(Photo: Dan Delzell)
Someone recently expressed this fear to me: "I feel like I am going to die an early death because of things I did years ago." Although a believer, she felt like God is going to punish her for the sins of her past. She was struggling with a "spirit of condemnation."
I encouraged her to think about the way loving parents discipline their children. Does the discipline happen close to the time of the infraction, or do parents wait years before handing out the discipline? Obviously, the discipline takes place right after the transgression is discovered. Loving parents don't keep a list of sins for which children receive discipline months or years after the fact. Discipline only extends into the future when, for example, a child gets grounded for three months. Other than those rare instances which involve major violations, loving parents keep a "short account" as they address their child's choices and hand out the consequences quickly at the time of the incident.
Likewise, God does not keep a list of His children's sins for future discipline. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) The devil tries to inflict believers with a spirit of condemnation. He is the "accuser" of Christians, (see Rev. 12:10) but he is not our Judge. There is a big difference between "feeling condemned" and "being condemned." So don't believe everything you think. God is not out to get you. He loves you, and this is why He sent His Son to pay for your sins.
The Bible says, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." (John 3:17) All of your sins were paid for at the cross. If you are trusting in the death of Jesus as the payment for your sins, you have nothing to fear. God is not mad at you and He is not looking for a way to "get back at you." Jesus took your punishment at the cross. God has already accepted you into His family. Those in God's family receive special favors and constant forgiveness.
What about when God's children "go off the reservation" and start living in sin? There are examples in the Bible of God disciplining His children for their sinful behavior. If God is going to discipline a believer, He does so at the time of the offense. (see 1 Cor. 11:27-32) Even God's discipline, however, is done only out of His love for us and our eternal well-being. God does not send His children to hell to pay for their sins. Only those who die without Jesus receive that sentence. Jesus said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)
You and I who are believers have received God's grace and mercy on account of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Rest in that reality whenever the devil comes to you trying to get you to feel condemned. The good news is that you have not been under God's wrath since the moment you received Jesus into your heart through repentance and faith.
When a child is born into this world, he is born in "God's neighborhood." When a person is born again through faith in Christ, he is born into "God's family." Everyone in God's family is living under God's grace. There is no better place to live than right there. This "place of grace" is a wonderful place of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and eternal life. It is a place where people find themselves wanting to do the right thing and wanting to turn away from sin. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age." (Titus 2:11,12)
If the devil cannot get you to feel condemned, he will try to get you to view God's grace as a "license to sin." He will suggest that a little sin never hurt anyone. "Since you are forgiven for everything you do," he says, "just go ahead and sin some more." Don't fall for that lie either. It will be just as damaging to your spiritual life as when you live under a cloud of condemnation. Allow God's grace to teach you to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions. Your enemy is certainly a crafty one. He will keep looking for your weak spots, and then he will pounce. You can be ready to reject his lies if you stay close to Jesus and His Word. The Lord won't let anyone snatch you out of His hands. (see John 10:28)
There are quite a few Christians who carry a feeling of condemnation in their heart. It is an extremely heavy weight. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) You don't have to keep living with that crushing load of condemnation. Jesus will lift that load if you will bring it to Him.
Do you feel like God is out to get you? Do you feel like He is going to punish you one of these days for the sins of your past? Reject that spirit of condemnation. Don't believe the enemy's lies. Accept the grace which God offers you today. Walk in the light and not in the darkness. Trust in God's love and mercy. While it is true that we deserve to be punished for our sins, it is also true that "the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him." (Isaiah 53:5) So rejoice. As a child of God, you have been "let off the hook" for your transgressions.
Thankfully, the Gospel isn't just for unbelievers. It is also for all of us who are in God's family. The Gospel leads a lost person to get saved. The Gospel leads a child of God to get beyond the feelings of condemnation. Press on with Christ until you have the victory over those feelings of condemnation. Never trust those feelings, but always trust God's promises. Talk to another Christian about your struggle. You will be amazed at how much grace flows between believers who share their burdens with one other. God will use those comforting discussions to assure you that He is not out to get you.