Tuesday, July 4, 2017


For some of us, the most painful we might ever experience is seeing ourselves as we really are, and it’s not pretty. We are so obsessed about our honor that we will kill to defend it.

Paul also had to learn the painful lesson of self-despair. It was so painful that he despaired even of life:

·       For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) 

In order to learn to trust in God, he had to first learn to not trust in himself. The more we trust in ourselves, the less we will trust in God or even turn to Him in prayer. Why even bother, if we are convinced that we can handle life on our own.

However, self-despair has to enter into the darkest corners of our heart to our false convictions of adequacy and worthiness. We have to learn that, without God, we are nothing (Galatians 6:3; 1 Corinthians 3:7). We cannot achieve any moral merit, worthiness, or entitlement. Instead, we are utterly bankrupt and without hope without Christ, deserving one thing only – death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, self-confidence before God is self-deception. Paul had to learn that he could not trust in himself at all:

·       For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. (Philippians 3:3)

Before Christ, Paul had trusted in his righteousness, his goodness and worthiness according to the external standard of the law. However, he learned that he could not trust in both Christ and his own merit at the same time. Therefore, he rejected everything, in as far as it contributed to his conviction that he was worthy:

·       …I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

This does not mean that our education, upbringing, and moral habits are all worthless. These can be good things, but they cannot be the source of trusting in our worthiness before God. Before Him, our righteousness is no more than filthy rags.

It took me years to learn this lesson. Even during the first several years that I taught at the New York School of the Bible, I was still trusting in myself. As a result, on a number of occasions, I almost handed in my resignation. While I was trying to prove my worthiness before God, it was becoming increasingly apparent that I really wasn’t worthy or even spiritual enough to teach. Satan obsessively reminded me that my faith, love, and joy were far from adequate. Consequently, I felt like a charlatan as I taught. I was supposed to be a role model, but my many deficiencies were yelling “liar.”

However, taking baby steps, I was beginning to accept my unworthiness in the light of my Savior’s assurances that He had deemed me righteous. He forgave and cleansed me whenever I confessed my sins (1 John 1:9). What great freedom I had been granted!

There are so many blessings in accepting our unworthiness. It’s a war we no longer have to wage. It has already been waged and decisively won at the Cross.

This knowledge also bonds us to our Savior in cords of gratefulness. A prostitute braved her way into an exclusive dinner, where Jesus was reclining at the table. The Pharisees were disgusted as they watched her crying over her Savior’s feet and washing them with her hair. Meanwhile, Jesus corrected their settled conviction of their own superiority:

·       “…Her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

The Pharisees didn’t love because they weren’t forgiven and had little awareness that they even needed forgiveness just as much as the prostitute. By the grace of God, along with my growing awareness of my unworthiness, I have also been growing in gratefulness towards my Savior.

Now, when Satan reminds me of my unworthiness and poverty of spirit, I respond, “Thank you for reminding me of this. You remind me of just how grateful I am for the One who has made me worthy.”

I was asked to teach a group of pastors in a foreign country. Once again, I was reminded of my poverty of spirit but also of my Lord’s totally undeserved provisions. Hallelujah!

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