The older I get, the longer I have walked with the Lord, the more I can identify with the Apostle Paul when he exclaims, “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:24) Particularly over the past two years, the Lord has revealed more and more how sin has lurked in my life and how well entrenched it is. Like Paul,
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7:22-23)
As I make my way through the Gospels, I have also realized how wretched the disciples were. They continually fell into the same patterns of unbelief and selfishness. And, really, isn’t that the pattern of almost all about whom we read in the Scriptures? Abraham twice was willing to put his wife in peril to save his own skin. Moses struggled with fear and anger throughout his life. David, who Paul describes as “a man after God’s own heart,” even he had an affair and then eventually had Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover it up. Peter, the rock on which Jesus promised to build his church, even after being filled with the Holy Spirit, was intimidated by the Jews and avoided being with Gentile believers out of fear of what they might think.
Wretched! Each and every one of them. Yet, they are heroes of the faith. Why? Paul has the answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) Ahh, the wonderful grace and mercy of God!
We live in a time where our esteem as humans is viewed as the heart of our identity. The thinking goes that we need to be continually reminded of how good and wonderful we are. Why that is is because of how easily we are torn down by others, be they parents, siblings, teachers, or peers. The instinctive thing to do is to protect ourselves and others by seeking to reinforce our goodness and theirs. And that has been what we as a culture have been doing through our parenting, education, and through social media.
While in many ways, this is a healthy trend, it has one tremendous downside. It hardens us to the fact of how wretched we are compared to God, and often leads us to believe we are, in fact, pretty good and deserving of good things from the Lord. Let us be disabused of that notion. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we commended as good or righteous in and of ourselves. All of us are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. We are not saved by our goodness or good works.
What this emphasis on boosting our esteem has wrought is arrogance and a sense of entitlement, and encouraging attempts to ignore what we inherently know, just as Adam and Eve did: we are wretched in the face of Glory. That is why we often judge others harshly because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We can encourage ourselves that at least there are others worse than us. Or why we often feel so insecure. Deep down we know we are not that good, and trying to pretend otherwise just enhances our feelings of insecurity.
Feeling wretched about ourselves all the time would be deeply unhealthy, but recognizing how far short we fall of the glory of God is the prerequisite for finding hope and healthy self-esteem. It does not come from trying to feel better about ourselves. You and I are wretched; that is an undeniable biblical fact. Yet, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Ah, what hope and relief for wretches like you and me! That God so loves us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And he can redeem our lives and use them for the work of his kingdom!
The Scriptures tell us God is rich in mercy, and that his mercies are new every morning. We are not good, but the Lord loves us anyway! If we are able to put aside our pride and can live with how wretched we are, but loved deeply nonetheless, then our hearts can overflow with thanksgiving and peace. We can put an end to our striving to be loved and seen as good. Instead, we can rest in the assurance that we are deeply valued and be grateful for the Lord’s rich mercy for us. And we can remain humble by our bent toward sin. Imagine the change in our public and private attitudes and discourse if we, like Paul, believed we were “the worst of sinners” and in great need of God’s mercy.
For an alcoholic, the first step toward sobriety is for him or her to acknowledge the fact. Likewise, for each of us, the first step toward achieving a healthy self-esteem is to recognize our wretchedness, and then to embrace without condition the wonderful grace and mercy given to us who surrender our lives to the Lord.
Doing this gives us reasons every day for which to be thankful and grateful. And it will free us from the need to constantly be affirmed, and from falling to the temptation to judge others so that we might feel better about ourselves.
Not a bad way to start the Thanksgiving holiday and the Advent season!
© Jim Musser 2019 All Scripture references from the New International Version.