Saving Wretches Like You

Of wretches and worms
It is hard to sing some songs the way they were written. They just go against our grain. [MORE]


Linda said...

We've gone waaaaaaaaaay too far brother

David Drury said...

Amen. Thanks for this--you're really on to something and I'll think of "Worms and Wretches" often from now on (especially when thinking of myself).

One strange experience I've had is confessing my sin and telling others (Wesleyans) that I have a deep sense of my fallenness and then having them rebuke me for not living in freedom and for being obsessed with confession instead of victory.

I'm at a loss. I thought I was just being obsessed with the cross.


Jon Earls said...

We've gone way too far!

Thank God He saved a "wretch" and "a worm such as I!"

Bill Barnwell said...

Great post! I certainly agree with much you've expressed here, and yes, when it comes down to it, people don't really think they are that bad in terms of deserving condemnation apart from Christ. Most people will admit that they are sinners, or imperfect or whatever, but they don't necessarily believe they need a Savior.

There is an opposite problem with all this, however. In traditional Evangelical circles, red flags go up whenever we hear the words "self-esteem." Certainly a great deal of self-esteem teachings are humanistic and me-centered and yes, much of this has crept into Christian theology. But I've dealt with more than a few people inside and outside of the church who just plain don't like themselves, don't think that God likes them or ever could, are constantly doubting themselves, and have no confidence in general. This isn't a good thing either. As a preacher, I don't want to sit and puff people up and tell them how great they are, but I also don't want to just sit around and talk about how horrible and miserable we are either when it comes to post-conversion living. I get tired of hearing certain Reformed and Baptist elements basically resigning ourselves to constant sin since we are all just "worms." For such individuals their theology of victory is totally otherworldly. Everything else is doom and gloom in this life, which for most Baptists fits especially nice with their eschatology. It shouldn't have to come down to only polar opposite choices between oddball holiness views on "eradication" or the traditonal pessimisstic Reformed view.

No, people on a whole might not think that they are deserving of hell, but they also don't tend to view themselves very highly either. Almost every single young person I've ever worked with, and probably the majority of adults as well, have unhealthy levels of low self-worth. This isn't Godly humility either.

Balance is key. The ultimate focus of the NT is not that we just stunk at life and thank you for saving me from stinking as bad as I did, Jesus. We are being conformed to His image and our identity should be in Him, and when viewed through that lens, there's much that could be said about a Christocentric self-esteem theology.

Pastor Dave said...

Great Post!
Today as I was sharing a message on God's Grace with our teens during our worship service, I got the overwhelming sense that they just didn't get what God has done for us. Most of them have grown up in church and are pretty "good" kids. They are a lot like what you are talking about in your post. I struggle with this. I did not grow up in a Christian home and I just don't understand taking it all for granted. I still awe over the fact that Christ reached down to a "worm such as I" before I ever thought about reaching up to Him. God's preveinient grace still blows me away. Yet I see so many who seem not to give it much thought. Maybe it is the Self Esteem Theology. Maybe it's the generational difficulties of passing faith along. Whatever it is, it is my prayer that we will once again regain a sense of AWE and wonder as we contemplate that a entirely HOLY God, reaches down to a sinful "me or us". That is Amazing Grace even for us who have never been slave traders!!

tricia said...

Sorry - but once again I find myself a synthesizer...
I hear you and I certainly agree that there is a strong element of man centeredness in our worship, a lack of sincere sadness over our sin, and a pervasive lack of genuine repentance for sin. Additionally, you are right that we feel entitled to a lot of good things. We say God is good when He does good things for us probably because we feel like God is just doing what He is supposed to do for us. Personally I cringe whenever I catch myself doing that because I realize God still would have been good had the outcome of my particular situation not been good. On the other hand, at least in my neck of the woods, there are well known speakers constantly piping up and reminding us that it is not all about us, and that there is a bigger picture than we may presently see. It seems a common theme in my non denom, not particularly reformed church.
My middle ground would be that no doubt, we are sinners desperately in need of being saved and I am grateful for Gods gracious prevenient grace that provides a solution for my sinfulness. However, I do believe that despite our inherent sinfulness we are created in God's image and have a mark of that left on our lives whether we have connected with our heavenly Father or not. It is not enough to save us from eternal separation from God, but perhaps enough to not require all humanity be labeled perpetual wretches?

Oh and YUCK to the pic of the worm ...eek.

Interesting post and I'll keep thinking about it.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't believe in "worm theology", because it alludes to the fact that God "controls" all events and is useful not for productivity in seeking God, but quiet submission to "what is" (passivity).I agree that there are some things that cannot be changed, but I believe that God created us to be actively seeking how to understand and be involved in creation, even though His creation is way beyond our comprehension and control. The "Golden Rule" is the principle that we must seek to live by, which is the "ideal". So,we are responsible for ourselves before God, and then, within our boundaries of influence, others. This is the understanding of conscience and commitment, which is individually determined.
Some may disagree that God's creation is "good", and that it is not "totally depraved" and that all things He has given us to be enjoyed before Him....Gratefulness is not for specifics, as in "He blessed me with such and such today", but an attitude of heart, because life itself is a gift.
I, unfortunately (and this is a confession publicly), have gotten into a defensiveness because not everyone sees that creation is innately good, though fallen and because of that walk in fear of difilement, which has hindered my "freedom of heart" for fear, I'll be "judged" by another's "fear". We are free to enjoy God's creation within the bounds of our conscience and calling. So, in "worm theology is "all about God" and I believe God is interested in creation a lot more than He is about Himself!

