Tag Archive: fallen man


Self-image

When I use the term “self-image,” I’m referring to the manner in which we are to think of ourselves as the creatures of God, living in His world, subject to His Word. I’m not thinking of the popular notion of self-esteem. In the book of Proverbs, we find a number of verses that establish the perspective we are to hold as we walk before the LORD. And, as is to be expected, we also find a number of statements telling us what we are not to think about ourselves or how we are not to determine our significance in this world.

The perspective that is commended in the Proverbs reflects the facts that we are creatures and God is the Creator. This perspective is essential, Solomon teaches, to a well-ordered life. It won’t take us long to understand why Solomon held such an opinion; nor will it take us long to realize how easily the perspective of Proverbs is lost or obscured or ignored. Because we are fallen creatures, our tendency is to think more highly of ourselves than we should; our tendency is to have more confidence in ourselves than we should.

Our verse was chosen to illustrate the essence of what the Proverbs teach us about how we deceive ourselves regarding our place in this world and how we are to correct that self-deception.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. (Pro. 16:2)

Here is an example of antithetical parallelism; and in this case, it is particularly significant because this verse presents two diametrically opposed approaches to life—one that is “natural,” we could say to fallen creatures, and then the one that is truthful. In terms of generalities, Solomon sums up the way fallen human beings think of themselves and their abilities to perceive and act rightly. In contrast to that perception, he sets the One who knows our hearts and that is the LORD.

Let’s consider the first phrase of this verse: “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight…” What does this tell us about how we tend to think about ourselves? What does this tell us about how, without correction, we will view our abilities and actions? This phrase declares that to the uncorrected mind—and this is the way to think of what Solomon means here because he contrasts a man’s ways with what the LORD knows in truth—whatever it conceives is truth. Therefore, what the uncorrected mind, that is, the mind not trained in truth, not subdued to the Word of God, perceives becomes the basis for conduct.

A fallen man examines his world and assumes that his analysis is correct; he assumes that what he concludes about the nature of this world is correct. So, a fallen man further assumes that any actions or decisions based on his observations must be correct—a fallen man, in other words, simply acts in a manner consistent with his fallen nature. He analyzes, concludes, thinks, and acts based on the belief that he is capable of rightly understanding his environment.

This characteristic is directly traceable to the fall of Adam and Eve. Adam’s sin was disobedience to the will of God and at the heart of all disobedience is the belief, however obscured, that I know better than God. Adam, in his actions, declared that he knew better than God, that God’s assessment of his environment was not necessarily the only assessment that might have validity. Consequently, Adam acted on his own, apart from what God commanded. Adam did what he thought was right, not what his Creator had declared was right. And that is what Solomon encapsulates in this first phrase.

It’s a simple truth that we hold the opinions we hold and we take the actions we take because we believe we are correct. Otherwise, we would hold another opinion or act in a different manner. Every person holds opinions they believe are correct or they would believe something else. Every person behaves according to what they believe is right; otherwise, they would behave differently. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. Solomon, as I said, encapsulates the very heart of fallen man’s reasoning process—he assumes that his ways are clean.

Apart from God’s correction, we are left with only ourselves as the measure of all things. If we are not looking to the standard of God, we must look to our own standard—there are no other choices. Now our standard may be a compilation of opinions taken from different sources, but it is still a standard assembled apart from the Word of God. And we go through life applying this standard and viewing the world according to this standard; and we remain in that mode of thinking and behaving unless, at some point, we are regenerated. And even then, we must battle for the rest of our lives to subdue our opinions and our conclusions in light of the Word of God that has become the standard by which we are to measure all things.

There is a lot in this first phrase. It speaks not only of how we behave and think, but also why we behave and think as we do. Remember, that in such verses, when Solomon speaks of “a man” he is referring to a man who operates apart from the wisdom of God.

And that brings us to the second half of this verse: “but the LORD weighs the motives.” As I said, this is an absolute contrast in two perspectives—the perspective of fallen man and the perspective of fallen man’s Creator. That something might be wrong with “the ways of a man” is immediately indicated. Fallen man assumes, as I’ve emphasized, that his assessments are correct and he acts on them. But the LORD assesses the man himself and in that assessment, Solomon implies, fallen man is found wanting.

