Vanity, pride and worms

by Stan Mitchell

I read a book recently that suggested we should avoid hymns that make extreme statements, such as “years I spent in vanity and pride.” Now I recognize that many of us were fortunate enough to grow up in the church.

Certainly the song’s author William Newell writes as if his early life was spent in places a little more questionable than in a church. Many of my friends, who have come out of the world, have expressed thoughts similar to the ones in this song.

It reminds me, though, of the way many hymnbooks have altered Isaac Watts’ hymn “At the Cross.” Watts asked if Christ “would devote that sacred head for such a worm as I.” Recent hymnbooks have diluted the line to read, “for such a one as I.”

It’s almost as if we feel that admitting our real spiritual condition might bring about the modern mind’s most insidious ailment — horrors — a poor self-image.

I wonder if we do more damage by exaggerating our sinful state, or diminishing it? It might not be politically correct to say so, but we are sinners!

Rebellious, careless, destructive flouters of God’s law.¬†Habitual, repeat-offenders, destined for capital punishment, until Jesus took our sins to the cross.

The reason we don’t sufficiently appreciate grace, is because we don’t sufficiently appreciate our sinfulness. You don’t get the death penalty for Jaywalking.

Grace that forgives minor infractions and little character flaws is cheap and trite. Grace that forgives all my sin, that, my friend, is the grace of God.

“The saying is trustworthy and full of full acceptance,” Paul declared, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV).

Paul never did try to worm out of the truth; neither should we. The cross exhibits both an incalculable debt and an unfathomable love.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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5 thoughts on “Vanity, pride and worms

  1. Wish you would make up your minds. Yesterday we were saints now we are sinners. Are we on the same page?

    1. Dear Reader: Thank you for your observation. I believe our articles were getting at two sides of the coin. Christians do not live a lifestyle characterized by sin (1 John 3:4; 5:18). In that sense, they are not sinners. More and more, their lives resemble that of Christ. On the other hand, Christians are encouraged to acknowledge sin when they commit it (1 John 1:8,9). Faithful Christians still slip on occasion, and my article suggested that we should not be in denial (“What, me sin? Never!”).
      I hope this helps. God bless
      Stan Mitchell

  2. God never promised us a good “self-image.” That’s the whole point of being transformed into the image of Christ! Thank you for a good article.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. It is especially easy for Christians who “grew up in the Church” to forget how deep the debt of sin that was erased is. We have to remember that every bit of judgement, pride, envy and thanklessness that we have indulged ourselves in did the same damage as the more obvious sin in the world. The Pharisees received far harsher condemnation for their sins of the heart! Acknowledging the depth of our sin should drive us to gratitude!

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