemnation.
I can think of so many people today who have put off repentance precisely because of this issue. They have walked years in what they thought was good, true, and right, only to find they have been very wrong about things. They look at all the miles they’ve walked in this direction, all the structures of “good works” they’ve built that are false and empty, all the novels of good ideas they’ve labored to write… only to find that all of them are wasted and in vain.
Yet this is so often precisely what repentance is. This is how extreme repentance truly can be (Luke 14:33), this is the fiery furnace we should not be surprised by. This is often the great measure of what repentance costs. We are the ones who imagine repentance to be smaller, when in reality it is the whole of our entire lives. It is only us who fail to grasp this.
Certainly this is the repentance Paul entered into. In a moment everything he had believed in, fought for, spent his whole life working towards and building was found to be false (Acts 22:6-7). This is heavy, yet we must be willing to pay precisely this cost when righteousness and truth call for it. To have our wisdom, strength, and pride confounded. To see our utter foolishness, to see our depravity, weakness, selfishness, pride, and great deception. Here is the great place of repentance! Yet this is exactly what so many people try to escape, and they try to escape it most often because they believe they will be condemned in seeing their sin rather than in not seeing it! And they also put it off because of the contempt and condemnation they get from others. In the midst of it they are concerned by the judgement of others, the pride others would have over them if they were to repent of such great error.
To walk in the truth of these things, to face the truth of ourselves, means we will face people’s pride—contempt—and they will boast of themselves at our tears precisely as we walk in repentance for the sins they feel superior over us with! The terrible irony; the evil pride.
The solution to this is that Christ alone owns the truth (1 Cor 4:7, John 14:6). While there is the distinction in reward to those who have been faithful to Him or not (Matt 25:14-30), the truth is that we are all ultimately becoming equal to each other within the truth if we obey Him (Matt 20:1-16, Luke 6:40). This means that the only claim upon us is Christ’s and not man’s. While we owe those that we sin against, no one gets to make a claim upon us by our failures (as previously discussed). And ultimately all who do obey the truth become equal within obedience to it.
The challenge for us is that we must be willing to pay the great cost of repentance regardless of our pride and the contempt of others. And we must be willing to pay this price regardless of how much we lose of what we thought we had before. People cling to the image of who they want themselves to be perceived as, justifying themselves and lying to themselves and others, rather than truly facing their sin and repenting.
We would find ourselves in right company if we only truly would repent. We would find that Christ gives beauty for ashes, and gives us truth for our lies. But we must be willing to count the cost and be willing to pay it (Luke 14:28-33). We must be willing to pay precisely because we choose to love that which is of Christ, the Word of God, and of holiness more than we love our corrupt peace that we have from the false idea of ourselves (the peace based upon not knowing our sin), these foolish ideologies that are false, and these false identities we count so precious. We are merely coming to see who we actually are, and we should walk in this.
We should care a thousand times over for the truth, rather than for our pride. Regardless of how many miles we’ve traveled down this road, we must turn when it is clear to us that we are in sin. Walk the long road of repentance if you have to, but walk it! In this we will face so much of man’s pride, but be faithful. Regardless of what others do, press on for Christ alone, the truth alone. This is the repentance that we owe. This is what repentance is. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Pet 4:12)
V. Other Forms of Undue Condemnation
Next are a few brief explanations of other forms of condemnation that hinder repentance.
“And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Luke 18:39) “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-14)
Some of the ways we are often condemned by others is in being wrongly rebuked, this is very common. Again, just as we must not allow man’s offense to be our indication of what is wrong, so we also must not allow man’s rebuke to be the means of guiding us. Foolishly, many people throw these things off only to be guided by their own hearts, and this too is a great error. We must cast these things off for obedience to Christ and to Christ alone.
Within this, however, is the great evil of when those who are seeking Christ are kept back from Him because of the inconvenience of their desperation and need. They are “loud” with their needs and this is seen as an offense. Alternatively, they are kept back because of the expectation that those who come to Christ must be as those who are “grown/adults”.
These people are kept back by others because of the undercurrent lie that says Christ is only for certain people and not others. How downright wicked that the population in Jericho was content to allow this poor man to have his salvation walk past him; to remain the rest of his life blind and a beggar because they were too irritated with his cries? How terribly wicked. And how wicked for the disciples to believe that Christ had nothing to offer children, that only those who were “grown” were to have anything to do with Him. And yet both of these things are exactly how so many people act, seeking to keep things for themselves or seeking to keep others back.
Another way this plays out today is when people are rebuked as wrong for obeying the truth. This is something the world very much does, mocking that which they don’t understand. And many believers are being made to stumble by the temptation to follow the bad example of unbelief and reserve. Taught as being BAD for doing so. This is exactly what happened to this blind man, he was taught that he was wrong and bad for crying out after Jesus.
