October 20, 2017

Examine Yourself?

Girl Before a Mirror, Picasso

By Chaplain Mike

A man named Andrew contributed a short story on theopenend.com about hypochondria. In it, he wrote:

Today I have lymphoma. Yesterday was bowel cancer. I curiously palpate my underarms, searching for that slippery lump, stealthily hiding from my grasp. I check again, and again. I then move up to my neck, again massaging for lumps. My temperature is high. The low-reading thermometer is lying. It is frustratingly difficult to explain to someone the affliction that is hypochondria and the terror one experiences with this condition. It is not an obsession, it is the solid, unwavering belief of illness which is not abated, soothed or remedied by reason. Logic is irrelevant and I often describe the illness as an “inhibition of reason”, whereby the sufferer is capable of seeing and understanding reason but is unable to truly believe said reason. Bouts of hypochondria last for days, weeks or months, sporadically disappearing and resurfacing. Sometimes I beg for the uncertainty to be removed, sometimes I yearn for the very condition I fear to take its place inside me, to wreak its ungodly havoc on me.

There are theological teachings and pastoral approaches that encourage spiritual hypochondria. Always admonishing believers to “examine themselves,” Christian leaders who teach this way are in danger of creating congregations filled with people who live under an unrelenting spirit of fear and insecurity, constantly checking their pulses, taking their temperatures, and gazing into the mirror, interpreting every irregularity as the sign of a serious, perhaps fatal disease.

I don’t believe the Bible calls us to examine ourselves like this. It calls us to keep our eyes on Christ.

The passage that seems to call Christians to self-examination is 2Corinthians 13:1-10—

  1. This is the third time I am coming to you—EVERY FACT IS TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES.
  2. I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone,
  3. since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
  4. For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.
  5. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?
  6. But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.
  7. Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved.
  8. For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.
  9. For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.
  10. For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.

Context means everything when trying to understand this passage. Linda L. Belleville describes the situation in Corinth that Paul was addressing in this letter:

It was at Corinth that [Paul] encountered his most formidable pastoral challenge in the form of traveling Jewish Christian preachers who not only invaded his territory but also claimed credit for his work, stressed sensationalism and challenged his credentials and his authority.

…Paul calls these preachers “false apostles” and “deceitful workman” who were “masquerading as servants of righteousness” when in fact they were servants of Satan (2Cor 11:13-15). They were preaching another Jesus, Spirit and gospel (11:4), and their intention was to lead people astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (11:3…).

St. Paul, di Bartolo

Chapters 10-13 of this letter directly address this situation. And now, here in ch. 13, Paul comes to his conclusion. Note this carefully—he is preparing to visit Corinth, to meet with a church that has been influenced by counterfeit teachers who have been trying to get the congregation to disown Paul and his teaching. Paul taught a “weak” servant Christ; the false teachers taught a “mighty,” sensationalistic Christ. Verse 3 says that Paul is coming to prove himself and his doctrine to them, because they are, “seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me.” The issue at hand is this: Is Paul a genuine apostle who preaches the true Christ?

In that light, he tells them: Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test?” And then note the all-important statement that follows: “But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.”

  • Why does Paul tell them to examine themselves?
  • Because he wants them to see that Christ is indeed among them because of Paul’s preaching.
  • This, therefore, will prove that Paul is a genuine apostle—and that the other teachers are false.

So then, the Corinthians are to examine themselves to prove Paul’s authenticity. He is not advocating here a regular spiritual discipline of checking myself out to see if I am a genuine Christian. He is writing to a church that he addressed in ch. 1 with these words:

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. (1:19-22)

Paul is confident that this congregation is in Christ. What is at stake is his relationship with them, and their ongoing acceptance of his gospel. What is at stake is their recognition of Paul as the genuine apostle. They have been listening to other voices who are threatening to lead them astray, away from Paul’s teaching, away from Christ. So the Apostle says to them, “Look at yourselves! Isn’t Christ among you because of my teaching? These other teachers have brought you a different Christ, a Christ of power and not weakness; a Christ of glory and not of the Cross. If the real Christ is among you, then that should show you that I am real and that my ministry is approved by God.”

His words are more about a church approving Paul than about individuals looking at themselves in the mirror.

Paul’s real message about self-examination as a spiritual practice is found in Paul’s first letter to this church:

But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. (1Cor 4:3-4).

