There are many ways that the Christian can be hindered in their walk of faith. Certainly sin, laziness, pride, and any rebellion against God are examples we can quickly produce when we look at what hinders us from within. In addition to these things, there is also the world and the devil that are constantly warring against our souls from the outside. It is incredibly important that all believers are helped with these hindrances to their holiness.
As the subject we would like to talk about is quite broad, the reader should know that we will leave many of the important pieces mentioned above to the side in what we address here, as our intention is to provide in-depth specifics rather than a general overview. In this expanding series, we will attempt to unveil the nuances of some of the hindrances a Christian faces in this life, with the aim of shedding light on the schemes of the enemy and the mishandling of the subject by other believers, thereby enabling the reader to press forward to greater holiness by the grace of the Lord, through Christ.
In endeavoring to expose these hindrances and present a path forward unto holiness, we begin with the hindrance of condemnation.
Condemnation and the Christian
Condemnation is, by definition, “the act of judicially pronouncing guilty, unfit for use, or forfeited; the act of dooming to punishment or forfeiture” (Webster’s). This is a solemn reality that must exist in a just world: those who are guilty must be proclaimed as such and either make acceptable atonement or receive recompense.
While it is a joyful thing to be assured that this is the certain end for all the powers of darkness, the enemy often commandeers this very concept and brings it to bear upon those who are entrusting themselves to Christ. This distracts the believer from the simple life of obedience and faith, instead weighing them down along the highway to heaven. But not only this, it also tempts Christians to cast away certain correct doctrines which the devil tries to misuse upon the believer. It is a terrible fight, and one we need to endure and overcome with right doctrine and a continual repentance, with a whole-hearted submission to Christ as the great aim. We have good hope to do so, as we believe on the words of Christ, that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
What must be said at the outset of all of these things is that it would be a terrible tragedy to manage to cast off condemnation and yet not also maintain the right fear of the Lord. It is perfectly appropriate to want to come out from underneath condemnation, but it is a great loss to not come out with the revelation that God often permits our struggle with condemnation in order to teach us just how essential holiness actually is. The believer needs to know that God will never condemn someone who seeks Him, desiring to obey Him and do all they can to walk in repentance, faith, and obedience before Him. This is the believer’s comfort. God will never condemn such a person, however weak they truly are. But our goal must be to come out of these struggles with all things intact. Not simply to walk out from under the fear of condemnation, but also, equally, to come out with the fear of God in its right place. This is the victory that truly overcomes: resting in God’s righteous judgement of those who obey Him, and walking within the holiness that God has permitted our sufferings in order to produce (Heb 12:10). This is submitting to God while resisting the devil (James 4:7).
In seeking to come out of condemnation, we should not seek to come out with only one thing, but with all things of holiness in their proper place.
A Distraction from Right Repentance
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. The Word resounds with the authority of God that we would not treat Christ with contempt but be wholly given over to Him (Heb 2:1-4, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Romans 6:22, 1 Peter 2:16), to cast off all sin and live true to Christ! And yet at the same time we also recognize another great “plague” in the church, one that is far too often overlooked because of this first plague: there are many believers who continually sit in fear and condemnation, overly fearing their sins.
There are many reasons that we can be in this condition. We can be here because we do not understand God’s Word, or we do not trust God as we should. We can struggle with this because of our temperament and from weakness. Another reason can be precisely because we have been neglecting Christ and holiness as mentioned above, this being the discipline of God for our sins. Or we may languish under condemnation because we continually fear for ourselves because of how others remain hardened in unrepentance, putting on ourselves the sins of others. Whatever our condition, we all need to understand the will of God.
God’s will is our repentance, turning from sin and rebellion through the redemption of Christ, into holiness and obedience to God. It is often because we have either disobeyed or mistrusted God somewhere within this that we come into a “condemning” fear of God.
