Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
As an addict in recovery… or better termed.. as a Disciple being Sanctified, I believe our God-created brains have been hijacked through our dependencies on substances and people in such an unhealthy way that we almost can’t help but transfer those same unhealthy relational patterns onto our relationship with God.
What do I mean by that? I’m glad you asked.
Most people are very familiar with the 12-Step theology that trying harder or “white-knuckling” will never get you sober.
Pushing ourselves harder only works in physical challenges. Want to lift heavier weights, push harder in the gym. Want to finish a marathon; run harder and farther every day, want extra money; work more overtime, want to graduate college; study harder and produce better homework. That’s fine in our external world.
But if you want inner peace, deeper relational connections to God, self and others, if you want to discover your calling and strengths and live a fully connected life that integrates every part of your being, both good and bad… if you want to live empowered and fully alive then be aware that the battle is in your mind and trying harder fix our own minds only makes things worse.
In the nearly 7 years that I have been sober from drugs and alcohol (by God’s grace alone) a larger battle has ensued. My workaholic, perfectionism, striving to perform yet never “feeling” like I measure up, depression and shame are driven not by a lack of quality or quantity of good deeds or external efforts on my part. They instead are driven by the lies fed to me at an early age that I came to believe were true about me.
I have become my own worst enemy
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
This is not a flesh/body or strive/struggle thing; this is a surrender to conformity to the thoughts and righteousness of Christ.
To live under the subconsious oppression of trying to measure up and having that relentless inner voice prophesying defeat (“don’t blow it”) or declaring defeat (“you blew it again”) is to live under the Enemy’s Law of Condemnation.
Any strongholds that continue to plague us as we press into our shared journey of redemption as disciples of Jesus Christ is not anything that surprises or offends God. Yes He hates sin, but He loves us! It isn’t 3 strikes your out or even 300 strikes your out.
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. John 21:17
Peter became self-condemned by his own denial of Christ and sentenced himself into isolation and removed himself from the leadership role Jesus proclaimed to Peter.
How much does our own shame and self-loathing thoughts (again often operating outside of our own conscious awareness) become the very things that drive us to sin for medication, escape or the even more insidious self-punishment.
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Notice that Jesus already knows Satan will test Peter and He knows Peter will succumb to the test (…when you return)
And what weapon did Satan use to sift Peter? Shame and condemnation.
Peter believed himself to be horrible and beyond reproach, he self-condemned and took himself out. He believed the Enemy’s lie about him (you blew it Peter, how could you abandon Jesus, he needed you and you ran, who do you think you are, Jesus must have been wrong in thinking you are worthy of leading, you should slink away in shame)
But was any of that true?
Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for his denial. In fact Jesus predicted it! And when first he met Peter after the resurrection Jesus did not even mention it. He cooked Peter breakfast and ministered to Peters shame.
Jesus new Peter loved Him. He also knew Peter’s biggest problem at that moment was that Peter didn’t know that Peter loved Him. The sifting lies of our Enemy is always about condemnation and shame.
If we spend even a moment in the battle of “sin management” or “self-condemnation” we have lost sight of The Cross of Christ
Yes it is critical that we develop a healthy fine tuned self-awareness and responses to our own sin nature…
42 …how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. Luke 6:42
… but awareness and response to our own sin is far different than condemnation. Isolating in self-pity is not the answer – acknowledging the atoning work of the cross and making amends is the key to keeping short ledgers with ourselves and others.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
So you might asking, how do we engage in the battle for control of our minds? The answer is always much more simple than we make it.
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
THE ANSWER IS LOVE
We have to fight the prideful temptation to think we should do any better than Peter, David, Paul, Jonah or virtually every “future-changing” Saint and Prophet who came before us. They all had flaws; sin and relational devastation in their story often caused by their own human weaknesses, fears, lusts and frailties… but they were also ordained, blessed by and used by God in a mighty way.
God is Forgiveness & Love, Satan is Condemnation & Shame. The battle is inward not external; our new life comes with the renewal of our mind.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
I know these are some of the most well known and for some maybe even seemingly over-used verses in the bible however it is for good reason. We are knuckleheads and the very truth and life and freedom that is ours in and through the redemption of Christ Jesus is not a complex hidden puzzle that we are meant to struggle to find or understand.
We are not in a life long battle to “be better” or “do more”, we are to discover how to love better and love more.
Hopefully for some, as it is for me, it is becoming more clear that the performance or sin-management trap is purely selfish; it is an internal desire to improve my external behavior for my own self-image.
Love however is internally pure and externally sacrificial. We do for others what they are incapable of doing on their own.
Peace Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Nowhere in this prayer does it say make me a better person, it simply cries out to become an instrument of God in the midst of suffering, hardship and sadness.
As we move towards becoming a soul fully alive in Christ through deeper levels of love for God, others and just as important, love ourselves through proper self-care and boundaries, we then become greater Light Bearers, the byproduct of which is our sanctification.
Father God I thank You for the relentless pressing on my own heart that I am still too often externally focused on the “right or wrongs” of my behaviors which then places the burden of justification back on me. You paid the price Lord so that I am fully free to love and worship and sing and praise You with my life. Help me to remember that each day is a blessing and each moment is a Divine Encounter to love You by loving myself and others in a manner that brings You glory. I long to reflect Your goodness, let me not miss any opportunity to live a love-filled life as defined by Saint Francis’ prayer Father. It is in the mighty and precious name of Jesus I pray…
Supplemental: To dive even deeper into what love looks like from a biblical perspective check out my previous study on 1 Corinthians 13.