Paul looked to Christ, not in the mirror. Paul spent his time examining the grace and mercy of God, not his own heart. Paul didn’t get insecure and fearful when others questioned his faith because he had God’s word of acceptance and the confirming presence of the Holy Spirit. He knew he was the “chief of sinners,” even as an apostle (1Tim 1:15—note the present tense), but he also knew whom he had believed and he was convinced that He is able to guard what Paul had entrusted to Him until that day (2Tim 1:12).

It is always appropriate to confess our sins. Of course this will mean practicing a form of self-examination to help us understand where we have gone astray, so that we can bring it honestly and openly to God and/or an appropriate confessor. But nowhere does the New Testament call us to look in the mirror constantly so as to make sure we look like genuine Christians.

Stop it. Look to Jesus. Believe the Gospel.

Comments

  1. You mean we don’t have to constantly check and make sure we’re really among the elect? ;-P

    Good insights, brother!

  2. “Paul looked to Christ, not in the mirror. Paul spent his time examining the grace and mercy of God, not his own heart.”

    Good point!

    Self-examination is important. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). But Christ needs to the be focus and the reference point – his grace and his righteousness, which are both ours in Christ. Grace gives us the ability to examine our own brokenness without despair, or become so morose about what is wrong that we lose sight of the progress God has caused in our lives. Otherwise, we might tend to focus on what is going right and ignore what isn’t. We don’t fix everything we find wrong; we confess it to Christ and ask for his forgiveness and healing. Then, go on. I once heard a running coach recommend that as you are running, do an inventory of how you are feeling, how you are breathing, and if anything feels sore or stiff. He didn’t say immediately try to correct anything at that moment, but to make a mental note for future conditioning or mentoring from a running coach.

  3. I guess I wouldn’t call it hypochondria (speaking from someone who deals with it every day in my practice) but actual terminal cancer . . . no guessing or worrying about it. But the real good news is that is a balm that has already cured it.

    I suspect that this “self-examination,” when preached, is a manipulative gesture by the one doing the preaching. The church . . . should be a balm dispenser.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Ever heard of the Soviet-era Marxist confession/repentance ritual called “Enlightened Self-Criticism”? Seen in its purist form in Stalinist show-trials and China’s Cultural Revolution?

      • Interesting to hear you make this connection. I suppose this is rather off-topic, but I was struck, while reading Son of the Revolution by Liang Heng (about the cultural revolution), to read about how, after the man’s father gets labeled an enemy, the father continually examined himself and wrote out these long, tortured confessions, searching out all his faults.

        The closest parallel I could imagine was the kind of intense, religious self-scrutiny most of us are familiar with in a completely different context.

        Maoism always was oddly, ‘spiritual,’ compared to Russian communism. Class as something you become, rather than a hard reality. (Which made it, maybe-slightly, more compassionate: people who would have been shot under Stalin were ‘re-educated’ under Mao.)

  4. I grew up with this guilt. Yes I am a sinner, but Jesus’s death and ressurection took care of my past, present and future sins. He stood in my place, even if I sin, and I will, I am forgiven. Thank you Jesus!!

  5. “Now or never
    Face yourself
    No one else will do
    Face your weakness
    Face your past
    Let your scars show through”
    – Michael Hedges

  6. “But nowhere does the New Testament call us to look in the mirror constantly so as to make sure we look like genuine Christians.”

    Really?

    2 Cor 15:3: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (NIV).

    2 Peter 1:10-11: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (NIV).

    1 John 3:9-10: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (NIV).

    3 John 11: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (NIV).

    Luther, Calvin, the Reformers, the Puritans, Wesley, Spurgeon, etc. all taught to examine ourselves if we truly are in the faith time-to-time. They all got this from Scripture, not philosophies of men.

    • All these passages must be read in their life context, Mark, not just in terms of a systematic theology. In each instance, the author was writing a letter warning people about false teachings that had infiltrated the church and he was calling upon the Christians to recognize the differences between the true and false teachings.

      In 1John, for example, John draws strict black and white contrasts throughout between a form of gnosticism that was being promoted among them and the true Gospel. And yes, each of these teachings has practical results in the lives of those who follow them. He is calling upon them to look around them and see the differences each kind of teaching produces. He is not calling them to constantly look within as a spiritual practice to test themselves to see if they are genuine Christians.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Luther, Calvin, the Reformers, the Puritans, Wesley, Spurgeon, etc. all taught to examine ourselves if we truly are in the faith time-to-time. They all got this from Scripture, not philosophies of men.

      The SCRIPTURE (TM) that was quoted over and over again chapter-and-verse to justify one-upmanship and beatdowns?