To those who neglect the call to holiness, God often allows this fear as consequence, warning against treating Christ with contempt and even of the danger of apostasy (Heb 2:1-4). God doesn’t remove His salvation but He can remove our assurance of it as rebuke. So here we need to seek out where we have walked in sin and contempt towards God and His ways, and ensure we “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb 4:1)
To the one who has neglected holiness, God's Word still speaks: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.” 2 Samuel 7:14-15 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.” 1 Samuel 12:20. And, “I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.” (Micah 7:9) We deserve this discipline and yet we should always still hope in God's salvation. We should hate how evil we have been in our sin and yet still trust God.
In other ways we fear God’s condemnation, we have need of learning to trust God’s goodness and justice. That while God commands all of mankind to repent, and certainly there is condemnation for those who refuse, we should not imagine that God’s condemnation remains upon those who truly seek to obey the Gospel. We must see that while God is fearful, He is equally just and forgiving. We can never abuse His kindness and mercy, but neither will He abuse us with His fear, putting it upon us past where it works repentance in us for sin. God commands repentance for all of mankind, yet He most certainly sees and receives those who do walk in this repentance! The issue for us is setting condemnation in the wrong place.
As mentioned above, another issue is that we believe that God expects more of us than we are capable of. We falter in fear because we really don’t believe that God takes people at their repentance and faith, whatever sincere “level” they are able to walk in. He calls for the seed of faith in us. And while this seed must truly be born of heaven and not from man, God receives us even in such small faith and repentance. Now, of course this never means we remain as babes! But much condemnation is put on Christians because they feel they do not have faith or repentance precisely because it is so small. No, the true course for the believer is that they must realize the command of God to grow this seed, and certainly God may be strongly rebuking them for their neglect of the ways of holiness, yet the rebuke is not that there is no seed, it is that they are neglecting to obey God correctly. So in this we must see that the call is still for repentance, yet not for the first fruits of repentance.
Another way that condemnation can distract us from moving towards holiness is that we can become more focussed on our condemnation than on our repentance. Many believers who are being rebuked by God for a sinful pattern, an unsurrendered heart, or be it what it may, may feel the weight of their guilt while yet persisting in their willfulness. Our body is racked with terror after terror precisely because we refuse to submit to God in all things. Often this is a real sin that God is rebuking us for, and we are very guilty for this sin, yet we are easily distracted from our focus upon this by constantly focusing upon condemnation. We are so distracted by our guilt that we do not take the available path by which we may be rid of it. The path forward for us remains, and it is repentance and obedience. To give too much fear to condemnation is to fail to realize the permission we have as Christians, that the Christian is characterized by going on in repentance and obedience.
Lastly, if all these things are not complicated enough, we can have a combination of them all in our hearts. If this is the case, remember that one is not more significant than the other. We don’t need to doubt the seed of faith in us that is genuine because we are rebuked by God for being faithless. Equally, we don’t have the right to put off God’s rebuke of our disobedience purely because we see the seed of genuine faith in ourselves! Some of us can struggle with trusting God’s goodness and be terribly guilty of disobeying Him! The first never cancels out the second as we so often like to think. No, these things aren’t in contradiction, yet each must be dealt with as is needed.
In all these things we need to see that the course for us is always repentance. Yes, the point in all of God’s Word to mankind is repentance and faith in Christ. The goal is one of seeking these, conforming to these, and being transformed. Therefore a fear that keeps us from these things—from seeking after repentance and obedience to Christ—is clearly only of the devil and not something we are obligated to obey. We know this because it opposes God’s will: our repentance and faith! It keeps us from them rather than calling us up in them. The rebuke from God and the condemnation from God resides upon those who refuse this call, not those who tremble at God’s Word and seek Him! However feeble, blind, lame, and small we are, we must remember the single aim: repentance, faith, and walking in holiness before God in Christ.
The Hope We Have
So often 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, as if this lack means they are utterly condemned or not of Christ, rather than seeing that the right accusation is of their sin itself.
As we are called to realize the depths of our sin, it is of great importance that we would take the words God gives us for their intended purpose: to see holiness as the standard we move towards in Christ, rather than the axe that must fall upon us. By doing this, we will move forward in obedience and not feel trapped in condemnation. We should see this same application in listening to godly teachers and ministers: listen for what is from God and obey it.
