Tag Archives: condemnation

Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

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Filed under grace, Legalism, Narcissism

Guilt and Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

One of the more subtle and unexplored connections between narcissism and legalism is the use of guilt and shame as motivation and control tools. So prevalent are these tools in the message of both legalism and narcissism that the connection can hardly be ignored. From the pulpit and the bedroom, from the family home to the service organization, guilt and shame are readily available and liberally applied.

Guilt and shame are usually found together, especially among Christians. The church has done a poor job of helping believers to release guilt, in spite of a message that proclaims the forgiveness of sins. Instead, the church has used guilt in a mixed message that never quite allows believers to feel forgiven.

The feeling associated with guilt, especially in the church, is shame. Shame moves church members to conformity and obedience; or, at least, compliance. Those who are intimidated by shame find it much more difficult to stand up against injustice, particularly to themselves.

Over the years I have suggested that guilt is a very inefficient motivator. It drains the accused of energy, energy that could benefit the one doing the accusing. In other words, using guilt and shame to motivate your kids to clean their rooms may work, but it costs them in both enthusiasm and creativity. Workers shamed into cooperation are still unwilling and without passion for the work. Employers and leaders who use guilt and shame will receive a lower quality of performance.

However, if you see the people in your care as somehow less than equal and less than valuable, you may be content with mediocre work and reluctant cooperation. If your members or workers are not real people in your mind and their greatest contributions are unworthy in your estimation, you may not care whether they perform with enthusiasm.

Enter the narcissist.

The narcissist has serious difficulty in valuing others or even in seeing others as real. Therefore the contributions of others have no real value to him. Slaves, servants, peons, sycophants, and moochers surround him. He expects them to serve him, but he also expects them to serve him poorly. So he uses whatever motivation will work.

I suspect that one reason a narcissist will attach to a believer is because the believer is often easier to manipulate with guilt and shame. Believers are usually pre-conditioned to accept this type of motivation. We have learned throughout our lives that most things are our fault. We have been told for years that we are inadequate and unworthy. So we accept the narcissist’s judgment as both true and normal.

But there’s more.

Guilt and shame may be very familiar to the narcissist. If we accept the typical version of a narcissist’s childhood, where parents are absent or conflicted and love is withheld except when it serves the parent, then guilt and shame are the primary motivations for the narcissist to hide and project an image. Rejection was his/her fault. He/she was to blame for the difficult childhood. If he/she had been a more worthy son/daughter the parent might have loved more.

The narcissist knows the power of guilt and shame. So it shouldn’t surprise us when narcissists seek victims who are already conditioned to that motivation. Nor should it surprise us when the compromised legalist uses it from the pulpit to control his parishioners or move them to conformity. When the narcissist tells his wife that their marriage problems are her fault, he is probably projecting the guilt and shame he has felt all his life and using it as a primary tool to control. When the legalist preacher condemns his people for the clothes they wear or the television they watch, he may well be projecting the guilt and shame he feels for the compromises of his own life.

So the answer to this control is to know the truth of God’s love and acceptance. Shame makes us feel less as persons. We relinquish our rights and our value when we live in shame. We accept the abuse of others and add to it ourselves, because we own the guilt. But that is not the message God has for us.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, according to the Scriptures. No more guilt or shame, because Jesus came to take that away from us. Yes, our actions may cause pain and our attitudes may be wrong, but that does not lessen our value to Him. We should be quick to confess injury to others and seek reconciliation, but from a position that is both secure and strong. We are loved by the greatest Judge of all and that will never change.

In other words, believers are healthy when they accept the acceptance God has toward them. We are strong when we acknowledge that nothing can remove us from His protection. We are confident when we understand that guilt and shame have been completely overcome in us by the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

Neither the narcissist nor the legalist preacher has the right to pronounce guilt on us. They have no power over us to place us under shame. We are free to simply shrug off their condemnation and manipulation. Understanding that is health and peace . . . and victory.

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Filed under Narcissism

Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, Legalism, Theology and mystery

I Belong

Words of Grace  

 

A few years ago the “model” for churches was based on the television show, “Cheers,” where you could come in, sit down, and everyone would know your name.  Church leaders were supposed to try to build a community that allowed people to feel at home, comfortable, like they belonged.  I often wondered how that was possible in churches that preached legalism.  (No, wait, they couldn’t use the model of a bar.  Could they?)

Many people feel like they don’t belong when they are at church.  It isn’t only that the people aren’t friendly.  Sometimes they are friendly, but the feeling of being a hypocrite or an outsider still lingers.  In fact, it’s harder when they are friendly.

Think about what the church is supposed to be.  It is supposed to be the local and present representation of the body of Christ, right?  The gathering of those who have been washed, forgiven, accepted, and filled.  Those who belong to Jesus.  But, when the preacher focuses on the sins of the Christians in the assembly, he causes them to question whether they have truly been forgiven and included.  Some look around at all the rest of the people, pretending to ignore the condemnation, and they feel that they are the only ones who shouldn’t be there.  The preacher just said they are hypocrites, that they have displeased God, and that their salvation hangs by a thread.  He just told them they don’t measure up to the standard.