    • I think this is getting close to the “quarreling about words” that Paul warned Timothy about (2 Tim 2:14), which he said “is of no value.” CM’s original point was about “spiritual hypochondria,” an inordinate inward-looking attitude that is fruitless and debilitating.

      Of course there is a biblical concept of self-examination, but it belongs in the context of a healthy relationship with our Lord. For that reason you can find these two verses in Ps,. 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” (v. 1) and “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (vv. 23-24)

      God does the searching and the psalmist prays for him to do it. For our part, we can respond in humility and contrition when “there is any offensive way” in us, or we can choose to ignore Him and grieve his Spirit.

      It is the Spirit of God’s role to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). We don’t need to badger him to look for our sin when our conscience feels uneasy. If something is wrong, he will make it known. When you get up in the morning, do you call the local police station to ask them if you committed any crimes since yesterday? If you did something wrong, they’ll find you; that’s their job.

      Therefore, I think this statement of CM’s is a fair one: “I don’t believe the Bible calls us to examine ourselves like this. It calls us to keep our eyes on Christ.” I’ve been a Christian for 35 years, and the longer I walk with God the more convinced I am that is not my responsbility to lead a self-examined life. My responsibility is “the obedience that comes from faith.” (Rom. 1:5) As for how I view myself, as with all other matters of knowledge and discernment, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Ps. 111:10)

  7. I don’t think “Paul’s apostleship is the issue” argument holds. Paul is telling the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith not because he primarily wanted to authenticate his apostleship before the Corinthians but because primarily because he wanted to make sure the Corinthians knew that they were truly saved by accepting the teachings and ethics of Paul.

    Funny you didn’t delve a little bit into 2 Corinthians 3. Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians they are Paul’s special letters that prove his genuine apostleship because they are considered Christ’s letters that confirms Paul’s apostleship (2 Cor 3:1-3) – as evidenced in their newness of life and transformation of heart by the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). In other words, they prove that Paul’s apostleship is genuine because they are new creatures in Christ and are being renewed by the Spirit through HIS ministry (in contrast to the false apostles).

    That is why those who don’t have the evidence of renewal by the Spirit need to examine themselves if they are in the faith. Those who continue in the way of disobedience are not true believers who have been genuinely impacted by Paul’s ministry.

    • Mark, with regard to 2Cor 3, exactly! Paul did not doubt the genuineness of the Corinthians’ faith! When he tells them to examine themselves in ch. 13 he is confident that they will pass the test, unless they have begun to follow the teachings of the super-apostles. He knows Christ is among them, and he wants them to see that it came through the Gospel Paul taught rather than the message they were hearing through the false teachers. What is at issue is their ongoing loyalty to Paul and his gospel, not the state of their sanctification.

      • Mike,

        I really don’t know who you can leave out the condition of their sanctification out of the picture in Paul’s discussion here in light of 2 Cor 3:18. One of the reasons why Paul’s apostolic ministry is genuine, in contrast to the “super apostles”, is because of the Corinthians’ regeneration, renewal, and practical sanctification. The ministry of the super-apostles did not effect any genuine transformation of soul to the Christians at Corinth. On the other hand, Paul’s ministry did, and this was the undebatable evidence that his ministry was from Christ! I will quote Colin Kruse’s comment on 2 Corinthians 13:5 from his 2 Corinthians commentary from the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series:

        In a previous letter Paul had stressed the importance of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the congregation and the individual believer, and the moral implications of this (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20). In the present context, where the prospect of moral failure on the part of the Corinthians has stimulated Paul’s concern (cf. 12:12)., the ethical imperative of the presence of Christ by the Spirit is implicitly invoked by Paul’s question. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? The Corinthians appear to have been quite confident that Christ was in them, so the purpose of Paul’s question is to reawaken them to the moral implications of that great fact (p. 219).

        • Mark, I never said it was totally out of the picture. I just said it is not the main issue here. The main issue is adherence to Paul’s Gospel in contrast to that of the false apostles. Of course that will lead to moral and lifestyle implications, but the root of the issue is “Which Christ?”

  8. One of those pre-packed discipleship programs a few years ago (I don’t remember the name, but think MasterLife, Experiencing God type) asked that people examine themselves for long-past unconfessed sins. You were supposed to think hard for a long time, meditate, even ask God to reveal sins committed years or even decades ago that went unresolved at the time. Men and women would bawl, and beg God for mercy, not only for the offense but for the sin of living with it all these years. The claim was that no matter how well you thought your relationship with God was, he never forgets unconfessed sin even if we do, and those things from the distant past prevent a better relationship with God now.