A particular issue for all people 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. Yet what God reveals is this: condemnation does not rest where we are seeing our sin and repenting, but it does remain where we are refusing to see our sin and go to God in repentance. We are often wrongly set at ease simply because we are oblivious to our own sinful condition (or the degrees of it), or, alternatively, when we do see our sins we are prone to look upon ourselves in undue condemnation. Both of these are hindrances to right repentance. The true heart that God calls us to have is one of repentance, and repentance neither gives room for self righteousness nor condemnation.
When we do 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. Condemnation makes us feel as if we are not permitted to walk in this repentance and faith in Christ. In the face of this, we should not submit to the lies of condemnation but continue to fight towards the repentance and obedience that God is seeking (2 Cor 7:9-11, Gal 2:5, James 4:7), and not turn away from it, discouraged. When we find ourselves struggling under condemnation, repentance is the way forward for us.
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 to obey Christ in these things, in spite of these things, then we should not imagine that God is unjust so as to condemn us (Heb 6:10). 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, and those who are not seeking to obey it in the least (2 Thess 1:8). 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!
Wherever our struggle with condemnation comes from, our path is always to continue on in obedience. Our courage against condemnation and our assurance against questions we can't answer is repentance. Obedience is our great path forward, our great comfort, and the promise we have from God (Deut 5:33). When we don’t know exactly what we are struggling with or why, we can always take courage to fear God and obey Him. It is not about having attained, but about pressing forward. This is our comfort and safety.
“But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him.” (1 John 2:5) In all our fears and panic, especially about our personal salvation, let us calm down enough to listen to what God tells us! He says that we are to obey Him, to follow Him, and to set our hearts upon Him. And this is faith. So wherever we are in all of these things, let us determine to do so, praying for God to supply strength and faith. We are entirely dependent upon God for all things, but let us never confuse this with a cruel hyper-calvinism that denies choice, being left to feel as if faith is some vague thing that is constantly beyond us, rather than something measured by obedience to God (James 2:21). Many of us need to know that there is a path available to all of us, and that we do get to choose it regardless of all our weaknesses, if we so desire it.
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 of both is what is true. Trust God's judgement of you. Both about your sin and of His grace over those who repent and trust in His Son.
All of this is why Christians must be very careful in their discernment. We must not condemn those who are seeking to walk within repentance and not acquit those who merely deny their sin! Too often 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.
Judging According to the Flesh
In talking about condemnation, one issue we must certainly address is the carelessness in which Christians judge other Christians. This is certainly where much condemnation enters in upon the children of God.
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24) Christ tells us to not judge by the mere appearances but to have right judgement in all circumstances, yet too often this is precisely where Christians fail. They fail to truly discern what is correct of each person and each circumstance.
Christ warns us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1) He teaches us by this that one condition of the flesh is how our judgement is corrupt and not holy as it should be. Our judgement often works evil rather than good. We are too quick to judge—by appearances (John 7:24, 1 Sam 16:6-7), by putting our own personal standards upon people as if they were God’s (Matt 15:9, Mark 7:13), and ultimately we are all too willing to condemn others rather than see them repent (Ez 33:11), or we are resistant to God’s right judgement. Sadly, the state of judgement in the church is often that we fail to judge sin and deal with it correctly (1 Cor 5:12) while equally judging that which we shouldn’t. We judge bitter as sweet and also sweet as bitter (Is 5:20). And it is in this that so many Christians condemn weaker, immature, and more timid believers, beating the sheep of God with their wicked judgements, pressing them into the terror of condemnation by their abuses and neglect.
Many people lack knowledge and discernment, and yet they are only too quick to make judgements. The problem here is not that we shouldn’t make judgements, but that we have still failed to realize just how blind and worthless our judgements are if they are not entirely renewed by Christ. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2) You are the world in every part of your mind that is not renewed. Yet we all privately want to believe that our views aren’t of the world, “They’re of the world, but not me!” And here is the problem of sinful judgement: we think we are permitted to walk in our private ideas and judgements rather than only walking in God’s judgements—rather than submitting to the truth that judgement belongs to God alone.
