For nearly two decades, I viewed myself as the homeless girl. The high school dropout. The shame-filled, foul-mouthed, hostile woman who reacted out of pride and fear rather than grace and love. I knew, intellectually, that I’d been redeemed. I read countless verses proclaiming both who I was and whose I was—a cherished daughter of Christ purchased by His own blood. But those truths never seemed to stick in my deepest, most wounded places.
Somewhere along my journey, I’d embraced the lie that I was what I did or had done. I allowed my sin, rather than God and His love, to define me and determine my worth. As a result, I lived perpetually defeated, a fragmented version of who Christ created me to be.
I’m not alone. I’ve heard many others express the same struggle. They know, intellectually, what Scripture says about them, but they’ve allowed the voice of their past to grow louder than God’s. They want to experience the abundant, filled-to-overflowing life that comes with being set free but don’t know how to break out of their self-imposed bondage.
If that’s you, you understand the pain and shame that come from living in a false identity. Here are some things that helped me step into deeper freedom. May they help you as well.
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1. Meditate on the cross.
Jesus Christ didn’t die just so that we could gain entrance into heaven, as wonderful as that gift His. He came that we might have a full-to-overflowing life in the here and now (John 10:10) and to liberate us from sin and its devastating effects. To put it simply, Christ wants us to thrive even more than we do. We know this based on what He endured to set us free.
He already paid the price, and it cost Him everything. When we remain mentally and emotionally defeated by our sins, past or present, it’s as if we’re saying His grace wasn’t enough. Not strong enough, present enough, and thorough enough to crucify every self-destructive, love-destroying tendency within us and birth in their place joy, power, and peace.
We honor Him when we turn away from our sin and live in the freedom His death purchased for us.
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2. Expel the lies.
We all have certain thought patterns that arise unnoticed—lies that we tell ourselves and have come to believe. We may not even recognize we’re doing this, but our lack of awareness doesn’t insulate our hearts from the toxicity unleashed in our brains. The noxious, internal dialogue we allow to play unchecked tears us down one statement at a time. Worse, it can drown out God’s gentle, uplifting voice and create a cycle of negativity.
The more we engage the lies, the more apt we are to do so. This has to do with what neural scientists call neural plasticity, which refers to how our brains are constantly rewiring themselves. Our thoughts develop ruts, like well-trodden pathways or habitual ways of thinking.
Perhaps this is in part why God tells us to take our thoughts captive and center them on truth (2 Corinthians 10:5). The more we feed the lies, the stronger they become and the deeper the ruts that carry them.
But the converse is true as well. When we redirect our thoughts and intentionally focus on truth, we begin to form new and ever-deepening neural pathways. This is an important step to developing the mind of Christ, and Christ’s mind always points to life and grace.
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3. Read, memorize, and meditate on truth.
Throughout Scripture, God reveals how He views us. We’re deeply and unconditionally loved. For those who are in Christ, we’re:
- Redeemed and Righteous
- Chosen and Children of God (John 1:12)
- Accepted (Romans 15:7) and One with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17)
- Crucified to sin (Romans 6:6)
- God’s special possession who are called “out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
We’re clothed not in sin, condemnation, or defeat but in our Savior (Galatians 3:27) and we’re living temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We’re not brought low but “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). We’re His ambassadors, equipped and empowered to transform lives, neighborhoods, cities, and our world.
One morning, when I was struggling with self-defeating thoughts, I happened upon Ephesians 1, and it was like God shined a light into my wounded, beat down heart. I realized I could continue feeding all the lies I’d entertained for so long or I could choose instead to believe that what God said about me was indeed true.
In other words, I could give Him the authority He deserves. Determining to do just that, I began to pray the passage, personalizing and claiming each attribute listed.
If you find yourself identifying with your sin rather than who you are in Christ, consider doing the following exercise.
1st: Create a box with three columns. Label the left column “Before Christ,” the center column “By Christ,” and the right column “In Christ.”
2nd: Read Ephesians 2 and list, in your left column, everything Scripture says you were before you surrendered your life to God. Notice the use of the word all in verse three. At one time, we all lived in sin, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh” rather than the will of God.
Every believer—the former drug addict and prostitute and the “rule-following” woman raised in the suburbs—has given in to selfish, prideful, and hurtful thinking and behaviors. We’ve deceived and wounded others, even those we love most, and have chosen momentary pleasures over God’s best for us. As deceased Puritan John Owen once wrote, “The seed of every sin is in the heart of every man.”
We are all equal at the foot of the cross. No one is worthy of Christ’s death nor the gift of life it gives. But neither are any of our sins worse than anyone else’s. We’ve all rebelled against our holy, loving Father (Romans 6:23).
But that’s where God’s grace came in. Christ did what we didn’t have the power to do; He conquered the power of death and sin, removed our filthiest stains, and clothed us in righteousness. Because of His death and resurrection, we’re transformed. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
3rd: In your center column, draw a cross, and pause to thank Christ for His gift of life.
Next comes the most freeing part of this activity: declaring who you are, now that you are in Christ—encompassed and surrounded by Him and all the blessings and privileges He provides.
4th: Read Ephesians 1 and, in your right-hand column, list every attribute God speaks over you as His redeemed child.
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Old thought patterns don’t die easily. The longer we’ve been believing and feeding them, the harder they will be to fight. We have the power, in Christ, to do so, but we’ll need His help. Therefore, to live deeper in grace, we must regularly ask God to purify our hearts, not just of sinful desires, but the comorbid scars and deception as well.
Ask Him to help you become alert to all the lies you tell yourself in a given day and to stir within you the desire and the strength to defeat each one. Ask Him to protect your mind, to close your ears to everything contrary to Him, and to flood your entire being with truth.
And finally, pray Scripture, because there’s supernatural, life-giving power in praying God’s very words back to Him. It expels the darkness within and ushers in the light of Christ.
Overcoming sin and its damaging effects will be a lifelong struggle, but the more we engage and center ourselves in truth and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, the easier the battle becomes. We weren’t created to live ashamed, guilt-ridden or defeated. God wants us to thrive, to experience freedom, and He’s given us everything we need to lay hold of victory in Him.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who’s addressed women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Restoring Her Faith and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team love to help women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. Visit her online to find out more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event, and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE to learn of her future appearances, projects, and releases.
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Originally published Tuesday, 14 May 2019.