    The truth is sometimes you feel better after a good cry; most people were convinced their relationship with God could now grow. People that I knew to be men and women of God, and leaders in my own spiritual growth. I left convinced that extreme emotional manipulation, crippling us with guilt from every sin ever committed, is not the way God works. This was more than “examine yourself.” This was examine yourself until there is nothing left or your doing it wrong.

    • Sounds like Luther confessing his sins to Staupitz. He could never find assurance looking within, and he just about wore Staupitz out.

    • “The claim was that no matter how well you thought your relationship with God was, he never forgets unconfessed sin even if we do, and those things from the distant past prevent a better relationship with God now.”

      The Catholic name for this is scrupulosity (and for what the discipleship program was doing, that’s called spiritual abuse) and one of the elements of treating such is that you don’t dwell on past sin.

      Now, if you’ve been consciously and deliberately ignoring habitual sin, to be reminded that you must confess and repent is one thing. But what you’re saying is that a group of people who were attempting to live in fellowship with God, and who (presumably) had made some kind of general confession of sin before being ‘born again’ or baptised or becoming a member of their church, were being told “Not good enough! God never forgets! Flagellate yourselves over past errors!”

      That’s a pile of nonsense. There is an anecdote about a nun who was having visions of Christ, and when she went to her confessor to verify that these were real and not deceits of the Devil, he told her “The next time he appears, ask him what your last confession was about.” She did so, and the apparition said “I have forgotten.” She recounted this to her confessor and he said “Yes, this is genuine.”

      Because when God forgives us, our sins are wiped out. God does not ‘remember’ our sins to hold them over us. The traditional remedy for the scrupulous was to get one spiritual director or confessor, stick to them, and follow their instructions in obedience. So when they said “Stop obsessing!” you were supposed to believe them.

      There’s a modern form of this, a “Ten Commandments for the Scrupulous”, which a Catholic priest (a Redemptorist, which is important, as their founder St. Alphonsus Liguori himself suffered from scrupulosity) has drawn up, and the first one goes:

      http://mission.liguori.org/newsletters/scrupulosity.htm

      ” 1. You shall not repeat a sin in confession when it has been confessed in a previous confession, even when there is a doubt that it was confessed or a doubt that it was confessed in a sufficiently adequate and complete way.

      Almost every scrupulous person experiences anxiety and doubt about past sins. Older people have a natural tendency to reflect back on their younger years, and in doing so, often remember something that triggers a doubt. More often than not, such a doubt has to do with impure thoughts, desires, or actions. As a result of the combination of remembering and doubting, it is not unusual that the scrupulous person then experiences great anxiety and is robbed of a sense of peace. This is why this first commandment is so very important: Do not go back over past sins and do not repeat the confession of them! Such an exercise is not at all helpful and must be resisted.”

      There also seems to be a medical consensus to treat this as a version of OCD, and that probably is helpful as well.

      • Speaking of holding up a mirror… I didn’t know that there was a name for this.

        • Well, one advantage of having been around as long as we have, is that you’ve pretty much seen it all.

          Not everything, by a long chalk, but at least seven out of ten times there’s no need to re-invent the wheel.

          🙂

          • The premise of Msgr. Benson’s book ‘Dawn of All’, in a nutshell. Everyone becomes Catholic because they realize everything they’re discovering about humanity, we’d known ages ago. 😉

  9. Isn’t this why we have a corporate confession at the beginning of the service? “…we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and what we have left undone…”. We don’t have to name every single specific instance; we acknowledge our sin before God and each other.
    One version of the confession even says, ‘In your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown….’. I’ve heard many people tell me it’s the most meaningful part of the service for them.

    • I fully agree, but some people seem to think that such liturgical elements must be rote, meaningless motions that people go through week after week. I say they are wonderful corporate habits that go deep into heart, mind, and spirit.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Especially if you have bad experiences where “Anything you confess can and WILL be used against you.” The General Confession in the Liturgy then becomes the only confession of sin that feels safe enough for you to do.

        • I love the General Confession too. It often brings a tear to my eye. I wonder what percentage of people get teary during Mass? That happens more than not with me.

          My husband, who is not Christian, suffers from quite of bit of obsessive-compulsive problems and tries to put them on me too. He says things like, “If you make a mistake once and know you have made a mistake, then you should never make that mistake again. If you do it again, you just don’t care.” That’s just a tiny piece of it. You really don’t want me to get going.

  10. Chaplain Mike,

    Great post. One thing that makes me so mad is to her preachers try to preach doubt into peoples hearts, not by sharing the gospel but through legalism and emotional manipulation. They often do this to try to pad their “conversion” numbers. Very shameful.

