He who hears the shema drinks the shekar!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Herman Bavinck on Confession and False Shame

But I certify you, brethren,
that the gospel which was preached of
me is not after man.
Gal. 1: 11.

Confessing is against flesh and blood, against the world and Satan. By nature, each man is an enemy of the preaching of the cross of Jesus Christ. It may seem strange to the shallow minded person, that there has always been so much resistance against the gospel. For it is a joyful message for all creatures; it speaks of nothing but grace, peace and salvation; it demands nothing, but gives everything. Yet, it finds enmity and resistance all over; it is an offense to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. It may be for man, it is not after man. It is of Divine origin and therefore not in accordance with the thoughts and desires of men. Mind and heart, desire and will, soul and body are against the gospel of Christ. In their resistance men are supported by the world and the whole kingdom of darkness.

There certainly is a difference in circumstances. In days of peace and quiet, it is less serious, then when the congregation is oppressed and persecuted by the world. We need more courage to confess Christ, in an ungodly environment of sinners and mockers, than in the circle of relatives and friends, who together confess the truth. It needs a more courageous faith, not to be ashamed of the cross of Christ, when surrounded by the great and learned, than in the midst of common people in a distant village.

But in principle the resistance is the same all over. For flesh, the world and Satan are always the same, and the greatest and strongest enemy that resists the confession of Christ, lives in our own heart. The forms in which the enemy operates may be different, but confessing the name of Christ always demands that we deny self and bear His cross. Whoever, from which circle he may come, when he will follow Jesus, must submit to insult an contempt.

Even when faith is worked in the heart, and urges to confessing, there still can be so much that keeps the lips closed, and keeps us from boldly confessing the name of Jesus!

Look at Peter, who in a hour of danger denies his Master, and later in Antioch from fear for the brethren of the circumcision turns into a hypocrite. Yet, Peter was first among the apostles, who for his glorious and courageous confession that Jesus was Messiah, received the name of Rock. He felt so close to Jesus, had such fervent love for the Master, that he would die for the Lord, and did not think it possible he would ever deny his Lord. When Peter could fall and did fall, who shall remain standing? And who does not need the warning: let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.

There are many examples in the history of the Christian Church, where we read of steadfast martyrs, but we also read of the thousands, who denied the faith in the hour of temptation. When oppression and persecution come for the sake of the Word, those, who at first heard the Word with joy, but had no root in themselves, are instantly offended, and are but for a time.

There are so many dangers to which the believer is exposed, so many rocks at which he can suffer shipwreck. The desire of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, fear to lose name and honor, good and blood, work together to draw Christ's disciple away from the certainty of faith. Among all these temptations, a so-called sense of false shame could be the most severe of all. For even when oppressions and persecutions are past, it continues to slay its thousands and ten thousands. Among the low and mighty, this sense of false shame kept many from confessing the name of the Lord.

There is something very humiliating in the thought, that basically, in our hearts, we are ashamed to confess Jesus. For He was a man going through the country, doing good and blessing men; Who was meek and lowly of heart; Who being innocent, died on the cross, being condemned by those who were His enemies. There must be something out of order with us, we must be spiritually sick, when we are ashamed for such a Man, and are afraid to take His name on our lips.

Shame in general is an unpleasant feeling, which connects itself with some act in us, as if the esteem from others for us becomes less. It can be something positive. When Adam after he sinned is ashamed because he trespassed the commandment, he gives evidence that he sees his act as evil and is aware that he fell. To be ashamed is not always a fruit of faith, it is also known by the natural man, and is evidence that men did not become animal or devil when he fell. He is still man, and a feeling of dignity and honour remains with him.

But beside much that is true and good, there is also a false sense of shame. It occurs when we feel embarrassed about something, which is good in itself, but can lower us in the esteem of others. We are often ashamed for the good impressions that are left from the preaching of the gospel; about the accusations of our conscience; about the sorrow that we feel after a sin committed; about emotions to which we are subject at certain times. We are afraid that others knowing about this, will despise us, and make fun of us; that we will lose the name of being courageous and strong people.

It is this sense of false shame, which often surprises us with respect to the gospel of the cross. We are ashamed of the congregation, which consists not of many nobles, not many wise. We are ashamed of the Bible, which is so different and is contested by men of science and culture. We are ashamed of Christ, Who claimed to be God's only Son, the anointed of the Father. We are ashamed of His cross, which was an offense to the Jew, and foolishness to the Greek. We are ashamed of God's special revelation, which discovers us to ourselves, and shows us in our spiritual poverty.

We are also afraid when taking the side of Christ, we will lose our name and honour as men and become subject to insult and mockery, libel and oppression. We fear, that by confessing Christ, our dignity, our personality, our being human will suffer harm.

Even a sense of false shame has the dark underground, that at one time we were created in God's image and must uphold a certain honour and status. No one is indifferent to the esteem of self and of others, because in his deepest fall, man remains man, that is, he still retains the image and likeness of God.

But under the influence of sin this sense works the wrong way. For it is true indeed when we give ourselves to Christ for our salvation, the esteem of ourselves and that of others will lessen and we will lose our name and honour by men. But such esteem is nothing but delusion, and such honour and delusion are but imagined. For by nature we see ourselves as rich and enriched, having need of nothing. But when we embrace the gospel, we see that we are poor and blind and naked.

That is how the honour of men is for the greatest part nothing but ignorance and show. The art of associating with man consists in hiding our real being, so they form a judgment about our person, according to our outward, acquired behaviour. God is true, but all men are liars. Man just does not happen to speak lies, but he lives a lie; he is untrue in his very existence. Appearance and substance, being and revelation, inward and outward do contrast each other. While at times the mouth flows over with love and the countenance shows nothing but friendship, from the heart of men proceed evil surmisings, murders, fornication, adultery, theft, false witness, slanders. A saint, who knew the inner man and could see the bottom of the heart, would flee from him, horror stricken. And unforgettable is the love of Christ, Who knew man, but in spite of this looked for him and gave Himself over into death for him.

That is how we live for ourselves and others in a delusion and imagination. Well considered, we abandon nothing, when we believe in Christ, for we have nothing. We only abandon the delusion that we are rich and enriched, that we have need of nothing. The greatest misery of sin is not that we are blind, but being blind we think that we see. Sin is guilt and shame and stain, but it also is foolishness and lack of wisdom.

That delusion is disturbed in us by the Word of the Lord. If we would be saved by Christ we must do away with that delusion. For to become a Christian is to esteem the judgment of others for nothing, accepting the judgment of God upon ourselves and hope in His grace. To confess Christ includes, that we lose ourselves and all that is ours, our name and our honour, our good and blood, our soul and our life. It is exactly this that is resisted by a sense of false shame. The desire to apparent self preservation, urges and drives men to resist the gospel with all his strength.

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom. 8: 7). The natural man does not understand the things of God's Spirit, and he does not understand, that denial of self is the only way to true self-preservation.

from The Sacrifice of Praise, Chapter 7