The word translated “weighs” (takan) conveys the idea of subjecting something to examination by which its true nature or worth is revealed. This implies that what a man thinks or what conclusions he holds are not necessarily correct. The LORD, as only He can do, examines that which is behind a man’s thoughts or actions—and that is the state of his heart. This is made clear when you consider the word translated “motives.” It is a word (ruwach) that refers to the mind or the heart; it refers to one’s disposition.

Therefore, while a fallen man may believe he sees correctly and is rightly interpreting his environment so that he has great confidence in himself and his decisions, the LORD is able to see the condition of his heart; and that is something that the man himself cannot do. As a result, if a man is to know the truth about himself and his environment, so that he can think rightly and behave rightly, he must look outside himself for guidance. With that guidance, that revelation that God supplies, a man can then begin to think and act in a truly proper manner.

In conclusion, then, as far as this verse is concerned, we must say that we are taught to be distrustful of the uncorrected perspective we all hold—uncorrected, that is, by the Word of God. It is His Word that reveals to us the truth about the world in which we live, and the truth about our relationship with Him and others. We are not to think of ourselves as understanding anything apart from the context of God’s revelation; we are to understand that if we seek to interpret our environment or discover our duties apart from the Word of our Creator, we are bound to stumble. Our fallen natures will lead us astray. There is no question about that fact.

Solomon teaches, therefore, that self-image begins with the admission that we cannot trust our perceptions; we must subject them to the Word of God. We are not independent creatures, we are dependent creatures. We are not trustworthy sources of interpretation, we are, on the contrary, most untrustworthy. We are creatures that must rely on our Creator for understanding.

Additional Verses

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. (16:1)

This verse says much the same thing. I include it here separately because it speaks even more directly to the nature of our dependence on the LORD. Solomon acknowledges that we make plans in our heart, which has already been emphasized. But then, instead of saying that those plans are subject to the LORD’s oversight, which we know is true from our study already, he says something more significant: “but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

This speaks to the LORD’s sovereign orchestration of our lives. We make our plans, but ultimately God can overrule the words we speak—or, to better explain what Solomon means here—the expression we give to those plans. We are laboring under a false notion if we think that whatever we determine in our hearts will inevitably come to pass.

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths. (5:21)

In terms of what we think about ourselves and this world in which we live, one false assumption fallen man makes is that he is accountable only when and how he chooses to be accountable. In human relationships, we make ourselves accountable and, when it no longer pleases us, we throw of that accountability (marriages, jobs, church participation, daily observance of civil law, etc.). Normally, we don’t live apart from several human relationships in which accountability is a factor. And we know that the Bible teaches that accountability is a necessary and beneficial element because we are sinners and sinners need to be held accountable at every level.

But suppose a man manages to extricate himself from every significant form of accountability. Is he then truly without accountability? Solomon says “no.” A man’s ways—his life, his actions, that which constitutes his particular existence—are “before the eyes of the LORD.” No person is ever free of scrutiny or accountability because, after all other restraints or restrictions are removed, a man still lives out his entire life before the eyes of the LORD. There is no changing this and there is no escaping this truth. We are creatures and we exist in the presence of our Creator. He knows all and sees all—whether it be concerning some far off place in the universe or the thought that just this moment passed through our minds. We are not, as I said before, independent creatures, we are dependent creatures.

Practical Responses

I’ll close with a couple of thoughts regarding how this study should affect us.

Once again, you’ll notice, that the Proverbs have spoken to us about our fallen condition. As with the last topic of self-control, we also have a particular tendency when it comes to self-image or how we think about ourselves and our place in this world. Our tendency is to overestimate our abilities and under estimate our need for the instruction of the Word. The wise person, therefore, will “force-feed” his spirit with the Word of God knowing that while the flesh may resist, this is an essential exercise.