In many ways we have to overcome the world around us that humiliates us and rebukes us for calling out after Christ. And in many ways we have to overcome those, even in the church, that try to act as if the things of God only belong to the “superior minded”. While Christ calls all His people to maturity (we must clarify this because many people wrong interpret being “child-like” as being immature and calling it faith), we must never believe that anyone who truly seeks Christ, however poor, blind, ignorant, or young, is ever to be kept out of things of God. Christ commends those who seek Him in the face of resistance (Luke 5:19-20). Let us pay attention to ourselves, how terrible to be found as those who are resisting those who are trying to enter the Kingdom of God. This is the guilt of condemnation. Christ does not hinder any person because of what is natural about them: race, gender, intellect, poverty, or ability. We must be careful to not judge anyone based upon these things, but rather, base our judgement upon those who seek Christ and those who do not.
VI. True Repentance, True Condemnation
Condemnation is a great hindrance to right repentance. Having looked at these subjects, let us look more at what condemnation is, what God speaks about repentance, and where these things belong.
“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” (2 Tim 2:19, emphasis added)
“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...” (Luke 3:8)
“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11)
“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezek 18:32)
The path that God lays out for all people in this world is repentance, walking in faith in Christ. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31, emphasis added) We either repent, turning to God through Christ, or we do not. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18) This is the distinction that God makes upon all of mankind, and His judgement hinges entirely upon this distinction (John 3:19-21). We either repent, turning to obey the Gospel of God or we continue on in rebellion and sin.
Here is the great divide, between those who repent and are therefore saved, and those who do not, those who continue in sin and are condemned. This is because mankind is fallen. We are all evil. Our natures are corrupted and we live entirely in error. Even the very good we think that we do is actually evil. We are desperately wicked. And it is only in turning to God, to His Word, living as it commands us, that we walk within repentance and newness of life—walking in true holiness. God’s Word absolutely gives place to repentance and salvation, and that of condemnation. We should never seek to undo either of these things; rather, we must see where these things are clearly defined and where they belong. The error is for us to say that a person who continues headlong in sin, refusing to obey that which 2 Timothy 2:19 makes clear (“Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity”) is a person who is free to imagine they are walking in repentance and is therefore saved. And the equal error is to say that a person who is walking in repentance to the best of their ability is somehow under condemnation.
We must remember that God makes His Word clear. And while the truth of God’s Word is that of election and predestination we must be careful to not turn these things into condemnation, making people who are truly seeking to walk in obedience to God believe that somehow they’re missing some “hidden” qualification. While we fully walk within the truth of predestination we must also walk in the truth that God’s mercy belongs to those who fear Him (Luke 1:50), to those who hear His Word and obey it. However imperfectly, we continue forward for faith, repentance, knowledge of the truth, and obedience to Christ. We must not forget this in the name of predestination, otherwise we err with hyper-Calvinism that makes the way of God seem entirely shut, opened only by a secret riddle, rather than by the mustard seed of repentance and faith in Christ.
We must realize that the definition of salvation is based upon this repentance and believing in Christ. That it is not necessarily the full measure of these things, but marked by the persistence in them. We must understand that all of these things reside upon every man, woman, and child. “All people everywhere” are called to repent. To turn from sin to God, walking in righteousness through Christ. This is what repentance is. It is not hidden or complicated; it is a matter of those who will obey this command of God, submitting to Him, or those who will not.
God’s judgement, His condemnation, is real, and it resides upon “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess 1:8) This means that the way of salvation is through obeying the Gospel! The Gospel is repentance, faith in Christ, and walking in holiness unto God. God has not yet condemned us to hell, yet if we refuse to obey God in this, then we are condemned—precisely because we have not obeyed the Gospel of God. This means our safety is entirely within repentance, trusting in Jesus as our atonement, as our righteousness, and as our Lord. Though we are sinners, we are not condemned if we turn to God in Christ. But if we refuse, here alone is where we will be condemned. We are to trust that God does not condemn His people who look to Him in faith, repentance, and obedience.
“And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (1 Sam 12:20-23) This means that those who are seeking to obey this shouldn't be condemned. Rather, they should take comfort in their obedience to the Gospel.
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:13) Let us remember that anything that hinders true good is sin. The Pharisees were guilty of this: they condemned those whom Christ did not condemn. We must realize that condemnation belongs upon evil, upon those who are opposing Christ and who resist the Gospel. We must be very careful to not be part of hindering what is good, bringing condemnation on those who are found to be walking with Christ. Though they are lacking, though they are weak, we must not hinder them. It is often for our own ideas of how things ought to be that we are quick to condemn that which Christ doesn’t condemn. Let us all strive to enter in, seeking the truth faith in Christ and repentance that He calls us to.
A fair question to ask then is what do we do when we do not see our sin? I believe this is often a question for many people. They believe God's Word that they are sinners and yet they don't fully see their sins. It's quite easy for condemnation to seep in here. This is because repentance is essential to our salvation. The issue here is that we must be seeking these things, that is why it is our comfort that the Gospel is to be obeyed over and above being fully understood or comprehended. God will never exhaust us in this life by revealing the truth to us. So it is easy for us to mix up understanding alone with faith that fears God and obeys regardless of understanding (Prov 3:5-6). If we are not careful, we can easily condemn people for not coming to Christ WITH something (an understanding, a full repentance, a full faith), rather than coming with the seed of faith that clings to Christ to follow Him as HE leads. This is faith. And so, to those who do not understand the measure of their sin, or the measure of who Christ is, the answer is to SEEK IT. To seek Christ, seek to believe the truth, seek to obey, seek to repent where you see sin revealed, and above all—pray. Remember that CHRIST is the one who possesses all of this: the power, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, and truth which we awe are in need of. It all comes from HIM. Seek HIM. And in this, never stop seeking. That is the danger to us. Christ is faithful to those who are faithful to Him. Trust that. Trust Christ to not be unjust so as to disregard those who earnestly seek Him (Heb 6:10, 11:6). God has great regard for those who come to Him empty handed. He does not expect your hands to be full, but for you to come to Him with these empty hands, seeking Him with earnestness.
