As I talk to people struggling with a pornography addiction, one of the main themes that keeps coming up is self-condemnation. Most of these people are very hard on themselves. They feel an immense amount of guilt and shame.
I know well the struggle of being hard on myself. I’m regularly my own worst critic. Whether it’s after writing an article, recording a podcast, delivering a sermon, or even after Bible study, I wonder if I did “good enough.” While I understand that it isn’t my performance that matters, I still care that I do a good job. I want everything I do to be done with excellence. Yet, fear of man’s opinion is real, and craving the approval of man is fleeting. The fear of God is greater. Here we are confronted with the reality of self-condemnation and the hope we now have in Christ.
No More Condemnation in Christ
Jesus began His ministry with a message contrary to the message being delivered by the religious leaders. Jesus opened the scroll of Isaiah 61 and read from it. He proclaimed that He came to set the captives free in Luke 4:18. This message is still revolutionary today.
The Gospel is good news for addicts and for people who struggle with fear of man, and it’s the best news in the world for people who struggle with feelings of self-condemnation. The Gospel says that through Christ we are accepted, loved, and even the beloved of God.
Our identity no longer consists of self-hatred, self-condemnation, or beating ourselves up like we don’t matter. Instead, the Gospel provides hope, healing, and deliverance from feelings of self-condemnation.
Paul opens Romans with a frank discussion on the reality of sin. He continues to show that our morality does not save us and explains the extent of our depravity. And finally, at the very end of Romans 3:26, he says, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Paul knows that man left to his own devices will always continue on in sin. He also knows that only the Gospel can provide hope.
In Romans 4-5, Paul explains the idea of justification, which means because Jesus, who was innocent and sinless in every way, plead guilty in our place, we can be forgiven and declared not guilty. Paul teaches about our new identity in Romans 6-7, and how we still have indwelling sin as Christians.
After going deep into the heart of Christian theology, explaining the sinfulness of man, justification, our new relationship with God, and how we can grow in communion with God, Paul opens Romans 8 with an interesting phrase and the focus of this article, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Whenever Paul uses the word “therefore,” you should take note. He is about to say something very important.
Take a minute and think about what Paul is saying here. He has just talked about the sinfulness of man, justification, our new identity, and the reality of indwelling sin. Now he says those who have union with Christ now have communion with Christ—there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Why Self-Condemnation Comes So Naturally
When I counsel people dealing with pornography and mention that they are beating themselves up, they often think I am cheapening God’s grace. They often feel like they have no hope. They live in a perpetual cycle of false repentance, guilt, and shame. They can’t see, taste, or know the grace of God in the midst.
As we work through their issues, we talk about the reality of sin. I ask them to explain the Gospel to me. I ask them lots of questions about their understanding of salvation and whether they are Christians. Often people who struggle with pornography also have issues with assurance of salvation.
In my experience, most of my counselees can articulate an adequate understanding of the Gospel, but they don’t understand that their sin breaks their fellowship with God. They have security with God, not because of their own works, but because of God. As John Piper said once, we would not remain Christians one second without the preserving work of God’s grace.
Many porn addicts do not struggle to understand the right theological information. Many have been Christians their entire lives. They could give you an answer to any theological question you would ask.
Here’s the thing—they lack assurance because they don’t understand that their sin is deadly serious to God. In 1 John 1:7-8, John tells us that if we say we don’t sin we deceive ourselves. He’s speaking here to the people of God. He’s telling them, like the Apostle Paul does in Romans 6:1, that they can’t just live any way they want.
Paul is also telling them that if they think they haven’t ever sinned or don’t sin now they are deceived. The reality of indwelling sin is real. This is why John gives us markers to know that we are saved in his epistle. Christians are those who love the truth, love other people, and demonstrate in word and deed that they love God. To use James’ language, we should not only be hearers of the Word, we should be doers of the Word (James 1:22).
