Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness ackknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.


The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

But is Brokenness the Goal?

Brokenness is inevitable. We get broken over sin and sickness and loneliness and failure and loss. All things have not yet been set right. We live in a broken world and we groan.

So is brokenness a good thing? It’s good to be authentic and real, right? But should we celebrate being broken? Should brokenness be our goal?

Those might seem like no-brainers. But I’m not so sure

Is the Broken Way the Best Way?

Much is made of brokenness these days. Ann Voskamp’s book, The Broken Way is a bestseller. Songs about brokenness abound.

When asked, How are youBroken, is what some of us “real and authentic” types say. Brokenness is inevitable. We are all damaged goods.

But, like Chuck Swindoll says,

We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it…We are in charge of our Attitudes.

I have to ask, What’s the focus? Is it my hot mess and brokenness? Or is it God’s power and presentness

Because if all our broken talk makes the hurt bigger than the Healer, if it makes our brokenness- whether from sin or sickness- more real than our living hope, we’re missing the point. If my brokenness becomes a badge of honor, maybe the broken way is not the best way.

There, I said it. You can stop reading now if you like.

Do you want to be healed?

Don’t get me wrong.  It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to admit life is hard and we feel weary.

But I’m wary of a certain sort of brokenness. Because I remember the dark night of the soul when my focus was brokenness and pain. I know that pain can get proud. It can take on a life of it’s own.

Do you remember when Jesus was at the Pool of Bethesda with all the invalids gathered round? And he went up to a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (John 5: 1-9) and asked, “Do you want to be healed? ”

It’s an odd question. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be healed? I’m not positive why Jesus asked that, but it might have something to do with the reality that brokenness can become identity.

So do you want to be made whole, healed? Or would you rather stay broken?  “Nothing is more desirable as being released from affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch,” James Baldwin has said.

If this guy got healed he’d be on his on his own. He’d have to stop begging and get a job. And if he got healed he’d have to quit complaining about his broken body.

There are a million excuses for finding identity in our brokenness. Maybe one of those is that we love the attention our “brokenness” brings. But clinging to victim status does not mean humble and contrite. It means being defined by broken.

It means stuck.

A Hard Choice

Nancy Guthrie has grieved the loss of not one, but two, of her children. She is super insightful on going through the brokenness that comes from grief and loss.

In an address to women she explained that,

To “move forward” is to take God at His Word, that He is Jehovah Rapha, He is the Healer. He has the power to and desires to bring healing into the broken places of your life.

So getting through this is going to require making the hard choice to not become women who are defined by our grief. Do you know women like that? At some point, it just became their identity; it’s the context in which they deal with anyone; it’s just who they are, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s any desire to be defined by anything else except loss.

Ladies, there is only one thing we want to be defined by, and it is not our grief. We want to be defined only by our connection to Jesus Christ. We want to be defined by Christ alone—not by the losses in our lives.

No, brokenness is not the goal. We want to be defined by Christ alone. When we are weak, he is strong. His power is perfected in our weakness. His grace is sufficient. And we are not alone.

Living that way is called redemptive vulnerability.

Redemptive Vulnerability

Stephen Lee calls says redemptive vulnerability is a vulnerability that leads to life. It’s where we share our brokenness in order to display the surpassing power and sufficiency of Christ and the gospel. Which transforms us increasingly into the likeness of Christ.

But, Lee says,

Vulnerability is not an end in itself. Rather, our vulnerability should point us, individually and together with other believers, to the sufficiency of Jesus. It looks at and hopes in the redemption we have in Christ Jesus and the work of the cross.

Then Lee talks about how we do this redemptive vulnerability thing together. He continues,

To bring redemption to our vulnerability means we open up not to wallow in our situation, but to lift our eyes together to God in hope. We can look together at his promises. We cry out together for comfort, wisdom, help, and faith… Weakness and vulnerability remind us that we are dependent and God is sufficient. God loves to meet us in our moments of need and to give us more of his grace as we seek it moment by moment, especially with others.

That happened last night.

Spotlight on God

We set down our forks and stopped to pray.

Because one friend at the dinner table is an 8-year cancer survivor. Alicia had shared in the dinner table discussion that her annual blood work and  check-in with the oncologist is coming this week. Alicia shared that she was a wee bit worried this time.

Which is when another friend paused to ask if we could all pray. Then from around the dinner table we eight did. We prayed. For peace and health, we prayed. And Alicia and her husband both thanked God for his faithfulness.

Then  we said Amen and  Alicia shared with us how God had met her with a song on the way to her last checkup. She said she’s not a slave to fear.