A great many believers take up the commands of God all while “processing” them through their own private ways of thinking, and then try to demand and enforce these private views, thinking they are vindicated in them. Too often Christians think their judgements are right purely because they are Christians and they listen to teachers who teach right doctrine. Yet they fail to realize that they lack discernment: how to apply these things in varying circumstances.
We are all guilty of doing this, regardless of which biases we have. This is the inherent sin of judgement in which we are all wrong for walking. We fail to realize that we must be entirely renewed, and our mind is still fallen, therefore our judgement will be entirely fallen if not given completely over to Christ to be renewed. There are numerous ways today that we fail to judge with “right judgement” because we have not had our foolishness sanctified.
We often do not realize that our own judgements are the very things that would condemn Job for "not being willing to be rebuked" rather than rebuke Job's friends for their abusive accusations. This is the state of judging by the appearance of things, and even feeling obligated to do so!
And sadly one of the greatest areas we do this evil is in misjudging Christians, bringing condemnation upon weak and immature believers.
Condemned for Different Weaknesses
“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)
“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)
Some of the ways we are often condemned by others is in being wrongly rebuked by them. And this is generally done by people either thinking a person is an inconvenience or by judging a person according to the flesh. By these appearances a person is hindered from seeking Christ and from serving Him. “Do not hinder them,” says Christ (Mark 10:14).
All of human history is littered with this terrible sin. Mankind as a whole always judges by these appearances. It is such an evil thing to keep any person back from knowing or serving Christ merely because of what is according to the flesh. The condition of mankind is that of seeing only very few “types” of people as “worthy” of consideration. In ancient times women, children, and slaves weren’t even considered to be fully human. And how many since Christ’s day have still been hindered from Christ, rebuked for their pursuit of Him and desire to serve Him?
Another part of judging others according to the flesh is that we humiliate others for their need or weakness and do not judge them correctly. We rebuke others because we become embarrassed of those people’s needs and see them as an inconvenience or interruption, failing to truly care about their needs. We rebuke people for their needs rather than help them, because we do not take these needs seriously. By doing this, we stand in the way of people who, despite their weaknesses, inabilities, or differences, desire to pursue and serve Christ.
How downright wicked that the crowd spoken of in Luke’s gospel was content to allow this poor blind man to have his salvation walk past him, to remain the rest of his life blind and a beggar because they were too irritated by or embarrassed of his cries? How different was this from the paralyzed man who was carried by his friends on a mat and lowered into the house before Jesus? Many of us are remarkably untouched with the needs of others, and the great evil in this is that we will rebuke people for their needs rather than ourselves for our lovelessness.
How wicked for the disciples to believe that Christ had nothing to offer children, that only those who were “grown/adults” 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. And people do this much less with force, but rather with rebuke.
“And those who were in front rebuked him…” (Luke 18:39, emphasis added)
“...The disciples rebuked them...” (Mark 10:13, emphasis added)
“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Matt 16:22-23, emphasis added)
As we have discussed at length, there is a great need for right rebuke and a great danger in wrong rebuke. We often rebuke that which we judge according to the flesh and do not discern that which is of Christ. We must be very careful of this, and ensure that we discern that which is of Christ, regardless of what vessel it is in, and that which is not of Christ, regardless of how the vessel may appear. Man today is still prone to judge by appearances and not with right judgement (John 7:24).
Condemned for Different Callings
Another way we judge by appearances and fleshly biases is by rebuking other believers who are obeying the call of God on their lives. Many Christians think they have a monopoly on Christianity and they fail to see where God is working with others differently than with them.
A great example of this would be the work God began with Peter and then continued through Paul: bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. The disciples could have easily believed that this was contrary to God, but instead they spiritually discerned what was of the spirit of Christ, “‘If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?’ When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” (Acts 11:17-18)
This work was entirely different from what the other apostles were doing, they were bringing the Gospel to the Jews. Though these things were different, they were still in unity. But this unity would only be discerned by those who were listening for what was of Christ’s spirit and what was not.