VII. The Privacy of the Soul
One of the incredible designs of God is that of our hearts. We can exist internally with our thoughts, feelings, desires, and motives, all without anyone seeing these things. And this is where Christ teaches us to seek purity firstly (Luke 11:41). Christ also teaches us that this “wall” will one day be removed, and that all things will be revealed. “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2)
The problem for all of us is that we think that this “secret place” within ourselves can be used for evil. How evil is man, that he seeks to use something so beautiful for such evil purposes, and yet it is exactly here that we seek to hide our greatest sins. We imagine we can hide our motives, lusts, greed, and covetousness, going about them secretly, keeping the truth about our motives and heart hidden inside of ourselves. And it is for this that Christ tells us we are so foolish, for while this place is somewhere only we know, it is somewhere that God also fully knows! “You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:40) We are so foolish to think we can hide from God! We are foolish too to think we are so hidden from others, for Christ teaches us that we can know a tree by its fruit, but how much more foolish are we to think that we are hidden from the God who created us? That we can walk in sin as long as we do so secretly. Yet it is precisely this secrecy that man is up to today. As long as we can merely appear good on the outside, and have man’s praise, we are pleased, caring nothing for true righteousness.
Yet this “secret garden” of the soul is something that God gives to the repentant. It is a covering, a robe to cover our nakedness with. While we will never succeed to use this for evil, we are so deeply granted this privacy for good. Here we should understand that when we are rebuked, and shown our sins, let us remember this place that we have, in which it is only us before a holy God. Here we have our Gethsemane where we can pray and be alone. We can be honest about our sins, confess them, own them, and see the truth about ourselves. All of this we can seek to do privately within. Let us remember this privacy, not so we may lie and hide from God, His Word, and godly saints, but so we might deal with our sins in truth.
It is evil to think that we can use the design of God for sin, to use this ability of covering our thoughts and motives within ourselves as a cover up for sin. God will remove this “fourth wall” and on that day such people will be found utterly naked and ashamed. Entirely exposed for how evil they truly are. Man thinks that he can hide his sin! And more than this, he really believes that the mere ability to hide his sin somehow makes him righteous. He thinks he can fool God and man. Rather, remember where you do have this privacy with God and use this for repentance, so that on the day it is removed you will not be ashamed because you repented. All those who do not repent will be the ones ashamed. But those who use that privacy for good and not evil will not be exposed but glorified, having all shame removed by the time this wall is removed, precisely because they repented and sought holiness. Don’t seek to hide the truth, it will only end in your shame. Take comfort instead within repentance, that you have this privacy—it’s only you and God there. Remember this when you’re ministered to about sin, that you have this privacy. Only, use it for good and not evil. Prepare yourself for that great Day. “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:12) “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Eccl 12:13-14)
VIII. Facing God Instead of Fearing Condemnation
Many of us shelter in our self righteousness because we fear condemnation. But some of the greatest courage we need is to truly face God’s Words to us—to listen, to hear the truth about ourselves and our own sin, regardless of what other people will say or do. It is this “bracing against” condemnation that has us afraid to hear what the Word does have to say about us. The Christian’s life is one of continuing in repentance, faith, and obedience. We should always be deepening within these things. The failure of so many today is that they think the salvation of Christ is merely the gateway through which they enter, and they fail to go on, producing the deep fruits of holiness, faith, and devotion to Jesus Christ.
Use these things that God brings to you for repentance, for striving to obey Christ, and not for condemnation. Fight to put them to right use, fight for faith, fight for obedience. And be warned of this: only fight for that which is entirely, purely, of Christ. There is much morality in this world, and there is much morality of our little minds, things we think to walk in that will please Christ. Be wary of these things; we must obey only that which is of Christ. By this I mean, don’t settle for your idea of what Christ’s love is, but look for His definition of it; don’t settle for your idea of selflessness, but look for His. Failure to do this has many people wandering down pointless roads of a false morality, failing to walk in the true holiness to which Christ calls us.
Let us realize that our fight is only ever for Christ and for repentance. Not for self, pride, or some perverse freedom. Let us only fight condemnation for true holiness. Condemnation wins when we allow it to keep us from repentance, when we hide from the true Word of God because we fear condemnation’s wrath. The only true victory over condemnation is to not allow it to control us, either in hiding or in defeat.
May Christ convince you of what is true, convict you of what you lack, and lead you on the true path of holiness. May Christ remain with all who believe.