When I asked Alicia today if I could share that, she said, “Sure. Just don’t make it about me. I often pray that God will use what happened to glorify His name.”

That, friends, is redemptive vulnerability.

Therefore We Boast

God met Alicia in her brokenness. And God can meet you too.

Redemptive vulnerability does not put a spotlight on vulnerability, brokenness, or sin. Redemptive vulnerability highlights and magnifies how good, sufficient, kind, persistent, and gracious God is. It’s his grace that makes us aware of our need for him. It’s his grace that causes us to cry out in dependence, to turn away from sin, and to remind us of his love.

That, Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, is why we boast. Because his power is made perfect in our weakness. God comes in when we’re broken and weak.

Being broken isn’t the goal, but meeting God there- or anywhere- is.

Brokenness is not the goal.

Yes, some things need to be broken: hard hearts and pride, for two.

But Pastor Erik Reed says wholeness not brokenness is our goal.

Consider this.  It’s okay to go to the doctor’s office and admit you’re sick, but the goal isn’t to admit it and stay that way; it is to get healthy. You go to the doctor confessing you are sick, but your goal is wholeness. The same is true for churches. We go confessing we are broken people, but the gospel is good news for broken people. The gospel is a remedy to our broken souls that makes us whole. James 5 tells us to “confess your sins to one another.” It is one way we get healthy.

We walk out our faith with friends. Vulnerability liberates us from sin’s destructive power and the despair of sorrow. Things come out of the dark and into the light, where they are healed. Confession is not the goal. Repentance is.

Brokenness is not the finish line. Wholeness is.

Brokenness is not the goal. But is one way we can get to know the One who forgives our sins and heals our diseases.

That is the goal. 

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…

Psalm 103:2-4

In case you were wondering about Psalm 51…

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17). Hallelujah. Amen.

That is a precious promise. Psalm 51 describes how God’s people think and feel about the horrors of their own sin. This is a Psalm, John Piper explains, about how be crushed for our sin well.

But Psalm 51:17 is not a defense for making brokenness our identity. Here’s why.

First, we need to realize that Psalm 51 was, as it says, “A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” The context was David’s broken hearted guilt over his sin. The broken spirit that God will not despise was a spirit humbled and mourning for its sin. Such was King David’s after the Bathsheba affair. And if there’s one thing we know from the whole of Scripture it is that when we repent of our sin, our God is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9, Acts 3:19, Exodus 34:6-7, Psalm 103:12, Micah 7:18-19).

No, he will never despise a broken and contrite heart. In fact it’s only the broken and contrite heart, that see their need for God. In fact that’s just how our Lord started the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. 

Second, we need to remember what sacrifice means. To sacrifice is to surrender a possession as an offering to God. And that is exactly what we do with our spirit made broken by guilt- we offer it to God. Then, He heals the brokenhearted and binds up all their wounds (Psalm 147:3).

Abounding, Like Bolt

It’s not that much for someone who is poor and in a low condition to have his heart kept low, but for someone to have his heart low when his condition is high is much more difficult.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-12 

Do you know how to abound? Did you watch the Olympics last night? Have you learned the secret to being content in plenty and fullness, not only in your need? Did you see Bolt bow the knee?

For all the mockery and misuse of #blessed, I think it’s a perfect expression of that noble, humble spirit. Blessed stands opposed to entitled. Blessed expresses gratitude. Blessed is against “I earned this.” Blessed testifies to God’s grace. #blessed.

Bolt included #blessed in his tweet after his three-peat in the 100m dash last night. I’m one of his peeps now. Here it is.

Thanks for all the support my peeps #blessed #TeamBolt #TeamJamaica #Rio2016

I know, I know, I know. There’s danger in lauding any earthly hero. Don’t put your trust in man. All men -even the fastest- are wildflowers and mist and grass. Every one will fade and fail. I know this.

But the Word also says, Blessed is the man who fears the LordAnd Paul urged that whatever good his peeps had seen and heard and learned from him- these put into practice

Usain’s not perfect. Google him and you might find a few foul words and spot him dancing with some risque Samba dancers at his Rio press conference last week. We all stumble in many ways.

But Usain St. Leo Bolt has got some big things right.

Humble Good Humor

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.  

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Humility, you ask, incredulous? Haven’t you seen Usain’s breast-thumping, #1 boasts, you askAre you out of your up-too-late-watching-beach-volleyball-sleep-deprived mind?

Yes. Humility. And, no. At least I don’t think so it’s a hazy, sleep depraved mind.

