Prostrating or Posturing?


“Falling and getting back up because The Lord chastens after one of his is one thing but spiritual posing is another.”


        This is an interesting comment by a person who is doing some deep work in spiritual journeying.   It points to a true understanding of Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the publican and their respective prayers that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14  (NASB)


9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


       While it is a caution to pray humbly, it is deeper than that. It is a call to be scrupulously honest about our own human condition of sinfulness. While the Pharisee focuses on the letter of the law and his “righteousness” in doing the right things, note that his prayer is basically a prayer of self-justification and is prayed “to himself.” The brokenness of the publican in recognizing his sinfulness reveals his knowledge of his true nature and inability to earn his way to righteousness. Which has the real relationship with God?


        I had a pastor tell me many years ago that we give as much of ourselves as we can understand to as much of God as we can understand.  I pondered that message many times and saw it as a challenge to be diligent in knowing my own heart and mind and to seek wisdom to know all that God would see fit to reveal to me about himself.


       A Christian author described the following verse as “perhaps the least listened to verse in the Bible.”

“Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”  Romans 14:22


       At first glance it is a rather shocking verse.  Somehow, considering so many other things that are in the Bible, it just doesn’t ring in my spirit as “truth.” As soon as he offered this observation a number of viewers promptly weighed in and began questioning the context and actual meaning of this brief rendering of the verse as quoted.


       As written, it suggests that there are things we are to keep to ourselves, in the silence of our soul with only God.  After all, God already knows……. no need to take it to others.  But is that really what the verse says?  The complete verse, in NKJV, is as follows:

“Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not

condemn himself in what he approves.”    Romans 14:22


       There were several thoughts about this longer, fuller iteration of this verse that arose as our Titus 2 women’s ministry residence’s Sunday night process group considered in our discussion of this verse and its implications.   The introduced theme is one’s “faith.”   “Have it (the question of one’s faith) to yourself before God” suggests that one needs to examine her own faith and do so in an authentic and fully disclosing manner before God.  Pray about what we believe, about the true object of our faith, and how well our faith is informing and sustaining our daily life choices. 


       Our discipleship students are encouraged to use a set of self-evaluation questions and are encouraged to use them in personal inventory regularly in an honest review of their own motives before God. This regular examination of conscience process is part of Step 10 in the Twelve Step process.  Step 10 calls for one to “continue to take regular inventory and when you are wrong, promptly admit it.”  The Scripture our ladies learn for that step is 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” What a reassuring promise we are given on the heels of an invitation to get real with God!

       The self-evaluation questions, used either prior to decision-making or in one’s distress after assumptions and conduct have left us with uncomfortable consequences after a poorly thought-through decision, are:

After the fact:  (Retrospectively)

What did you do?

What were you thinking?

What were you trying to get or accomplish through your actions?

Who was affected by what you did and why?

Were your thoughts and actions Christ like?

What were the consequences to you and others?

If you could go back and reconsider this action, would you do it again?

What things could you have done differently?

What did you learn from this experience?

How are you going to avoid repeating it in the future?


Before the fact: (Prospectively)

What are you considering doing?

What are your thinking will be the best outcome?

What are you trying to get or accomplish through your actions?

Who will be affected by what you are considering?

Is the anticipated action Christ-like?

What are the likely consequences to you and others?

Are there things that could happen that could make you regret the action?

Have you considered all of the ways you might accomplish your goal?

What do you expect to learn from this?

What mistakes can you avoid by thinking this through and learning from the past?



       The importance and sincerity of this examination of conscience before God, we agreed, is our understanding of the beginning of the verse.


       Secondly, while it is important to engage in a regular and honest self- examination of our faith and our working out of it before God in prayer, Bible study and meditation, faith is recognized as an intimately personal thing with God.  Each person will be engaged in a spiritual journey that is unique.  God has created each person with specific personality, purpose, experiences, abilities, and gifts so no individual’s relationship with God will be exactly like someone else’s.  So, “have it to yourself before God,” is an acknowledgement that God is the first and best sounding board to whom one should take matters of faith for the best answers. 


        However, we are also told in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”  If we have done the first part, “have it to yourself before the Lord” in a searching manner, we will find that we are free to move forward with the second part, from the shame, guilt, and embarrassment of our past and can calmly and gently relate it to otherrs without anxiety or exaggeration.  It iis simply truth that arises from God present within us and points to God’s work in the world as we have experienced it.  


       Our faith may be uniquely personal to us. However, it is not to be secreted away and hidden from others.  We are to know the reason for our faith and be prepared to share it with others when the opportunity arises.  