We must always be measuring our opinions against the Word. I won’t even attempt to speculate how much trouble would be avoided in our lives if we simply developed a habit of submitting our views to the Word and did so by humbly offering our views to others while inviting response based on their understanding of the Scriptures. As it is, though, we hold tenaciously to our opinions and are offended when they are challenged even in the most innocent and well-intentioned manner. This is not the way of wisdom, it is the way of ignorance. As much as we would like to believe it, and as tempted as we are to act on the idea, we are not the measure of all things and we must discipline ourselves to become people who receive instruction—and we must do this because we recognize that, as fallen creatures, we need it.

 

Advertisements

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 2 Number 6

May 9, 2013

No True Atheists

From Pastor Bordwine

 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,

His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen,

being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

(Romans 1:20)

According to the Bible, true atheism is impossible. You may question the accuracy of this statement because you have probably encountered someone who claimed to be an atheist. Generally speaking, such a person means that they do not believe in God and, moreover, do not believe that there is a God. But there is one teaching in Scripture that contradicts such an assertion. It has to do with the fact that we are created beings.

Theologians refer to this doctrine as “an awareness of divinity.” They mean that we all have a natural knowledge of God’s existence because God has planted such perception in our souls and has made His existence apparent in creation. (cf. Psalm 19:1 “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”) As created beings, our minds “automatically” recognize that we have a Creator. Because this awareness is part of what we are—beings created in God’s image—it cannot be erased. It is an inner testimony that never ceases to speak. (cf. Romans 1:18, 19 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”)

Due to sin, however, this awareness is corrupted and suppressed by the sinner and this results in manifold attempts to find and worship that which we perceive to be greater than ourselves. Therefore, every culture, even the most primitive, develops a religious expression by which the people seek to acknowledge One greater than themselves. Every tribe has given a prominent place to the idea of a superior being (or beings). These ideas are always inaccurate because, as just noted, sin distorts everything in our existence, including our thinking. The fault is not to be found in God, but in us—specifically in us as fallen creatures.

In Romans 1:20, quoted at the beginning of this devotional, Paul concludes that mankind “is without excuse” when it comes to knowing, acknowledging, and serving God. Obviously, he could not make such a dramatic statement if, in fact, it were possible for a man to escape this natural internal witness to the existence of his Creator. In the context of this verse, as just noted, Paul explains that man suppresses this natural awareness of God because it runs counter to his corrupted concept of himself and the world around him. He cannot eliminate this testimony from God, but sin keeps him from accurately interpreting it.

There is no such thing, therefore, as true atheism. For true atheism to exist, a man would have to rid himself of that which is part of his makeup. This is something that cannot be done. Fallen man may fight against this knowledge and, as already explained, give perverted expression to it by worshiping rocks and trees and various other creations of his own sinful mind, but he cannot eradicate that which God has implanted within us. (cf. Romans 1:23 “. . . and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Psalm 115:4-7 “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat.”)

At this point, you may be wondering why I would choose such a topic for a devotional. The purpose of these devotionals is to provide encouragement as we go about our normal routines during the week. And there is a practical implication of this doctrine that provides much-needed encouragement and hope when it comes to our interaction with other people.

A believer and unbeliever have only one thing in common and that is a fact that they both come from the hand of God. As His special creatures, therefore, they both have this testimony of God’s existence, power, and wisdom within. When the believer speaks to the unbeliever about the gospel, for example, he is speaking truth that resonates with the natural awareness of God that resides in the heart of that unbeliever. This is their point of contact.

Assuming that I have this point of contact with unbelievers, I may be encouraged that my testimony is never given in vain, but will be used by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit. This fact also gives me hope because I know that the Biblical witness I provide will ring true with that knowledge of the Creator implanted in that person’s soul.

Those many conversations that you have with various people—members of your family, friends, and even strangers on occasion—are not wasted efforts regardless of how that individual responds. Scripture declares:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10, 11)

As you consider this devotional, I trust that you will find encouragement in your efforts to speak to others about your faith, especially if you have grown weary because you have yet to see evidence of the Spirit’s activity. As long as you are speaking Biblically and prayerfully, you may be confident that the promise made in the verses above will certainly apply to your attempts to convey the truth of God to those who are yet trapped in darkness.