The Potential Idolatry of Self-Abasement
We are wretched men in light of this body of death; we are unprofitable servants as a result of it. We know the plague of our own heart (as it relates to the ever-presence of the outer man and not to the new heart the Lord has given us). We know that we are undone by nature. We loathe ourselves in light of our sin — even sin of thought, word, commission and omission. However, we must never make a show of such things. We have nothing to bring to God for salvation, no not even our own professed vileness. We seek salvation experimentally when God reveals the vileness of our natural condition but we must never put any trust in the offering up of such things before God and men.
Likewise, we must never judge another man by how experimentally they proclaim their “woefulness” before others. I have known quite a few who have forsaken truth despite their “humble” admissions to being a worm, a wretch, a nothing, a dog. These things can be mimicked for seasons, even extended ones at that. It isn’t our public self-abasement that saves us, nor is it the lack (or perceived insufficiency) thereof that does so — salvation is all of Christ, all of His finished work, and He knows all those who are His. Therefore, who are we to try to peer into the heart of other men to determine if they are humble enough; if they feel their plague enough; if they see their wretchedness enough, if they declare their vileness enough…? Such things can become idols, a means of boasting… a way of saying ‘look at me, see what a low view I have of myself. Why do you not see yourself as lowly as I see myself?’ This is a dangerous game to play; it can become nothing more than a “voiding competition” to see who can denigrate themselves the most.
Thus, true humility before God (something we can all use more of, myself especially) is not found in the repeated declaration of our vile state as believers. True humility before God is bowing to His will and to His word by His grace. Every Christian knows what he is by nature. Every Christian knows that indwelling sin makes us fall so very short of the mark. We all know this; we all feel this; we all lament over this, loathing our condition because of it. But what do we do in light thereof? Do we continue to declare our loathsomeness? Or do we praise God for the mercies already given us and pray for more mercy, grace, and experienced victory? Do we wallow or do we seek to rise out of the mire, as He ordained and enables, so as to serve Him, and love Him, according to knowledge and truth. Do we proclaim the Gospel and our natural filth repeatedly or do we proclaim our natural filth, the Gospel, and the liberty we now have in Christ (namely, freedom from sin and freedom unto good works to the degree of the varying measure that God has set for each of us). I am not saying to never address these truths; I am suggesting that we should do so in a balanced, contextual manner.
God does not call us to judge the degree of experimentalism expressed by others — He calls us to feed His sheep by proclaiming His word, even the whole counsel of it. Yes, the preaching of the cross is paramount — and yet, all of Scripture is God-breathed and worthy of our utmost attention. Let us not judge ourselves by ourselves. Let us not commend one another so that we can commend ourselves. Instead, may our prayer be that God turns us so that we will be turned; that He leads us all the more in the Way; and brings us into all truth via His scripture.
Finally, cherish the word as you cherish The Word. His truth will set us free because He, as the Truth, has already done so. Enjoy the word, delight in it, see marvelous things out of it and let no man distract you from it. There is no sin in knowledge, only the abuse of it… However, one man’s abuse is another man’s edification — just as one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. God will discern; rebuke; and chasten all who are His. May we be led to stay on course; grow in knowledge, love, and grace; and fight the good fight in all avenues of our life, in light of all aspects of His word.
The next time someone informs you of the vileness of your nature, especially if they do so with fervent focus, agree with them for they are telling you the absolute truth; agree that their negative description of your natural self is spot on. However, proceed to remind them of what our blessed Savior has done for us and what He has done in us through union with Him.
If one says “we are vile;” say “Amen! After the outward man we are indeed, but after the inward man… “We are of God…; we are in Him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ…; we are the Lord’s…; we are in Him…; we are the children of God…; we are saved by hope…; we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us…; we are labourers together with God…; we are all partakers of that one bread…; we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ…; we are no longer under a schoolmaster…; we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free; we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them…; we are members one of another…; we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones…; we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh…; we are not of the night, nor of darkness…; we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end…; we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…; we are not of them who draw back unto perdition but of them that believe to the saving of the soul…; and we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God.” — Thank GOD for these precious truths.
To Christ be the glory.