A great many people are rebuked for obeying the truth, rebuked as wrong for doing that in which the Holy Spirit is Himself leading them. And this is because it goes against their interpretation of God’s will. This tempts believers to doubt Christ’s leading of them, to put aside serving Him, and to believe they are doing evil when they are doing good! And this is because they simply differ from the picture many Christians have of what a “good Christian” should look like!
This last point bears important clarification: being prepared to listen for what is of Christ and not “stand in God’s way” is a far cry different from feeling this perverse obligation to accept anything that merely calls itself Christian. Are we to force upon ourselves and others a perverse form of “unity” in the name of this? Certainly not! “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Cor 6:14-15) We are purely looking for what is of the spirit of Christ in people, however it differs in appearance or in how we thought it would be, and ensuring we accept this and not oppose it. We are not seeking any unity with that which is not of Christ.
Condemned for Different Limitations
Lastly, we may have real limitations according to the flesh. We should be very careful to never rule people out of any realm in the Christian faith because of these things. And at the same time we should be careful to be aware of these limitations and seek to walk in godliness within them. The person who is paralyzed shouldn’t be shut away as incapable of any service, and they should also not be expected (either by others or themselves) to do that which they cannot. We must control our mercy so that it never distains other people in their weaknesses, nor treats them as if they are more capable than they are. Many people, in trying to break past where they are condescended to by others, often break past their own strength. No one ever needs to deny the limits on their strength in order to cast off the condescension of others.
In many ways we have to overcome the world around us that humiliates us and rebukes us for calling out after Christ. And, tragically, we have to also overcome the same from many in the church that try to act as if the things of God only belong to certain “types” of people, rather than to all of mankind. So many people still walk with a mind according to the flesh rather than according to the spirit of Christ.
While Christ calls all His people to maturity and purity, we must never believe that anyone who truly seeks Christ, however “poor, blind, weak, ignorant, or young” is ever to be kept out of things of God.
Beating the Sheep
It is so incredibly right that we hate sin, that we hate the abuse of grace, and that we are concerned for individuals who are trusting they are saved when in reality they aren’t! These are very real concerns, and yet these things are not held rightly if they are not balanced with other godly concerns. Christ teaches us, “Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thess 5:14) We fail to uphold the fainthearted and weak when we cast them behind our backs in the name of “calling out those ‘false Christians’.” We are far too insistent on the concerns we think are more important. It seems you can hardly read anything that doesn’t say, “You might not be a Christian if…”
While these tests of if we are in the faith are certainly good and a part of what we must call out as believers (2 Cor 13:5), they are taking up all the air in the room. And the people who are often the only ones left hearing and trembling under these things are the weak and fainthearted Christians. We come in, blow a loud horn, and leave them with shattered peace and no regard for what we have done.
“The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls.” (Song 5:7)
We are only all too quick to shatter and destroy weak Christians’ peace. And what’s worse is that we always think we’re righteous for doing so! We pat ourselves on our backs and say, “My work here is finished!”, entirely callous to the terror and harm we cause. And then we just get up and do the same thing the next day! This is beating the sheep of God. It is heartless and violent. “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov 12:18)
Such people are not willing to do the hard work of walking with these believers, pointing out their sin and error in the individual parts of their lives, yet careful to not condemn them as a whole. We must not confuse rebuke with condemnation.
All our work against unbelief should never come at the cost of harming other believers! And never so we can just ignore them and leave them to wallow in their struggle against condemnation. Alexander MacLaren writes on Romans 8:16 saying, “The sin of the world is a false confidence, a careless, complacent taking for granted that a man is a Christian when he is not. The fault, and sorrow, and weakness of the Church is a false diffidence, an anxious fear whether a man be a Christian when he is.” Are we equally concerned with both issues?
