“You desire truth in the inward being;
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret being.”
– Psalm 51:6, NRSV
(Full prayer may be read here)
In my last post, I shared some thoughts on sincerity and authenticity, and I ranted about Christians who don’t seem to appreciate authentic Christianity. Maybe they only want authenticity when it’s nice, neat, and doesn’t have to do with struggling with the really dirty sins. Regardless of the reason, I’ll probably rant about it later in another blog post or even on the podcast. Right now, I mostly want to talk about the Sincerity prayer found in the Valley of Vision.
The Elector of Saints
“Elector of Saints,”
Notice how the prayer opens up. It addresses God as Elector of Saints. The prayer recognizes the sovereignty of God in the election and predestination of His people. If you read the Bible and believe in the inerrancy of Scripture then you can’t deny that God is sovereign in salvation and the author of this prayer is making it clear that he is thankful for this divine sovereignty.
Blessed is the Man…
“Blessed is the man whom thou choosest
and callest to thyself.
With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance,
When I read this portion of the prayer, my mind immediately goes to Romans 4:4-8 (particularly verses 7 and 8) which reads like this:
“Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.” – Romans 4:4-8, NRSV
In this prayer, we acknowledge God as the one who elects His saints, and calls them to Himself by grace through faith. Pay close attention to verses 4 and 5. Verse 4 states something that’s common sense. We know that if someone works then they deserve a wage, and when you give the worker their wage that is something that they have earned by their work. Then Paul contrasts that idea in verse 5 when he says that God justifies the ungodly without works so that when faith is granted to them God counts it as righteousness. I think the NIV communicates verse 5 the best when, instead of using the word, “reckoned,” it uses the word, “credited.” God “credits” righteousness to us according to the very faith that He grants to us.
Now, when we examine justification, we see in Romans 5:1 we see that the only way a person can be justified is by faith. So, where does the faith come from? I believe we just established that faith comes from God.
So, we see Scripturally that God calls us, and justifies us by faith that He grants to us therefore we say with the Puritans in our prayer, “With thee is mercy, redemption, assurance, forgiveness.”
Deliverance from the Pit
“Thou hast lifted me, a prisoner, out of
the pit of sin
and pronounced my discharge,
not only in the courts of heaven,
but in the dock of conscience;
hast justified me by faith,
given me peace with thee,
made me to enjoy glorious liberty as thy child.”
The beginning of this passage of the Sincerity prayer seems to be inspired by the words of Psalm 40.
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.”
– Psalm 40:1-3, NRSV
Psalm 40 gives us a picture of God’s delivering power. In the Sincerity prayer we see the author using the idea of a pit to describe sin, and I think it’s important to note that right after he talks about the ‘pit of sin’ he says that God has ‘pronounced [his] discharge not only in courts of heaven, but in the dock of conscience.’ The author has a clear understanding of his assurance. In this prayer the author points out that Christ not only declares us righteous before our Father in heaven, but He speaks to the storm of thoughts that ask these questions:
“What if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough?”
“What if I can’t really be assured of my salvation?”
“What if I have blown it and presumed the grace of God too many times?”
One of my favorite quotes is from Jon Acuff. If you know anything about Acuff you know that he’s a Christian comedian and is very quick with his witty observational humor, but he made a very serious statement: “”It is finished.” May those words land on your bones for the nights when fear tells you the cross was a beginning and you must finish grace.” I almost want to speak in tongues every time I read that. God’s grace is sufficient bring us up from the pit of sin. It is finished.
And notice the last part of this section, the author says that God has made us to enjoy glorious liberty as a child. We’re free. I can spend a dollar on a scratch-off lotto ticket (as unwise as that may be) without some old fart telling me that I’m “scratching my soul into hell.” (Yes, I’ve actually heard that in the pulpit.)
I can have a cigar and a scotch to the glory of God. I’m not free to rebel against God because I won’t want to rebel against God. A circumcised heart has no desire to turn away from the One that has set it free.