Because we know this. That, Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. And when any Olympic living-legend offers a prayer with a sign of the cross in front of a thousand cameras and then bows the knee within a minute of winning a race- I see humility.

Bolt is a century removed and a sea away from the Christian’s epic Olympic hero, Eric Liddell. I admit that Bolt’s lightening trajectory doesn’t look like it’ll lead to a mission field like Liddell’s. But then, one never knows.

Bolt does share more than fast feet with our Chariots of Fire hero. I was going to tie them together with that famous, God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure, quote. It fits them both. But it turns out that “quote” was written by Colin Welland as part of the Chariots of Fire script.

Liddell was known, Bolt is known, for their enthusiasm and good humor. And for this “Girl with the etched furrowed brow,” who takes herself far too seriously far too often, Bolt’s light-hearted, unpretentious exuberance is a breath of fresh air. (Yes, unpretentious. It means trying to impress others with greater talent than one actually possesses. Bolt is the world’s fastest man.)

Proud people tend to be too puffed-up with themselves to want to bless others with their levity and laughter. I dare you to watch Usain and not crack a smile. Eric Liddell had that same light heart. His friends and classmates recalled that,

No adulation, no fame, no flattery can ever affect this youth…He has got that great redeeming gift, the gift of humour. 

His infectious enthusiasm endeared him to the sporting public, and for the next four years he packed the terracing at every sports meeting he attended.

He had a characteristic, humorous resistance to bullying or posing masters, giving his answers stern and satirical emphasis ,’46 Sir’ and then following up with a disarming smile, whenever and wherever the atmosphere permitted it.

For all- or rather in all- Usain’s post-race antics (he hugged a huge stuffed animal on the track after the race last night), for all his smiles as he speeds on by, and his unpuffed-with-self poses that he freely gives “his peeps,” Usain Bolt displays a certain humility.

Honoring God

His pleasure is not in the strength of horse or his delight in the legs of a man, but the Lord delights in those who fear him and put their hope in his unfailing love. 

Psalm 147:10-11

God’s pleasure is (still) not in the (under 10 second for 100m ultra-fast) legs of a man. He delights in those who fear him.

A manifestation of fearing God is taking time to honor him. Usain doggedly honors God. Sure, it’s in his characteristically loose, Jamaican way. Critics might call Bolt’s God honoring ways, merely superstitious– signing the cross and sending prayers to heaven as the soles of his lightening-fast feet press hard on his starting blocks.

True. Only God knows our hearts.

But his #blessed tweets aren’t required by the Olympic Committee. In fact, they’re probably not preferred. They’d probably rather Bolt not be so visible about his faith in the Holy Trinity. Bolt’s going against the flow when he honors God this way.

If ever they did, “Christian” shout-outs do not earn brownie points in the wide world of sports anymore.  His tweets and signs and prayers may not be so bold as Eric Liddell refusing to race on a Sunday. But still. They look like signs of man who behind his big talk and bigger grins fears his God.

A prosperous state, wrote Jeremiah Burroughs, mightily endangers the grace of humility. He explains, that those who have learned to Paul’s secret show their noble, humble spirits when they are

[A]s careful to return proportionate respects to God as they are to receive any mercy from Him. Their nobility is further sown in this: they are thankful. A noble heart is a thankful heart that loves to acknowledge whenever it has received any mercy.

Did you see Bolt bow his knee and give thanks to God when his 100m race was done? After winning the 200m in the last Olympics, he tweeted: “I want to thank God for everything he has done for me. Nothing would be possible without him.” No one made him do that. A strong humble man knows who gives him strength.

A fast humble man knows -and fears- the One who gives him speed.

Sitting Loose

Sit loose to this world’s joy-the time is short. 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne 

Sit loose. That’s a motto for The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. It’s a shorter version of Paul’s Philippians 4 secret. Learn to be content, whatever situation you’re in. Because in Christ all things are yours, and you can do all things

Usain seems to take even his huge success lightly. Jason Gay in today’s Wall Street Journal wrote,

The most recognizable man at the Olympics is staying in the Olympic Village, for goodness’ sake, posing for selfies with mortals who will never make it out of a preliminary heat, pulling his own luggage, turning the same wobbly doorknobs like everybody else. He’s OK with that. He’s into it. 

And sitting loose means sharing the glory. As “the Cosmic Center” of these Olympic games, Bolt he knows that the really great go low. They’re able share others’ success and joy. Jason Gay describes it.