    • That’s a very good way of putting it, Austin—”preach doubt into people’s hearts.” Why would anyone want to preach doubt? Preach Christ! Preach the Gospel!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        But preaching doubt means you can get the mark to doubt his salvation, and then you can step in and Save His Soul (TM) for another notch on your Bible and bragging rights at the Bema! Great for the Soul Winner, not too great for the mark — after being the mark time and time again, you start to wonder if it’s all BS.

    • 1John5:13:
      “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

      • Yes! Made even stronger by the verses that precede those words:

        The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.

        And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

        He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

  11. It seems like Socrates (Apology) statement of “the unexamined life is not worth living” has snuck (?) into Christian living as Biblical; especially in light of this particular passage. I love this post; puts in to great perspective–as Keith Green’s ‘Make My Life a Prayer’ says…”Oh it’s so hard to see when my eyes are on me”…pretty much sums it up. If I am not focused on Christ, why not?

  12. I grew up in a church where some people felt a need to be “saved” again every Sunday. I wonder if they ever did get it right.

    Some years ago I managed a retail store. When the roses in my yard were in bloom I would often choose a nice blossom, take it with me to the store and place it in a tall thin vase designed for a single stem. One day I chose an especially nice Peace rose. That afternoon I noticed that one customer, an older lady, seemed to be fascinated by the rose. After many minutes of examining the rose, she approached me. “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but notice that rose. Where did you get it?”

    I explained that I grew it in my yard. She asked what special care I had given it, and was it the only rose on the bush. I answered that I gave it no special care. If January I pruned the bush. In the spring I turned on the automatic sprinklers and set them for three times a week. Once or twice a year I gave it some of the inexpensive plant food from the discount store. It was not the only rose on the bush. There were at least a dozen similar roses. That one just happened to have a long, straight stem.

    The lady told me that she had been a rose show judge for over forty years, and president of the state rose society for many years. “In all of my years judging roses, I have never seen one as perfect as that rose. It would win Best of Show at any rose show I have ever attended. It is the most beautiful rose I have ever seen or ever expect to see. I never thought I would see such a rose.”

    So I have seen near perfection, but not when I look in the mirror. I saw it in that rose, and I see complete perfection in Christ. That is where I try to keep my gaze focused, not on the mirror, and not on other people. Since I am in Christ, I pray that Christ will examine me.

    I must admit that I find it curious that there are those who appear to suffer from some condition that compels them to bid us to constantly examine our views on this or that, which politician or political issue we support or oppose, how old we suppose the earth to be, how long our hair or skirt may be and a thousand other things and thereby determine our position in Christ. Or better yet, examine these things in another and thereby determine their position in Christ. Does this affliction have a name? A cure?

  13. I love this bit from Tozer’s “Pursuit of God” and think it applies quite well here :

    “Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves-blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

  14. I think one can go too far to the opposite extreme by not being somewhat self-conscious of the wake one leaves while passing through life. The drunk who looks in the mirror and doesn’t see an alcoholic staring back at him is a long way from sobriety. Brennan Manning’s story in “Ragamuffin Gospel” of the man who claimed not be a drunk but left his daughter to almost freeze to death in his car while he was in a bar is startling. I think we all are like that, but a lot of Christianity seems to encourage such denial. We’re supposed to claim and positively confess what we are and want to become, as if the schmuck that we truly are never existed. We are supposed to reach a pinacle of sinless perfection, from which any admission of sin would mean utter failure and backsliding, so we stop admitting that we are sinners. But many such people finally break down and fall into gross sin, I think as a release -relief from the burden of putting on an act. Part of confession is delivering oneself from the pride of life, from needing to live a lie, to proclaim to the world that you’re not “all that”. That contradicts the American way of always trying to appear to be successful, organized, upwardly mobile, confident winners like Willy Loman. People may not understand sin, but they know what it means to be an epic failure or the terror of becoming one. The “trotz”, the “in spite of” of the gospel message turns that terror into courage.

  15. “Sometimes You scare me by what You cause me to see
    And I’m afraid of knowing who I am
    Although You’ve changed me there’s still a whole lot of old wineskin
    And to open up would destroy the me I’m afraid to show
    One part of me doesn’t want to grow
    But I’m tired of this lingering winter
    Tired of ground so hard and cold
    Plow Your way through, I’m asking You to, Jesus
    Lord, You’re my only hope
    Without You . . . I can’t face myself”
    – from “The Struggle” by Rez Band (“Colours”, 1980)