Assurance, Sincerity, and the Difference Between These Two Animals
“Save me from the false hope of the hypocrite:
May I never suppose I am in Christ unless I am
a new creature,
never think I am born of the Spirit
unless I mind the things of the Spirit,
never rest satisfied with professions of belief
and outward forms and services,
while my heart is not right with thee.
May I judge my sincerity in religion
by my fear to offend thee,
my concern to know thy will,
my willingness to deny myself.”
The author believes that the standard for sincerity in our religion comes from our fear of offending God, our concern to know God’s will, and our willingness to deny ourselves. No doubt these are good things and these are signs that God is at work in our lives in a positive way. However, let us be careful not to assume that we can look to these things for the assurance of our salvation. Our assurance is only found in Christ. There will always be someone who fears God more. There will always be someone who is more concerned to know God’s will more than we are. There will always be someone who is more willing to deny themselves than we do.
We can’t confuse assurance and sincerity. In the context of soteriology proper, I would say that sincerity is being sure of the substance that supports our profession of faith and assurance is being sure of what Christ has done to give us that substance.
One Thing Needful: Learning at the Feet of Jesus
“Let not my temporal occupations injure
my spiritual concerns,
or the cares of life make me neglect
the one thing needful.”
At the end of Luke 10, we encounter Jesus teaching in the home of Martha. Her sister, Mary is there and she has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus while Martha does all the work around the house.
“She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:39-42, NRSV
Without getting into the revolutionary aspects of the thought of a woman sitting at the feet of a rabbi, we see that Jesus is showing us that the “one thing needful” for us is to learn at his feet. The author of the prayer is praying for empowerment to recognize that nothing is more important than learning at the feet of Jesus, and the first step to learning is admitting that we know nothing.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3, NRSV
““Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30, NRSV
Life is a burden and Jesus wants to see that we can’t carry the load on our own. We need Him. The only time we’re going to see any progress in our relationship with God is when we admit that He’s our source of life, our source of salvation, our source of joy. In Psalm 87:7, the New Living Translation poetically says it this way, “As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”
To the Laodecian church, in Revelation 3, Jesus says, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
How do you convince people that believe they are rich and have need of nothing that they’re actually naked, poor, and blind? Until we can admit that we’re blind we’ll never see Jesus clearly, and we’ll never see that the invitation to sit at His feet and learn is for us.
“May I not be inattentive to the design
of thy dealings with me,
or insensible under thy rebukes,
or immobile at thy calls.”
As Christians we have the Holy Spirit living on the inside of us and He is the means by which God deals with our hearts, and we must be sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Over and over again in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation we are exhorted, “He that hath an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit saith.”
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30, NRSV
Ephesians 4:30 is one of my favorite verses because it clearly states that the Holy Spirit has sealed us until the day that Jesus comes back. And what Paul, the author of Ephesians, is saying is that we can grieve the Holy Spirit by harboring bitterness towards others in our heart. We harbor bitterness when we remember the pain and grief that someone else has caused us. Instead of listening to the voice of pain and grief, we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and be sensitive, as this prayer says, to God’s dealings with us.
A Holy Art
“May I learn the holy art of abiding in thee,
of being in the world and not of it,
of making everything not only consistent with
but conducive to my religion.”
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” – John 15:4-6, NRSV
Abiding in Christ is the intention of God for His elect sons and daughters. According to Ephesians 1, God chose us in Christ before the foundations of the earth. (Ephesians 1:4) God’s choice of our election does not alleviate us of any responsibility to abide in Christ, but at the same time because God has chosen us in Christ, we are held firm by His grasp and can never be removed from His hand. It’s a paradox of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.
Our abiding in Christ doesn’t come from our own ability to stay in Him because we just don’t have that ability in and of ourselves. As an old hymn writer has said, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Our ability to abide comes from the fact that the Holy Spirit abides in us. If you read John 15 without considering the context of Jesus’s talk about the Holy Spirit abiding with us in John 14, then you’ll walk believing that abiding is entirely dependent upon you.
This is why we pray. We pray because in prayer, God empowers to keep abiding and to lean on him for our every need. This is the holiest of arts.