One of the finer moments Sunday night occurred when Bolt was doing post-race interviews near the track, and he noticed the South African runner Wayde van Niekirk, who earlier had shattered the world record for the 400 meters, running 43.03 seconds. Bolt turned to reporters, told them he’d be right back, and then leapt back up onto the track to embrace van Niekirk, clearly the new buzz of these Games. 

No one is better suited than Usain Bolt to make the case that winning isn’t everything, because even while he’s the world’s fastest man, he seems to know that all human glory fades away. No one can make this case better because no one can accuse Bolt of merely making and serving loser’s lemonade. 

I don’t know if Usain Bolt knows Jesus. I don’t know how closely he follows the Christ whose cross he traces before each race. But I know Bolt’s enjoy-life, fear-God, sit-loose ways are even more legendary than his 100m Olympic gold three-peat.

Usain Bolt lives Paul’s secret and teaches us how to abound. That’s the biggest lesson The World’s Fastest Man taught The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. That’s why Usain Bolt is a refreshing breath of rare Olympic air to a very amateur runner who tends to take herself and any modest achievement far too seriously far too often.

From all of us who cling to success and abundance too tight and proud and need to sit more loose and humble, Usain deserves praise.

Behold, what I have found to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 

Ecclesiastes 5:18

Forgive. Yourself?


The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. 

It is better to forget about yourself altogether. 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

A friend is struggling to forgive herself. She repented of her sin. She confessed it to God and to the person she hurt. The two forgave her. My friend did the job right. But months later, she just can’t forgive herself. 

Maybe that’s as it should be. Because maybe the problem isn’t a forgiveness problem, but a pride problem. Before you call me cold-blooded and calloused, let me explain. 

Proudly Pre-Occupied With Our Sin

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5b-6

The connection between feeling unforgiven and being proud is not obvious. But it’s there, not too far beneath the surface. Because, rightly understood, pride is not just thinking too highly of ourselves, it’s also thinking too lowly or too often of ourselves. 

Neither does being humble mean tearing oneself down. Humility, in other words, is essentially a form of self-forgetfulness which is opposed to pride’s self-preoccupationIf we accept these definitions, it means our fixation on sin we’ve already confessed may in fact be pride’s counterfeit version of humility. It means, in short, that the focus on feeling forgiven is not an itch we must scratch. 

The humble, forgiven saint doesn’t get hung up scratching that itch. He can let it sit. When the boys were younger and would scratch mosquito bites until they bled, I would dab on the Benedryl and distract them with toy to keep their little hands busy. They stopped scratching. The focus was off the bug bite. 

But self-condemnation can sneak in under the guise of humility because it doesn’t boast or belittle others.  But don’t rule out underlying pride, writes Jason Meyer:

Self-degradation, self-demotion, and self-condemnation all come when the show is on the other less-fortunate foot…Why would we want others to see these things? Ironically, self-demotion can be a sneaky form of self-promotion because we’re actually fishing for the affirmation and reassurance we believe we deserve…Self-condemnation passes judgment on us when we fall short of our own standards. Sometimes we carry out the painful judgment on ourselves. We can mentally replay poor performance in order to beat ourselves up over our failures. Self-condemnation…feels shame for falling short. (Killjoys, p. 11)

Pride doesn’t want us to forget our failure. Pride wants us to camp there on a shameful, beside Camp Woe-Is-Me. Humility camps elsewhere, writes Meyer. Humility pitches its tent under the mighty hand of GodPride insists on carrying its sin and failure, but humility is fast to cast its cares on God. But since God in mercy is faithful and just to forgive our sins, we’d best accept it. We’d best cast our post-confession cares back to Mighty God and camp out there. 

I don’t mean to be cavalier here. I know it’s no cake walk, accepting forgiveness and moving on. I’ve been there. I’ve spent plenty of nights at Camp Woe-Is-Me and never once have I had a good night’s sleep there. Sometimes after I repent of the selfish, stupid things I’ve said or done, and I don’t feel instantly refreshed (Acts 3:19). So I wallow in my guilt for a while, astounded that I could think, say, or do such ugly things; that conduct so un-becoming a Christian came from moi. I was, as Lewis aptly put it, sorry to find that I was the sort of [wo]man who did those things. 
So why the big push for self-forgiveness these days? Why do well-meaning friends urge you to “forgive yourself”? It’s no doubt because they want to see you at peace, not in pain. They really want you to be able to move forward and live joyful. But the expression betrays a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness.