Do we realize that the devil thrives in this false condemnation against other believers, and that he is working for this? That it is often his ambition to get other Christians to speak a false word in order to trap another believer under condemnation or false accusations? Our failure is not in just in having wrong or right doctrine but in failing to assess where we apply it. What were the sins of Job’s friends? So much of what they said was true in fact, but was an utter lie precisely because of where they sought to place it. Many of us think that to speak merely what is true is some kind of fail-safe, when we have no mind to assess if it is still true to speak it to a certain person. We have the entire book of Job to warn us against this, and yet we are brazen and careless in such things. Is this even a concern to us? Or is it a concern we pat on the head but walk right past? There is always the danger of wrongly encouraging someone and also the danger of wrongly rebuking someone. Both should be concerns to us. It seems there are a great many Christians today who are running around with a loaded gun called, “You’re not a Christian” and they’re just firing it at will, bearing no responsibility for the havoc, terror, and confusion they are causing.
It is entirely right to say what is and what is not befitting of a Christian but we have gone beyond this, and we constantly tell people they are not Christians. Not that this cannot be discerned, but we’re not even concerned with listening for what is true! We now call people “not Christians” who merely differ from us. Worse, we have no ability to understand that a person can be quite lacking in the outset of their faith. We expect everyone's conversion to be like Paul’s! And if it’s not an instant transformation, we condemn them. We put impossible standards upon people when we put experiences forward as doctrines. It seems that we judge too easily at these mere “appearances” and do not discern the spirit of Christ in people. Nor do we bother to assess if people are seeking Christ and to obey Him! We are setting the groundwork for impossible standards, and this has terrible costs upon people.
Living like this towards other people is hateful. Hate is having no regard for a person’s well-being. And it is clear that many people today who run around with these loaded guns hate their brother. They offer no solution to their accusations. They are not equipped to help people face these utterly terrifying realities, yet they are only all too quick to cast them into utter terror again and again.
In the fight against condemnation, it is important to address how other believers bear responsibility in this, as well as how they are called to help their fellow believers in this fight. Some of the greatest need in the fight against condemnation is help from other believers. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2)
The Loss of Permission
As stated, one constant hindrance to repentance is our own sin, our willfulness in refusing to submit to God and obey Him. This certainly 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. Yet one way we provoke the fear of condemnation in others is by removing biblical permission.
An example of this would be what we pointed to earlier in this article: one in which we never encourage people to believe in their salvation, precisely because we are aware there are people who want to wrongly believe they are saved when they are not. This should not be, so here we are looking at the two necessary guardrails given in Scripture that we, the church, must also give each other: godly refusal and godly permission.
The issue here is that many Christians have no problem discouraging people from taking permission yet all the trouble in the world with approving of permission. This means that we trust in a certain fear as safety, and we fail to acknowledge how this fear has great consequences, most notably, upon the believer struggling in condemnation. Because we cannot find the courage to encourage biblical permission and assurance, we are entirely incapable of truly helping them. They are starving and we have no bread to give to them.
Worse, our “help” is often nothing more than us living out our private fears upon them. Making them a carrier of our fears rather than ourselves a carrier of theirs (Gal 6:2). Where these fellow believers are currently the poorest and neediest, we actually push them to hold our fears on top of their mountain of suffering and fear. And, again, we do this because we are afraid of taking any biblical permission and encouraging others in it.
To a right degree, it is good that we are cautious about giving biblical permission. As stated previously, it is just as dangerous to give encouragement in the wrong place as it is to give rebuke in the wrong place. We’re right to be cautious. Yet when we do so to the degree of starving all biblical permission, we have moved far past caution into the removal of it. And a great many Christians and Christian leaders fully permit these fears, failing to see how they are unbiblical and harmful, and that Christians must war against these fears if they are truly to be a help as they are called to be. We must see just how much harm is caused by these private fears.
The Over-Emphasis of Danger
The reason we fail to give biblical permission is because we are too focused upon those who are walking in willful sins against God. These people most certainly exist, and it is most right to rebuke them. The problem is letting the rebuke that belongs to these people be placed on all people. Because we fear where people might abuse biblical permissions not meant for them (cheapening grace and going on in the foolish imaginations of their hearts), we allow ourselves to become fretful about giving biblical permission at all.