Pete Vecchi said...

There's SOOOOOOOOO much I want to say regarding this entry into the Drury Writing Hall of Fame (Yes--it is an EXCELLENT article), but I don't want to get too wordy--at least not all at once. So I'll address one point now, then (if I get the opportunity) address other points with other follow-up comments.

Doesn't the doctrine of entire sanctification mean that something actually changes in the entirely sanctified person? Some may call it eradication of the sinful nature, but that's not how I understand it. At the same time, we of the Wesleyan persuasion (and as a Nazarene, I qualify) believe in IMPARTED rather than IMPUTED holiness. (For those reading this who may not know the difference between those, "imputed holiness" means that God simply declares it to be so, while "imparted holiness" means that God has made an actual change).

When I was born, I was born into a sinful world as a selfish human being--someone who was primarily interested in self. Selfishness is the root of all sin. My natural tendencies were geared to honor and glorify self rather than honoring and glorifying God, and I was absorbed with self-love rather than love for God and other people.

Through the gifts of salvation and entire sanctification, God made a real change in me--He IMPARTED holiness to me. Now my natural inclination is to trust God more than I trust me. Is everything perfect? Absolutely not, because even after entire sanctification a person must continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But at the same time, I don't go running around looking for all the things I have messed up on day by day and hour by hour and minute by minute so I can run and tell my Heavenly Father everything I've done wrong.

It's kind of like an earthly parent-child relationship. I really don't think that God is disappointed in me when in my human imperfection I don't or can't do something perfectly. However, I do believe that He wants me to confess and repent anytime I purposely choose to go against something I believe He wants me to do.

If we live by the Wesleyan definition of sin that calls sin a WILLFUL transgression against a known law of God (emphasis mine), then I don't believe that we have to sin every day in thought, word, and deed.

Here's an illustration: If as a parent, I have a child who spills a glass of milk, I'm going to treat the child much differently if he/she carelessly knocked the glass of milk over than if he/she defiantly and purposely knocked the glass over after having been told to be careful to not knock it over.

I believe that God treats us differently when we try to do right but mess up on the follow through than he does when we purposely and willfully go against His will. And I believe that entire sanctification allows us to live lives as regenerated and sanctified beings who don't have to sin.

Soren said...

Great post Keith! I need to be reminded of my wretchedness and worminess without Christ. It's what makes His grace all that more amazing!

I Lost You At Hello!!! said...

You know this reminds me of another song. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus there's just something about that name. Master, Saviour, Jesus, like the fragrance after the rain. (see when I think of a fragrance after the rain I think of worms rotting on the pavement. Your post makes this song make more sense to me now. Thanks)

Brian Russell said...

Interesting post. I think that the Church struggles because it has lost the biblical witness about humanity. The Bible contains "worm theology" but it also contains profound statements about the human potential for participation in God's mission (Ps 8 which alludes to Gen 1:26-31). Why do we settle for an either/or in the matter?

It is clear from Scripture that God created humans to function at the pinnacle of creation. We were created to live as a missional community that reflects God's own character to one another and all creation (Gen 1:26-31). The trouble is this: every human being and institution has overestimated his or her own goodness and standing with God by a ridiculous amount (here is my version of worm/wretch theology). This is the clear witness of the Scriptures. We live in a post-Genesis 3 world.

But too many of us underestimate the power of God's salvation. We have to understand God's power to save as at least being able to deliver us so that we can live the lives we were created to live.

Pete Vecchi said...

Drury: We like to say, “If I were the only person on earth, Christ would have come to die for just me.” This beefs up our self-esteem.

My Response: I agree that this beefs up our self esteem. I also wonder if that kind of thinking is really true. I've often said that it might be much more accurate to say that if just one person (aside from Jesus) could have lived a perfect life, Jesus would NOT have had to die.

Ken said...

Great post, Keith.

Recently, I had someone from my congregation tell me they hadn't been taking Communion for over three months (we take it monthly in our gatherings). When I asked why not, this person said, "Because you always tell us to examine ourselves before we take the cup, to ensure we're taking it in a worthy manner. And honestly, I don't feel worthy."

This sense of taking Communion in a worthy manner had bled into this person's feeling unworthy. As a result, she was no longer taking Communion because she was "feeling like a wretched worm."

So I told her, "You know what? You're right. You ARE unworthy to take Communion. In fact, we ALL are. That's the point. It's not really about us or our worthiness, but about Christ and His worthiness. Because of him, we are now worthy. Certainly we should take Communion with a proper attitude, but it's only by God's grace that we do so.

So I'm all about your "wretched worm" theology; I'm no longer a wretched worm because of Christ, but I once was, and now I'm found.

Pete Vecchi said...