Why We’re Confused

While Scripture assumes that we love ourselves (Lev. 19:34, Eph. 5:29), it nowhere calls us to forgive ourselves. Throughout its pages, forgiveness is transacted vertically between the sinner and his God, and horizontally between the sinner and the one he has sinned against. Nowhere is it transacted inside the self-same sinner.  

So why do we feel a need to forgive ourselves? Why don’t we feel forgiven? 

Maybe we stay and wallow in self-deprecation because deep down we feel like we still have to atone for our sin. It’s too good to be true, this message of Christ’s mercy. Maybe it’s because we haven’t grasped the immensity of the price Christ paid to purchase our pardon. Maybe we haven’t, maybe we aren’t, truly humbled and amazed that, He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21)

Or maybe it’s because, like little kids, we confuse being forgiven with having no consequences. Forgiveness doesn’t mean no consequences. We know this. We know we can forgive a son who stole some cash and still make him pay it pay it back. We can forgive a daughter who broke curfew and still deny her Friday-night privileges. Forgiveness quite often co-exists with consequences. 

But our feelings confuse us. We think that if we’re still feeling bad we need more forgiveness. Could it be we need more grace, more faith, to keep the humble tent pitched there where it belongs? Maybe we should pray, 

Lord, we believe we are forgiven. Still, help our unbelief. Help us look on you more and think about ourselves our success and sin less. May these sins of earth grow strangely dim in the light of your mercy and grace. Please help us accept your forgiveness and your loving discipline. 

Forgiven Like David

And make us more like King David, the man after your own heart

David is a marvelous model of how to humbly accept forgiveness and consequences. After Nathan’s confrontational, convicting you-are-the man sheep speech, David and Bathsheba’s borne-of-wedlock baby dies. David’s servants are confused when, rather than weep and wallow, he rises from his mourning and, worships. He explained, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said,Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 2 Samuel 12:22

At the end of his life, against all wisdom, David orders a census. His conscience is quickly pricked and he repents. God makes him choose his consequence. David’s answer:  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lordfor his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” 2 Samuel 24:14

When David sinned, he repented. When he repented, he was forgiven. But, still he was disciplined. David might have felt unforgiven, but lying in the bed he made for himself, but he wasn’t trying to forgive himself. He did not grovel under it or spurn it. He didn’t despair nor express entitlement. 

David? He did the right thing. David humbly hoped in God’s goodness. He camped right under God’s mighty hand, and accepted God’s mercy and his consequences.

Me? Discipline after being forgiven, but not feeling it, can leave me groveling; prone to the “all or nothing” syndrome. Either, I’m so horrible. How could God possibly forgive me for the mess I’ve made?  Or, equally faithless, I don’t deserve this. 

You?  Do you pitch your tent in that refreshing, shady spot? Do you humble yourself like David and move on? Do you camp under God’s gracious, merciful mighty hand? 

Godly Grief

For you felt a godly grief so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.    2 Corinthians 7:10

So, Should We Learn To “Forgive Ourselves?” The Corinthians were at fault and Paul had called them out. They had repented and he had forgiven them. But they maybe hadn’t moved on yet. Maybe they just didn’t feel forgiven. John Piper believes 2 Corinthians 7:8–10 is the closest biblical paradigm for dealing with this issue. 

Ponder what Paul means by godly grief and worldly grief…They need to move through worldly grief over sin to godly grief over sin and beyond into life and freedom. And the difference is a grief that leads out of death-giving self-condemnation to life-giving acceptance of God’s, and in this case Paul’s, statement of no condemnation. 

So the biblical way out of death with this so-called self-forgiveness is to humble ourselves and admit we have no right to take the role of judge and pronounce the death sentence on ourselves. That is pride to think that we can hear God’s verdict of not guilty or our friend’s verdict of not guilty; that is, I forgive you, and refuse it. We refuse it and set ourselves up as the new judge and pronounce a death sentence over ourselves. The biblical problem with that is not a failure of self-forgiveness. That is not a biblical category. It is an arrogant failure to trust in the free verdict of God: no condemnation.

David trusted God’s verdict. When he says, if you confess your sins he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse, believe it. Get out of the Judge’s seat and humble yourself. Move on. Believe he meant it when He said, 

“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”  

No, I didn’t help my friend forgive herself. Instead, I say to her, and to you, and to myself: Let’s go pitch our tent in that humble place, under God’s, mighty, merciful hand. Let’s cast our cares, even our post-confession, not-feeling forgiven cares on Him. 

He really does care. 

*   *   *   *   *
Here we have a firm foundation, Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation, Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded! Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded, Who on Him their hope have built.

Stricken, Smitten, & Afflicted, by Thomas Kelley