Don't Hurt Yourself:
Self-Condemnation in Recovery

3 Minutes of Courage Devotional Series
While many of us may never experience the unique temptations of self-injury, we may know what it's like to hurt ourselves through other means, especially when we experience setbacks in mental health recovery. We may think negative thoughts about our capabilities, our intellect, our talents, or our purpose. We may think that failure in mental health recovery amounts to uselessness, shame, or worthlessness. In short, we experience a setback, and then we punish ourselves through a barrage of self-condemning harassments because we believe we should be doing better than we actually are.

Someone who struggles in this manner may think, "God, don't I deserve to be punished for this?! What a wretch I am, I cannot even get this part of my life together." So, they take it upon themselves to mete out a pummeling of self-loathing and self-pity–a vicious cycle which violently renders the soul.

Indeed, those of us who spin in cycles of self-inflicted punishment have placed a period where a comma ought to reside:
"God, don't I deserve to be punished for this?! What a wretch I am, I cannot even get this part of my life together, but Christ knew I would need to be saved from myself, so he took the punishment I deserved, and traded my rags for his righteousness. I may have failed again, but I am not condemned! Have mercy, O Lord, for I am a sinner, but Christ is my Savior."
Dear Christian, the key for every self-imposed shackle rusting our imperfections is the pardon proclamation, "but Jesus!" (Romans 5:10-11) 

God's way of redeeming sin-related failure it is not through our self-condemnation, but through biblical repentance (Romans 2:4). Worldly sorrow will naturally produce self-centered guilt and moralism, but the godly sorrow described in 2 Corinthians 7:10 will lead believers graciously into God's merciful forgiveness time and time again. As Martin Luther taught: all of the Christian life is repentance.

Self-condemnation is the domino effect of self-righteousness – the natural result of a heart hardened by pride (Romans 10:3). In this pride, we stand in direct opposition to God, utterly bereft of the grace needed in order to experience the meaningful heart change we're hungry for (James 4:6-7). We punish ourselves with these legalistic attitudes because we forget that grace roars for us like a red rapid down the side of our wounded Savior.

Let us forgo the moralistic recovery approach that assumes progress is a picturesque ascent upon a Disney mountainside, complete with climbing shoes and walking sticks. Nonsense! There are mudslides, slippery rocks, fallen trees, gale-force winds, and oozing blisters on our bloody feet. We face obstacles, yes. But we press on because the upward way is the right way for us to travel (Philippians 3:13-14).
Self-condemnation seeks to settle a debt which
has already been paid for in Christ.
How we respond to setbacks is a tell-tale sign of our hearts' orientation–will we turn inward and downward to self-condemn, or turn outward and upward to repent and receive cleansing from the living Fount (1 John 1:9, Jeremiah 2:13, Zechariah 13:1)? Our we falsely worshipping our "righteousness" or are we rightly worshipping the righteousness of Christ?

In his book, You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions, Tim Chester writes, "To say to temptation, 'I must not do this' is legalism. To say, 'I need not do this because God is bigger and better.' is good news." What would it look like if we changed our "must-not-do's" to "need-not-do's"? It would look like the gospel – not our legalism – applied to our struggles. It would look like God's path towards true heart change (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

We need not beat ourselves up over our failures because our identity as saints in Christ means our sins are counted against us no longer (Colossians 1:12). We stand today in our failure as welcomed and adored as the moment God exhaled his breath of life into our lungs–he knew all along that we would be set apart as his special possession (1 Peter 2:9). We stand fully free from the penalty of sin because Christ stood fully exposed to the wages of it (Romans 5:9). The kindness of God is meant to lead us to repentance, not to self-inflicted bondage (Romans 2:4). 

You can't settle a debt which has already been paid for in full. So don't. Don't hurt yourself. You needn't hurt yourself anymore. You need not because Christ is your pardon.

Pray for the courage to rest in the grace God has for your failures today:
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Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
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