So they go to church but never really believe they belong.  They miss the joy of the gospel, the acceptance of the Lord, because of the message of condemnation.

Listen: If you have come to Jesus for the washing away of your sins and have trusted in Him alone for salvation, you belong to Him.  Heaven is yours.  The church is yours.  All the promises and hopes are yours.  You are accepted in Him and because of Him.  You belong.

You are not of this world.  You are in Christ.  You are washed and accepted.  You are in the Kingdom of God.  You are in His family.  You are a citizen of Heaven.  Nothing can change that and there is nothing more for you to do.  You belong.

 

I belong.

Jesus has accepted me.

No one can take that away from me.

I am His forever.

I belong.

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Filed under Church, Relationship

I am Clean

Words of Grace  

 

One of the things God has not given us is the ability to forget the things we really want to forget.  There are good reasons for that, I suppose, but most of us have done some things we would love to push out of our thinking forever.  It certainly doesn’t help when other people remind us or when the evil one whispers a reminder in our ears.  But we often don’t need them.  We just remember.  And, when we remember, it hurts.

But does God want us to live every day in the shame of what we have done?  Some preachers seem to think so.  They keep Christians in control and motivate them to obedience by reminding them of what they were before they came to Christ.  Forgiveness means little if our sins are always lifted up to us by others or by ourselves.

No, God does not want us to live in shame.  He says that there is “no condemnation” for those of us who belong to Jesus.  He says that all our sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ.  He says we are clean.

One of my favorite passages is from 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul is telling the readers that they are no longer what they were.  He does not deny what they were and what they did, but he explains that they are different now—new creations, as the Lord said.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11

“Such were some of you.”  This is not denial.  This is reality . . . but it is the whole reality.  We are not what we were because we have been washed.  We are now clean because of Jesus.  He washed all our sins away.  Today we are no longer what we were.

“But what about the sins I have done since becoming a Christian?”  Those sins are washed away by the blood as well.  In fact, those sins didn’t stick to us in the first place.  Some people don’t like this teaching.  They think our former sins are gone but not our current sins.  If that’s true, however, then Jesus has to be crucified again for us or some other way of salvation has to be determined.  If sin still separates us from God and remains on our account after we have come to Jesus, then the cross of Christ was not enough.

But the cross was enough.  The love of God is sufficient to cover all our sins: past, present and future.  We are no longer what we were and we will never again be what we were—because we have been washed and made clean.

 

I am clean.

Jesus has cleansed me.

The old has been washed away.

I am not what I was.

I am clean.

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Filed under Words of Grace

Freedom

Grace 101

 

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  Galatians 5:1 NASB

This is the time of year our nation celebrates freedom.  It’s a big word and we use it to mean different things.  Chances are that it means something different to a fourteen year-old than it does to her parents.  It means something different to an employee than to an employer.  It may even mean something different in one country than in another.  But what does it mean in the context of grace?

Freedom is a hinge concept.  Legalists will tell us that freedom is far less than we think.  Liberals will tell us that it is far more than we think.  Grace people often get into trouble when we try to explain what it means.  Some have said that it means we are free to do whatever we want.  Others say that we are free to do what is right.  All of this is confusing and misses the point.

Freedom in Christ means deliverance from bondage.  We were slaves of sin, under condemnation and shame, bound to evil in our hearts.  We belonged to evil.  It was our master and the realm in which we lived.  When Jesus came to us, He reached into that evil and pulled us out.  He paid the price, did the work, lived the life, that was needed—and He set us free.

Sin owned us, but Jesus set us free from sin.  The law held us in condemnation, but Jesus set us free from the law.  Failure defined us, but Jesus delivered us from our failure.  This is what our freedom is about.

You see, you and I could always do what we wanted.  Nothing stopped us from sinning.  When we wanted to disobey our Lord, we found ways.  We have always lived in that “freedom.”  So when someone says, “Well, you aren’t just free to do whatever you want!”  You answer, “I always have been free to do what I want and so have you.”  The point is not that we can do things now that we couldn’t do before.  The point is that we are no longer slaves to sin and citizens of evil.

The moment you received salvation in Jesus, that moment you were set free from evil and all the strings it had attached to your life.  In that amazing gift box, Jesus has given you freedom.  You are no longer under condemnation, no longer in shame, no longer bound to sin.  You are free to make changes in your life and He will guide you and enable you.  You are free to live without fear of rejection, secure in His love.  You are free to love others without expectation.

The ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil are no longer your ways by definition.  You are free.  You are free from your past, from the ways and habits of your family, and from the judgments of others.  You are free from the old life, the old you.

And your freedom in Jesus is not just defined by what you are free from, but also by what you are free to.  You are free to experience joy and creativity and rest.  You are free to feel free.

Fireworks and parties and games and laughter are every bit as appropriate for the believer on any day as they are for our nation on the fourth of July.  We have been set free by the Lord who loves us.  That’s something to celebrate!

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Filed under Freedom, Grace 101, Uncategorized