I wonder if self-esteem theology can be linked to an entitlement mentality. I have been saying for years that a challenge facing Christians is going to be preaching the gospel of Grace to a people who think that grace isn't undeserved mercy, but rather think it's something to which they're entitled.

Today, many people in the American culture seem to think that society owes them a living, owes them food, clothing, shelter, a retirement, health care, etc... It seems to me that if we preach to these people that salvation comes only by grace through faith, they might have a problem understanding that they don't deserve God's grace (after all, if they are created by God, God owes it to them to save them).

shawn said...

Hmmm. I think we subconsciously want to avoid the "troubling things about God" and the "dark side" of ourselves in songs.

For example, the song "Praise him in the storm" by Casting Crowns has a reference to Job 1:21..."he gives and takes away." I heard a worship leader describe this as .... he gives us eternal life and takes away our sins. Obviously true, but not what the songwriter intended. I was amazed he didn't see or explain the obvious meaning of praising God even when going through difficult times.

Thanks for the thoughtprovoing article.

Tom said...

When I was 9 or 10 years old, my friend and I were standing at the front of the church practicing our duet of “Amazing Grace” for the evening service. As we finished, my friend’s grandmother, our audience of one, said with a grin, “You two are much too young to be wretches.”

Those of us raised in the church were taught a concept of sin so that we understood, compared to God’s righteousness, our “righteous acts are like filthy rags.” We learned that sin is so serious that it separates us from God, no matter how special we think we are.

But many in today’s American society did not grow up with the same understanding. Many were raised on the “you are special!” mantra and if someone says, “you are a wretched worm,” they take offense. When we change the words of these songs, I think it is an attempt to reach these people; we are trying to avoid miscommunication with our present generation.

But if we do this, we must find ways to communicate the seriousness of sin. It seems to me that unless we understand just how bad sin is, we cannot possibly comprehend how deep God’s love is. Without a proper understanding of our own sin, how can we grasp the significance that “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”?

Hugh Anglin said...

Perhaps it's partly the language. Maybe it meant something to be a worm back then, but it doesn't really say much to me now. If we want to keep the original thought of the song, we should come up with verses more like "Jesus loves me, and God knows I suck!" Yep, I know a lot of people who could sing that! I could sing that! :-)

JohnLDrury said...

I'm a wretch, but I only know that because I am being saved by Jesus Christ whose bearing of my wretchedness exposes my condition. In other words, only by grace can I know my sin. I think the solution to our overcompensation (which you have so keenly identified) is to speak of the atoning blood of Christ with a seriousness that the topic of our sinfulness cannot be avoided. But our wretchedness must never become a topic in and of itself.

Satsified Misfit said...

The publican got it right when he said, "God be merciful to me a sinner." The Pharisee got it wrong when he said, "I thank God that I am not like that sinner over there." Jesus summarized it fully when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".

Thinking in Ohio said...

I'm just disappointed I'm not allowed to envision God singing "love-songs" (like Larnelle's greatest hit) anymore. :(

Excellent, excellent post. Thanks.

Christy said...

I suppose that would depend on how good you think you are. Even a sinner can be a "good" person and every "good" person is a sinner. I'm not all about positive psychology (the whole build yourself up system). I understand that I'm a wretch, but we need a balance. One of the most crippling areas I see in individuals in the church is a lack of belief in themselves and horribly low self-esteem. They are paralyzed by the belief that they can't do it. We need to know we are wretches, but we also need to know we are loved and able or some things. Why does the church seem to swing so much between extremes? Is there no happy medium between having positive self-esteem and understanding that you are a wretch?

mar13 said...

On "balancing" (per Tricia), Tim Keller (http://www.redeemer2.com/themovement/issues/2006/spring/ministry_in_globalculture_IV.html) pointed out that...

"If I think of God as all or mainly holy and think of myself as saved because I am living morally according to his standards, then I am not moved to the depths when I think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside.

But if I think of God as all or mainly love and think of myself as saved because God just forgives and accepts everyone no matter how we live, then I am not moved to the depths when I think of my salvation. There is no joy, amazement, tears because God forgives—that’s his job. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside."

Like Pastor Dave, I too struggled with the good church kids. Then I rediscovered the Gospel full spectrum of Holiness+Love and it helps a lot.

D.K. said...

yeah yeah!
but even after I read that... I still think "but really, I'm a good girl"... how do you face off with your sinfulness? How do I come to the understanding that I am a worm and wretch? Does it come with time? Is it an overnighter? Should I ask God to reveal my sinfulness (as I tremble in fear)?
Whatever I am to do... my favorite quote is... "Don't worry. You're worse off than you think and more loved than you know". I've just got to focus on the worse off part.

Joel Liechty said...

Reminds me a lot of Thomas A Kempis' book "Imitation of Christ." I think he would adhere to worm theology.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling at church that people feel like they deserve salvation or that the fact that some are saved and some aren't isn't "fair". I tell people to demand "fairness" from God is to demand hell. If we got fairness we'd all be in hell... now.

I'm not sure where or when we went from being amazed at God's grace for the Church to being amazed that anyone is going to hell...