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True self-esteem

January 29, 2019 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

This past Sunday, after I preached on confession and forgiveness, we read in unison a prayer from a book called The Valley of Vision: a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. If you have never read this book, it is a unique and fascinating read, full of rarely used SAT words but also with a theological and devotional depth unmatched by modern-day prayer and devotional books. Below is the prayer we read on Sunday, entitled Continual Repentance: 

O God of grace,

  Thou has imputed my sin to my substitute,

      and hast imputed his righteousness to my soul,

            clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe,

            decking me with jewels of holiness.

  But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;

            my best prayers are stained with sin;

            my penitential tears are so much impurity;

            my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;

            my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

 

  I need to repent of my repentance;

  I need my tears to be washed;

  I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,

            no loom to weave my own righteousness;

  I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,

            and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,

            for thou dost always justify the ungodly;

  I am always going into the far country,

            and always returning home as a prodigal,

            always saying, Father, forgive me,

            and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.

  Every morning let me wear it,

            every evening return in it,

            go out to the day’s work in it,

            be married in it,

            be wound in death in it,

            stand before the great white throne in it,

            enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

  Grant me never to lost sight of

            the exceeding sinfulness of sin,

            the exceeding righteousness of salvation,

            the exceeding glory of Christ,

            the exceeding beauty of holiness,

            the exceeding wonder of grace.

I find this prayer to be a poetic way of asking God to help us to remember the gospel, that we are sinners saved by God’s amazing grace, prodigal sons and daughters who are continually being welcomed home by the Father and lavished with His love and mercy.

One thing that you may find jarring as you read the prayers of the Puritans is how seemingly negative they are towards themselves; in the above prayer, the writer despairs that even his most holy acts are stained by sin – “I need to repent of my repentance.” In a country obsessed with self-esteem and positive self-talk, this may strike you as unhealthy. On the contrary, I would argue that the healthiest self-concept is precisely what you see in this prayer: we are simultaneously sinners incapable of saving ourselves and individuals who are deeply and unconditionally loved. We are so sinful that nothing less than the death of the Son of God could save us. And yet we are so loved that He gave His life willingly for us. This is neither pride (using self-talk to convince yourself of how awesome you are) nor despair (letting your negative self-talk defeat you). This is humble confidence: knowing that you are loved and valuable no matter what anyone else – or yourself for that matter – thinks, but also knowing that it is not because you are better, smarter, or more successful than anyone else, but simply because the God of the universe declares it to be so.

The more your eyes are opened to the depth of your sin – how even your most holy acts are a mixture of selflessness and self-centeredness – the more your eyes become opened to the depth of God’s love for you. I pray that you might have the greatest self-esteem of all, that which comes not from positive self-talk, but from knowing that you are a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace.

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