Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'm Not Picking On George Washington, But...

Really, I love George Washington. But I hate to let an opportunity pass to point out how self-abasement sometimes looks like humility (or humility sometimes results in unbiblical self-abasement).
Anyway, the prayer is "A Prayer For Wednesday Morning", and can be viewed in its entirety here (See #7).
The beauty and eloquence of the prayer are beyond dispute, but the theology leaves much to be desired. The baby of the New Covenant (regeneration and the New Creation) is thrown out with the bathwater of sins confessed.

When Washington says, "[I] humbly acknowledge the corruption of my nature...", he is using the language the Scripture uses of an unregenerate person, born in sin and unchanged.

He who is in Christ is a New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17), with a new nature (spirit) which is one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17). The old man (nature) has been crucified with Christ.

This is why Paul, in Rom. 7, was careful to point out that the "sin" which dwells in our flesh, our very members, is not us ("I find that it is no longer I who do it, but sin which is in me.")

When Washington says, "[I] desire to be vile in my own eyes, as I have rendered myself vile in thine," he will be hard-pressed to find any such thought in the New Covenant epistles, since the child of God has been declared righteous, and has the awesome love of God promised in such a way as that *nothing* shall separate us from it. Not exactly "vile" in the eyes of Him who has given us His very righteousness.
Of course, we certainly were vile in His eyes before He gave us a new heart, as promised in His prophecies of the New Covenant. "...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 Cor. 6:11)

Washington's thinking on this, which is all too common, is actually destructive to walking by the Spirit, which is why Paul gives the foundational imperative in Rom. 6:11, "Reckon [consider, choose to believe] yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."

If someone thinks of themselves as still "the Old Man", even if saved by grace, they will be more inclined to act like the Old Man.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have gone from being "vile" in His eyes, to being "the apple" of His eye. Bask in that, and follow Him.


Steve Sensenig said...

Great article, Terry! You have hit on something that often frustrates me in talking with other Christians. As you said, it is all-too-common for people to think they need to remind themselves of the awful sinner they are, instead of viewing themselves the way God sees them. Romans 7 often takes precedence over Romans 6 and Romans 8, as I recently discussed in my first post of the New Year.

Thanks for being a blessing to me in 2006, and I look forward to more interaction with you in 2007. Christy and I are planning a trip to Nashville for our anniversary in June, so maybe we can get together with you and Michele for coffee or dinner while we're there?

Blessings, brother.
steve :)

Terry Rayburn said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks so much.

Michele and I would love to get together when you're in Nashville! Allow me to be the first [probably] to wish you a Happy Anniversary. Ours is also in June.


dec said...


This is a problem for me.
Could you link to or write an example of a New Covenant prayer that is humble without being self-abasing?


Terry Rayburn said...

Hi dec,

I wouldn't pretend to represent a model prayer for contrition, and the varieties could be endless, but let me take a stab at biblical humility vs. self-abasement.

Humility is not saying, "I'm nothing, I'm nothing." And it's not saying that I'm "just a sinner, saved by grace", as though we were not a New Creation, but still just like we were before.

The bumper sticker that says "Sinners aren't perfect, just forgiven" is not accurate. We are not *just* forgiven. We are also made new in our spirits, and declared righteous by God.

Humility is saying, "What do you have, O man, that you did not receive?" In other words, acknowledging that all the gifts or good that we exhibit are ultimately from God, and therefore we can not boast of them, but only boast in God.

"But wait," one might say. "I am very intelligent."

But where did you get that intelligence?

"But wait," another may say. "I am diligent at my prayer and Bible study. Not slothful, like So-and-So."

But where did you get your diligence? And so on.

Self-abasement, on the other hand, denies the wonderful work that God has done in us, and not only speaks unbiblical evil about His New Creation, but actually views God as disgusted at His "vile" children.

To relate it to Washington's prayer, instead of saying, "[I] humbly acknowledge the corruption of my nature...", one might say, "I humbly acknowlege the sin I've committed against you, and my lack of walking by your Spirit, and I thank you for your forgiveness that you've already given me...and I thank you for the new heart you've given me, and for making me dead to sin and alive to you, in my spirit....I desire to walk by your Spirit, even now..." etc.

Instead of saying, "[I] desire to be vile in my own eyes, as I have rendered myself vile in thine", one might say, "I desire to walk by faith, and not by sight, with gratitude for what you are to me and have done for me in Christ...and thank you for giving me the gift of your righteousness...and thank you for your love and grace and your willingness to always accept me in the best I am able I surrender to you once more...not my will but thine be done."

Hope that helps.


JSBreeze - Grace Roots said...

Hi Terry,

First off, I'm not sure if I've ever commented on your blog, but I read it often and I download your shows to my mp3 player. Thanks for all you do!

Philip Yancey comments on the lifestyle of self-abasement in What's So Amazing About Grace, using Karen Blixen's fictional story, "Babette's Feast." The story is set in an impoverished fishing village in Norway (the movie changed it to Denmark). The cast is "a group of worshipers in an austere Lutheran sect."

"What few worldly pleasures could tempt a peasant in Norre Vosburg, this sect renounced. All wore black. Their diet consisted of boiled cod and a gruel made from boiling bread in water fortified with a splash of ale. On the Sabbath, the group met together and sang songs about Jerusalem... They had fixed their compasses on the New Jerusalem, with life on earth tolerated as a way to get there."

The story goes on about the complete lack of grace, but the good news is that grace ends up coming to this community. But it's truly sad that there's so much Jesus in us, yet so many people are so focused on sin that Jesus' New Creation work in us is all but set aside!

dec said...

Thanks Terry. That does help.
When reading your examples, I see hope in the humble prayer...but only condemnation in the self-abasing prayer.