We will not understand the true issue of condemnation if we do not see that the devil is 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 and fight. Condemnation is a 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. Though these people are Christians, they are then no longer strengthened for the work. They are preoccupied with a darkness they can’t escape and not with the Light. This hinders the testimony of the Gospel and the work of right holiness and good works. We should seek to rescue and protect our brothers and sisters from these things! Yet instead, many of us join with them in these fears, validating the lies, and increasing their darkness.
We are even so foolish as to interpret Christians who struggle with this plague to have no faith, condemning them further for their fears. The devil just sits back and laughs! He loves this darkness. Was it not the greater affliction with which he attacked Job? We have two chapters of all Job’s losses and bodily afflictions, and yet these only preceded the next thirty chapters of all the false accusations and condemnation carried about by Job’s “friends”. What was the greater evil in God’s eyes? (Job 42:7-8)
It is the work of the devil to provoke believers to believe a lie. And Christians must realize that we should hate the evil of all lies, not just some. 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, and never get to the root of it. Many Christians fail to realize how the devil lies often by misapplying truths. Christians typically “sign off” when it comes to these lies—they’ll accompany the believer to the point of realizing, “yes, you might be in sin, you might need to look at that”, but then leave the believer all alone when it is the reverse. And they fail to feel any responsibility to bear this burden with fellow believers, or to realize how it is precisely this neglect that is having such a cost upon a great many Christians.
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.
And many people are rebuked by other Christians and leaders precisely for fighting against these lies because it has the "appearance" of rebellion to their natural eye. When in reality, just like Job, they are not resisting the truth itself but the lie being stated by the misapplied truth. Failing to realize this, when people even go to leaders for help with this, the leaders will further the lie rather than see the evil being done to them and fight against it.
Shepherds with No Guidance
Ministers fail to realize how often sound doctrine is used as knives against the flock precisely because it is applied against the consciences of believers by the accusations of the devil. As well, how there are those who struggle with this who are not seeking to oppose right doctrine! They are trying to get out of the lies the devil is trying to accuse them of, secretly, by misapplying these doctrines. Many ministers are faced with this problem but they remain themselves too afraid to remove the condemnation precisely because they also fear they are moving against right doctrine! They remain under the same threat from the devil. They are too afraid to say, “No, my dear, that doesn’t pertain to you. The devil is lying to you.” No, instead they say, “Well, I don’t know… Could be true… I don’t know, I can’t say… I don’t know… I don’t know… I don’t know.”
Biblical permission in these instances is essential because it is the very means by which those who are so cast down by the devil can escape. It may be something we need to test, research, and be careful over, but it is not something we can go without. We must make judgments and cannot remain always on the fence. This is our duty to each other. Either a person is guilty of these things and therefore needs the crystal clear path before them of what to do in repentance, or they are not guilty of these things and they need yet again the crystal clear path before them of how to fight off condemnation, with their brethren and leaders on their side.
It is 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 with them against such lies. We are too afraid to realize that while the thing stated itself is a truth, it is misapplied, and therefore is a lie. We become so fearful of the “truth” that we fail to rightly resist the devil. This is exactly how the devil bullies us and pushes us to bully others.
Ministers need to realize how essential it is for them to speak in authority about what is true and what is not true, and that remaining in the “I can’t say” camp means they are often failing to give the very spiritual help that they are meant to give.
These ministers fail to realize that one of the greatest jobs of a pastor is authority (2 Cor 13:10). And 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) The command was “you may surely eat” and “you shall not eat”. We must operate in the authority of God both in what God forbids and approves. To fail to forbid what God forbids or permit what God permits is always harmful and evil. “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (Acts 10:15)
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.
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? We are only safe in the truth.
Now, in a final point, this article is written for those who suffer so greatly with condemnation, and for this reason we have not strayed from this point in order to play some game that some would call “being fair” to others.