You and I can say all the right words till we are blue in the face. We can pledge allegiance to all the right ideas, but miss the point. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Are you in Christ right now? Have you been born again by the Spirit? Can others see even a tiny amount of change in your life? Do you notice even the tiniest sliver of God’s transforming work of grace in your life? This is where the rubber meets the road. We can say the right words, or we can be honest. We can say, “Yes, my sin is offensive,” or we can say, “No, it’s not.” When we honestly open up with people about our struggles, we open ourselves up to questions about our lives.
When I came out of my own addiction to pornography, the Holy Spirit graciously convicted me over the course of two Sundays of my pride and self-righteousness. He showed me the ugly horror of my sin. The more I grow in my own understanding of the Gospel, the more I grow in the application of the Gospel. The Gospel is the ground, means, and enablement the Holy Spirit uses to grow people in His Church.
Hope for Those Struggling with Self-Condemnation
You might be reading this article and seriously struggling with feelings of self-condemnation. I want to plead with you right now that there is hope in Christ alone. Your feelings are not supreme, Jesus is. Christ alone justifies the ungodly. He takes enemies and makes them friends. He takes rebels and makes them servants of His grace.
You don’t have to feel this to know it’s true. Your feelings don’t make it anymore less real. Jesus is above our feelings. His standard isn’t our feelings—it’s Truth.
Jesus cuts through our fears, dives headlong into the heart of our lives, and transforms our story. He did it with me. He continues to change me from the inside out and sustains my desire for holiness and a deeper love for Himself.
Many of us lack practical peace with God because we don’t understand the objective peace of God. Jesus is the standard bearer of our lives. When we feel like beating ourselves up, we are in essence saying Jesus isn’t enough for me at this moment, at this time, or perhaps ever. We question God’s goodness and make an assault on God’s character.
Instead of trusting in the promises of God, we rely on our own strength. Instead of fearing the Lord, we fear what others will think if we tell them about our struggles.
The Gospel frees us to share openly and honestly with one another. It frees us to share about our troubles, our sins, and to find freedom and hope in Jesus.
When I think of Paul’s words in Romans 8:1–there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus–I think of the great hope of God in the Gospel. Jesus bled and died in my place and for my sin. There is no more condemnation when I feel condemned. Even in the midst of divine chastisement, there is hope in Jesus. God is shaping me, modeling me, and challenging me to be who I am now in Christ. God’s purposes are far greater than my own.
How to Fight Self-Condemnation
I urge you today to run to Jesus. Don’t just look at Him but know Him. Grow in Him. Don’t stay in spiritual infancy beating yourself up and wondering why God isn’t using you. He desires to do more than use you in the lives of others, He desires to remake you. He wants the image of God that has been marred by sin to shine brightly before others that they might see and know the goodness and greatness of our God.
Go to the Word when you feel self-condemnation. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate His Word to you. Regularly dive into the Word of God and begin devouring the feast prepared before you in His Word.
Take time daily to pray. Don’t just say a few quick prayers. Linger long in prayer. Listen to worship music. Take time to stoke the fires of your new affections. The feelings of self-condemnation cannot stand a chance against your new affections being stirred afresh for the glory of God.
Plead guilty to self-condemnation the next time you feel it. There is hope and freedom in the Gospel. Find some good godly friends to share openly with about your struggles. Instead of beating yourself up, think about how Jesus took the punishment you deserve in your place and for your sin. Rehearse the Gospel to yourself. Stop repeating the same story about how much of a “loser” you are, how defeated you are, or how messed up you are. Instead, proclaim the triumph, victory, and exaltation of our great God and King—the Lord Jesus—who reigns in and over all.
As you do this, you’ll begin to replace those feelings of self-condemnation with new thoughts about Christ and the glory He calls you into. You’ll begin to think of how in Christ, you are approved by God to be a worker for Him, instead of defeated and a loser. Because of Christ, you are His friend and a servant. I don’t know about you, but at the end of the day, there’s hope and freedom there; not to mention it’s also the power of God in the Gospel.
This is where we need to go—back to the Gospel. We need to return to our first love in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ name gives hope for strugglers. There is hope and healing for those who feel self-condemned, but only Jesus can provide it.