This article is part of the Preach the Gospel to Yourself Series. We know that phrases like “preach the gospel to yourself” are used so frequently in Christian circles that they can become Christian gobbly gook. You kind of get what it means, but don’t know how to actually do it. This series offers specific examples of applying the truth of the gospel to everyday circumstances. Don't miss the challenge steps at the end of each article! Read the other articles in this series here:
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Identity Crisis" by Kati Lynn Davis
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Loneliness" by Brittany Allen
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Anger" by Ashley Chesnut
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Insufficiencies" by Lauren Washer
For more help preaching the gospel to yourself, check out our Grounded in the Gospel Workbook.
Struggling with Self-Condemnation
Throughout my life, the law and my conscience have felt like a phantom haunting me with self-hate and self-condemnation. Again? Won’t you ever get it right? Don’t you realize you need to make up for those sins from yesterday? Look at all your Christian friends—consider how much more pleased he must be with them! What’s wrong with you? I thought God was disappointed in me. I believed every major and minor trial was a splatter of his wrath. When God didn’t feel near, I assumed my pile of sins drove him away.
Does any of this sound familiar? Does repentance never feel like enough? Do you wonder how God could love someone as wicked as you? Do you doubt your salvation every time you sin? Sister, you can have assurance of your salvation and escape those weighty feelings of self-hate and self-condemnation—all through the gospel.
Trying to Bear the Cost of our Sin
The problem isn’t guilt itself. Good guilt leads us to repent and rejoice in the gospel. Guilt goes wrong when it leads us into heavy, sorrowful burdens. Paul told the Corinthians, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10 NASB). Worldly sorrow strives in self-forgiveness, self-condemnation, and self-flagellation. We become cruel masters over ourselves, demanding acts of penitence. We speak harshly and bully ourselves in vain efforts to punish ourselves for our depravity—something we’d never do to a loved one.
Meanwhile, our heavenly Father responds with grace. God comes near to us. He declares us to be his beloved children, justified by Christ’s sacrifice, and forever at peace with him (Rom. 5:1–2). He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Not through our works of self-hatred or even our spiritual disciplines. These works can’t make us holy or forgiven—only Jesus’ work can. He cares for us and changes us by the gentle hand of the Holy Spirit, turning our hearts in faith towards Christ and enabling us to obey him.
We can be certain of God’s grace. As John wrote to his fellow believers: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.… I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:9; 2:1). No need for penitence, self-forgiveness, or self-condemnation. Because the work of Jesus Christ is finished, we have forgiveness.
Expecting God’s Wrath for Our Sin
With an overactive conscience, we may wrongly conclude that every trial is a taste of God’s anger. Perhaps you struggle to have children and think, Maybe because I’m not as obedient as my friends, God has closed my womb. You have a hard day at home with the kids or at work and start to wonder, What did I do to deserve this punishment? Sister, this is a distortion of the gospel and a misunderstanding of God’s discipline and wrath.
Our punishment for sin, God’s righteous wrath, was already endured on the cross by Christ. Christ drank the cup of wrath that we deserved. Not even a drop of God’s wrath remains for his children. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). By Christ’s atonement, you received his righteousness by faith so that you can stand blameless before God (2 Cor. 5:21).
From Sinner to Saint
In Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund explains, “The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by his abounding grace. When we feel as if our thoughts, words, and deeds are diminishing God’s grace towards us, those sins and failures are in fact causing it to surge forward all the more.” He comes near to heal, restore, and carve us more into his image. This is his kind and fatherly discipline. Hebrews tells us,
"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:7–11).
There’s a difference between punishment from God and discipline from God. One is to righteously condemn an unrepentant sinner; the other is to grow a saint in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Preaching the Cross to Your Sin
Perhaps like me, you struggle to believe these truths. You can preach the gospel to your aching friends, but believing them for yourself almost feels uncomfortable and wrong. Guilt looms over you and slaps your hand for even considering reaching toward such mercy.
The Reformer Martin Luther offers a remedy. Luther writes that such cherishing of our sins gives them power over us to drive us to anguish rather than the hope and freedom God wants for us. “But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin.”
He goes on to write that if our conscience is so overwhelmed with sin to the point of hopeless despair, we need to pray for faith to trust in Christ’s atonement for us. He calls us not to dwell more on our sin and its wickedness but to rouse ourselves to belief and hope. You should “not…behold Christ’s sufferings any longer; for they have already done their work and terrified you; but press through all difficulties and behold his friendly heart, how full of love it is toward you, which love constrained him to bear the heavy load of your conscience and your sin. Thus will your heart be loving and sweet toward him, and the assurance of your faith be strengthened.”
Stepping into His Grace
Sister, you don’t need to do anything to access or step into this grace. It’s his promise to us, freely given. We can trust God to offer grace when we sin and repent, to cleanse and make us righteous. God isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty on us—because by his touch, he makes us clean. His love isn’t based on our ability to get it right but on Christ’s righteousness already wrapped around us.
Preach the Gospel to Yourself Challenge
- Question to Ponder: What sin struggle tends to create shame in your life?
- Truth to Remember: Such cherishing of our sins gives them power over us to drive us to anguish rather than the hope and freedom God wants for us.
- Action to Take: Identify a sin you’re tempted to cherish either through self-indulgence or shame. Then plan to repent in prayer daily of any ways this sin is creeping into your life for the next week.
Meet the Author
Lara d’Entremont is a wife and mom to three from Nova Scotia, Canada. Lara is a writer and learner at heart—always trying to find time to scribble down some words or read a book. Her desire in writing is to help women develop solid theology they can put into practice—in the mundane, the rugged terrain, and joyful moments. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.