We are exhorted daily in academia, the media, and culture to love ourselves, celebrate our differences, and believe in ourselves, but mostly I just struggle with the inner me and hating myself for my failures. And admittedly, I struggle with hating you. And I suspect that many of you feel the same way.
As a Christian, I hate that I am weak, undisciplined, unloving, impatient, and faithless. I hate when I desire to do good, then epically blow it up. Although I desire above all else to please God, I don’t possess the power to make the necessary changes to break unhealthy habits, think unkind thoughts, or love others. “And if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So this is the principle I have discovered: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s Law.” (Rom. 7:20)
We are told that self-loathing is a bad thing, however, it can serve a purpose provided we don’t camp on it and we comprehend the difference between condemnation and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. The key is learning to discern the voice of condemnation from the very real prompting of the Holy Spirit, which leads to lasting change. In fact, the Bible instructs us that we are to discern all of our thoughts. “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 Cor. 1-:5)
So how do we untangle the knot of our thoughts? First, we must recognize that we have an enemy and an accuser. Satan seeks to condemn us for our sins. (Rev. 2:10) He is always before the Father pointing a finger at us when we sin or slide away. In contrast, the Holy Spirit works to change us into the image of His son. “For those who God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.
If you are feeling condemned for past sins that you have earnestly confessed to God and sought forgiveness for yet still feel condemned, this is the work of the enemy. The enemy doesn’t want you to feel forgiven or to take hold of the reality that you really are a new creature in Christ. He wants to constantly bring up your past sins and mistakes. Therefore, if you are continuing to experience guilt, it is because you don’t understand your salvation.
Your right standing before a holy God is not because, nor will it ever be, something you have done, given up, or overcome. It is because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. He paid the price for your sins and He is your righteousness. “Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God–and He is interceding for us.” (Rom 8:34)
However, if you are struggling in sin and are overwhelmed or depressed as a result, welcome to my world. The Holy Spirit seeks to use our sorrow to bring about repentance, freedom from bondage, and change. “Consider what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what vindication! In every way you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.… (2 Cor. 7:10-11)
Think of it in this way, if you felt no sorrow over wilful sins, what would this say about the condition of your heart? People who have rejected God feel no such shame, disappointment, or sorrow. They aren’t seeking to know God or to serve Him. They don’t entertain regrets. They are fabulous and they want everyone to know it.
All of this is not to say that a victorious life in Christ is an unattainable goal, but it can take a lifetime to learn how to yield to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Without ever feeling the sorrow and consequences of our sin, we will never come to the very real knowledge that, apart from Christ, we can do nothing. We will fail. I know this because I am a champion sinner.
Many Christians suffer alone in silence with self-loathing and guilt because much of modern Christianity has adopted secular self-help edicts that communicate the hidden message that you contain the power within you to change your life. They’ve all got this, but somehow you and I missed that boat.
This secular viewpoint tells you that you can live a victorious life now but glosses over the painful and slow struggle of overcoming our very sin natures, particularly addictions or thoughts and attitudes we have grown up with. We’ve got to “handle our business,” and this is an epic, lifelong struggle. We will often win a battle only to lose a war. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24)
Without emotionally experiencing our failures, we cannot truly comprehend or appreciate our legal standing in Christ, or even the gift of salvation. Millennials in particular are finding this simple spiritual truth hard to swallow. They have been raised in an environment that has told them they can be and do anything they want to do. They are special unicorns and snowflakes that require “safe spaces.” They are conditioned to never experience failure and are protected from all forms of criticism.
However, It is not until we fully understand the spiritual darkness that dwells within our own hearts, that we can come humbly before God and ask that He change our inner man or woman. “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
Modern Christianity is in a deplorable state because it lacks any real power. There is never victory without true repentance. And boys and girls, you cannot come to repentance until you truly recognize that you are a wretch. You are not a special snowflake.
Today’s pulpits are filled with men who sound no different than Tony Robinson at one of his events. In fact, on his website under the headline, Create Your Own Breakthrough, an advertisement for an upcoming seminar, it says: “Unleash the Power Within is a live 3 ½ day event with Tony Robbins designed to help you unlock and unleash the forces inside that can help you break through any limit and create the quality of life you desire. Learn how you can surpass your own limitations to achieve your goals and improve the quality of your life.”
It is the age-old lie that people have the power to become light and salt apart from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. There is no force inside you apart from God that can fulfill any such promises. Look around you, the world is an evil, messed up place. You are a messed up person. If mankind ever possessed the power to create utopia, there would be no terrorism, sex slavery, child abuse, drug addicts, or pain. The church is infected with this New Age sickness, but the vaccine lies in taking responsibility for the decision you made to follow Christ. It requires opening your Bible, all on your own, and asking God to show you the way to real freedom and change.
Finally, it calls for bravery. The bravery to face ourselves again and again after each failure and come clean before God. God knows that we will fail. “For a righteous man falls seven times but rises again.” (Prov. 24:16) It will take bravery, stamina, strength, and perseverance to have a victorious life. Paul likens it to a race, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7) God tells Jeremiah when he complained of difficulty, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5)
You are in training for the greatest race of your life. And just like any great athlete, you must train in the rain, do it until it hurts, and run the rocky path. Olympians train while others play.They train when they are hurting. They train when no one, not even themselves, believes in them. Snowflakes melt at the slightest hint of heat and unicorns do not exist. Toughen up, buttercup and do not falter. Do not give up. When you stumble and fall, and you will fall, get up and compete anyway. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jer. 29:11)