I rightly hate the sin. I wrongly continue to dwell on the fact that I've sinned.
Missed my Bible study again. Yelled at the guy who cut me off on the road. Then whined and complained to God about my work situation. Still struggling with pride and tongue. The weight of all my responsibilities is piling up, developing into an out of control mass of tasks.
Man, I am the prime example of the ultimate Christian loser!
Some days, it seems that one moment I'm on top of the world. I'm leading worship. I'm writing articles. I'm studying my Bible (and haven't missed a day in weeks).
Then it hits: Sin.
Before I know it, I'm four days in, losing the battle against the flesh.
Of course I desperately long for the Day when sin will no longer be a struggle. But sin is a reality that ricochets throughout my life on a daily basis, often hitting me at moments when I least expect it.
And those moments provide the perfect opportunity for the devil to push into motion the deadly sin of pride.
"Pride?" you ask. Yes, pride. "At the moments when you are lowly?" Yes, pride. "At the moments when you hate your sin?" Again, yes, pride.
I know it seems impossible at times when you are losing the battle that you can be prideful in any way, shape or form. But that is the sad reality.
I hadn't understood this previously, but I've learned that there are two completely different sides of the coin called "pride." One side we all are quite familiar with. It's the "Hey-I'm-the-best-ever" pride that we all struggle with. The other is less recognized and far more dangerous.
This other side of pride is the "I'm-too-big-a-sinner-to-receive-grace" pride that we often allow to pass by as a quite acceptable sin. I have always thought that I should be humble like Jesus. I should be hard on myself when I sin, and hate the flesh because I am doing things in opposition to the flesh.
Yes and no.
Yes, I must hate the sin. I must dread the sin, detest the sin. I must mortify the flesh and do it at all costs.
However, the devil can quickly take advantage of my "lowly state" after failure. Before I know it I am wallowing in self-pity, experiencing the dangerous symptoms of depression and anger.
I Desperately Want To Be Good
I see this often at work in my own life. I'm in the period of post-sin and allow Satan to begin his attack by telling me that I shouldn't be having problems with sin. I should just quit any leadership responsibilities that I have. Loser Christians should not be allowed to do what I do.
Loser Christians don't deserve to be Christians at all.
I am totally and completely unworthy of grace. And I'm supposed to be. How would God get all the glory if I provide anything into the equation? I realize now that the proper equation is this:
God + the Cross – me = all glory to God.
Self-pity (seen in depression and anger after sin and failure) is a serious sin that I so often allow to pass by as an acceptable sin in my desire for humility. However, I must remember that it is "pride posing in the demeanor of weakness" as John Piper says. It is cunning and deceptive, lurking about my heart ready to strike at the moments when I let our guard down.
Self-pitying people desperately want to be good, not for the glory of God, but for themselves. They want to do things for and by their own power and might for the personal recognition. They want everyone to serve them, like them, and approve of them. When these desires are not fulfilled, a prideful person will become even more inwardly focused and will continue a vicious cycle. (Exemplary Husband by Stewart Scott, page 179)
Should I have brokenness over my sin? Absolutely! However, if I am not careful, this brokenness can quickly turn into the deadly sin of self-pity.
Tomorrow There'll Be Sun
The world's response to self-pity is often Annie-esque. We're all told to "stop it!" cheer up, and start singing "you can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sun!" That's a pretty risky bet in the real world. From what I've experienced, tomorrow is not always sunny. I continue to fail, and I continue to see my darkened heart, and too often I allow myself to fall back into self-pity.
I rightly hate the sin. I wrongly continue to dwell on the fact that I've sinned and in my failures as a believer.
I rob God of His glory because when I remain in self-pity, I deny the power of the cross. I reveal that there is a major issue with pride when I allow self-pity to creep into my life. The main issue is not the normal symptoms of anger and depression. Those are simply the consequences of my heart issue with pride.
I shouldn't start singing that there's always tomorrow, because there is always today, and today holds the truth of the gospel just like yesterday and just like tomorrow. The gospel truth will always be there. We are great sinners. He is a great Savior.
It is this gospel that frees me from self-pity because it gives all the glory, honor and power to God. Remember Paul's words in Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."
Or the words of John:
My little children, 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. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:1-6)
Low Views of Yourself?
Sitting at my desk struggling. It seems that all I can think about are my spiritual failures. It's been a dark time. But through this time, the Holy Spirit has led me to begin contemplating on the gospel. I've found the following words from Octavius Winslow, one of the famous Pilgrim leaders who made their way to the New World on the Mayflower in 1620. His words have moved me and jarred me out of my self-pity and idolatry of self:
What are you to yourself? worthless? vile? empty?
What is Jesus to you? precious? lovely? all your salvation? all your desire?
What is sin to you? the most hateful thing in the world?
What is holiness to you? most lovely? most longed for?
What is the throne of grace to you? the most attractive spot?
What is the cross to you? the sweetest resting place in the universe?
What is God to you? your God? your Father? the spring of all your joys? the fountainhead of all your bliss? the center where your affections meet?
Is it so? Then you are a child of God!
Those low views of yourself ... that brokenness, that inward mourning, that secret confession, that longing for ... more spirituality, more grace, more devotedness, more love, does but prove the existence, reality, and growth of God's work within you.
Cheer up, precious soul!
That soul never perished, that felt itself to be vile, and Jesus to be precious! (Octavius Winslow, "Evening Thoughts")
J.I. Packer reminds us that "we need to remember that any idea of getting beyond conflict, outward or inward, in our pursuit of holiness in this world is an escapist dream that can only have disillusioning and demoralizing effects on us as waking experience daily disproves it. What we must realize, rather, is that any real holiness in us will be under hostile fire all the time, just as our Lord was" (JI Packer, Keep In Step With the Spirit, page 111).
It is an "escapist dream" to believe that we will never fail. When we fall we must not remain down. That is where the devil wants us. He wants us defeated. He wants us to deny the power of the cross because it injures our pride. He wants us to believer we all are loser Christians, and ignore the victory of the cross.
Don't believe it.
We are all sinners. We all struggle against the flesh.
And we all need to run to the cross.
God delights in saving the losers. He delights in this because losers absolutely must give Him all the credit. Losers must rely exclusively on His power. We must respond with Paul, "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:31).
We must join with the Corinthian believers' understanding that "godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10).
We are victorious because of Christ, and Christ alone. Let us find our boast only in Christ, putting aside all self-pity and pride that takes snatches away the glory of the cross. Let us have a godly grief over sin that leads to salvation without regret.
God delights in saving losers like me. Losers who so desperately need His grace.
God still delights in saving losers like me. And like you.
Copyright 2009 Tim Sweetman. All rights reserved.