So often we cannot get people the medicine they need because we’re too busy trying to mutually attend to everyone else. We’re all so “mutually respectful” today, saying how everyone is “trying their best” when in reality they aren’t. We shut up from speaking the truth because we insist far too long upon accepting everyone’s “mutual sinfulness”. And by this we are incapable of doing any real work. One word has to trip over one hundred apologies just getting out the door! We live by saying “good intentions” are to be praised higher than holiness and when any truth contends against the lukewarm holiness by which we live, we rebuke it for revealing to us the truth. And the truth is this: that our "good intentions" are some of the greatest areas of sin in our lives; for by them we fail to seek after the true holiness of Christ. And these good intentions have a great cost, one we are not willing to acknowledge, one we demand be covered up again and again with the excuse of “mutual sinfulness”. Settling for a morality far lower than the holiness Christ calls us to has great costs and does violence, we have just been too blind and foolish to see it. “Politeness” is not owed to this.
And so this article is written against these great condemnations because they need to be called out as aggressively as they prey upon believers. We have written directly to these issues and not veered to the left or the right, as some attempt to try and speak to all the ways these words can be misinterpreted.
But to say a specific word to pastors, leaders, and fellow believers who are seeing these things with true concern, who are fighting against condemnation, it is not at all my hope to discourage you! Much less to suggest you are not contending for these things when you truly are.
To fail to acknowledge those who are very touched with these concerns would be lovelessness to them. No, let us all strive together for mutual good and praise all who walk in the love, truth, and holiness of Christ. To these pastors, leaders, and fellow believers I leave these brief words from A.W. Tozer in acknowledgement of the hard balance to which you are pressed, and pray you would only continue to remain balanced, never failing to remember the timid, poor, and weak, nor to exhort all towards the high calling in Christ for holiness.
In his sermon, “The Rigors of Shepherding”, A. W. Tozer writes, “Because we are the kind of persons we are and because we live in a world such as we do, the shepherd of souls is often forced to work at what would appear to be cross purposes with himself. For instance, he must encourage the timid and warn the self-confident; and these may at any given time be present in his congregation in almost equal numbers. His effort to encourage those who need encouragement may actually confirm presumptuous souls in their carelessness. Conversely, his much needed warnings and reproofs may drive timorous and doubting Christians to the borders of despair. Another problem he faces is the presence in the normal Christian assembly of believers in every stage of development, from the newly converted who knows almost nothing about the Christian life to the wise and experienced Christian who seems to know almost everything.”
Facing God Instead of Fearing Condemnation
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. And it has much to say about sin and about who God is. The Christian’s life is one of continuing on in repentance, faith, and obedience. We should always be deepening within these things. And as we walk forward, we should remember that God’s rebuke of our sin is not a rejection of us as His children: we have a way forward when we are rebuked, and this path is called repentance.
Repentance is turning from our own ways of doing things to obedience to God's commands. It is important to understand this because we often think of it as an intense emotional fretting, and when we cannot manifest this, we think we are cut off from Christ! No, repentance is turning toward the way of God's Word, conforming ourselves to its pages, turning from sin to holiness. This will have many true tears in it, but we must not allow that to be our definition of what repentance is. Instead, we must seek to obey Christ in truth and trust in Him to work true tears into our hearts.
We've talked now of the ways that condemnation hinders us in this right path. Let us put off the commandments and accusations of men, yet let us cast these weights aside for the great race of the upward call of God in Christ. Let us not allow these things to keep us back from facing the whole of God’s Word, as if the two are the same. But let us turn with courage to face God’s Word and allow it to shine into every area of our lives.
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. Not for self, pride, or some perverse freedom. Let us only fight condemnation for true holiness. Take courage and face God's Word; allow it to confront you in every way it seeks to, and trust God in this.
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.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.”
Hindrances to the Christian: Condemnation
How Repentance and Obedience Are God’s Remedies Against Fear and Condemnation
I. Condemnation and the Christian
II. A Distraction from Right Repentance
III. The Hope We Have
IV. Judging According to the Flesh
V. Beating the Sheep
VI. The Loss of Permission
VII. Facing God Instead of Fearing Condemnation