       The second part of the verse is this:  “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”  There is an inference that in bringing an honest examination of one’s self before God there will be forgiveness, as well as love, joy, peace, and contentment that results.  “Happy.”  “Blessed.”  “Relieved.”  There will be no condemnation of us by us ourselves if we earnestly pursue this self-examination before God!   As we mature in Christ we learn to take the thoughts of the external Enemy captive and crush them with the Word of God, just as Christ modeled in the 40 days of his temptation in the wilderness.  We learn to recognize those firey darts and arrows from outside ourselves that contradict God’s Word as our identity in Christ is secured and matured. Satan knows only what we let slip by voice, habits, and intentional and unintentional actions, as we are studiously observed by him in order that he might take advantage of distractions or busy-ness to find an “opportune time”, as the Bible tells us in Luke 4, to make another attack. God has told us how to put on the whole armor of God in order to withstand the day when those darts and arrows come.    


            But the lingering whispered voice of our own inner critic that knows the deepest secrets and truths of our motives and unspoken thoughts says, “yeah, but…”, “what if….”, “I coulda, shoulda, woulda done more…”, etc.  It knows the dissonance between the false self we show the world and the real self that lies in our soul.   And so, we search for a Word from God to address the inner critic’s shaming voice.  I have searched the Scriptures again and again and I find abundant references to God forgiving us.  There are also abundant references in which we are commanded to forgive others.  But NOWHERE EVER have I found any verse that tells me I can, should, or have the authority to forgive myself.  To reserve for one’s self the “right” to declare one’s self justified instead of putting all before the Lord in humble repentance and confession is to “pray to one’s self”, to put one’s self in the position of god of our own life.  It is the ultimate idolatry.  The Bible tells us to love one another as ourselves…. This instruction comes closest to any verse in informing how we are to do this thing that many struggle to do, forgive one’s self.   We are told over and over to “trust God”  and “love and forgive others.” If we truly trust God’s promise in 1 John 1:9,  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”   If we forgive them, in the same manner that God Himself has forgiven us, we ARE loving them as we love ourselves… we want them to know the freedom from debt to us that we know in freedom from debt to God.


       In Matthew 18:18 Christ says, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Where does that put us with regard to the responsibility for discerning between good and evil, between right and wrong, for making a judgement?  Right in the smack middle of the heart and mind of each of us, it seems. How can it be that one’s judgments here on earth will impact the environment in which we find ourselves in heaven someday and how to we make judgments to assure that they are “right”?  Isn’t that going to be God’s job?  It seems that God makes the judgment only to the extent that he scrutinizes the sincerity of our hearts in doing OUR WORKING out of our salvation in living out the binding and loosing of good and evil daily with each decision out of the motive and understanding of our very selves.  We judge ourselves by what we do or fail to do in keeping with the principles, promises, prohibitions, and proclamations of God’s Word.


       Can the kingdom of heaven break in on our earthly presence and catch us unprepared, unaware in that moment? It would seem that Jesus expects exactly that!   Jesus told his disciples to pray that God’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.  He also said that it would come like a thief in the night, like a bridegroom coming without advance notice to claim his bride, like those who fail to trim the wick and tend the flame, and  other messages about the suddenness of that day.  This is not about synchronizing the moral and theological climate on earth with that in heaven.  It is not about pinpointing our “place” in the cosmos at the moment He comes.   It is about a way of living, a mindset, a worldview by which we may live out the values and expectations of goodness, all of which arises from God, in the heavenly realm being present with us, here and now, on the earth.  John 17: 14-16 gives us perspective as Jesus prays to the Father:

          “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.


As does John 15:19 :

        “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” 


         “In the world….. but not of the world”,  “you do not belong to the world…… I have chosen you out of the world.” 


         Can we, then, live transcendent lives, with an eye already on the then-and-there of heaven in the here-and-now of the earth?  Can we experience life here free from the bonds of the world’s brokenness and evil?  Can we be in the world but not be of it?  Scripture certainly expects us to be able to do so by being in close communion with Jesus Christ.  From a practical standpoint, if we do, our lives will be lived out consistently in all its roles and activities reflecting the grace and truth of Jesus, who is the fullness of grace and truth in John 1:14,17.  We will live out the virtues to which our Lord and Savior points us and has called us to follow.  That will be true as we are mindful of walking in the Spirit and even more so when we find ourselves in situations of uncertainty and temptation interacting with the world, confronted with having to forgive and love enemies…. We will be equipped to represent Christ wherever we are, with whomever we engage, and especially whenever we are among non-believers. By doing so we will not be a stumbling block to others by confusing them about whether we are “of the world/flesh” or “of the Father/Spirit” as John described in 1 John 2:15-17:


       “Do not love the world or anything IN the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything IN the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.  Set the proper boundaries over your ears, eyes, mouth, hands and feet and you will dwell in the land that has been promised to you.


Finally, from Matthew 5:3:

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;…….. And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, (implied: “If you can do this thing”) you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.


       We are called to be more than others, for we are a royal priesthood, in seeming exile perhaps while on the earth, but still separated from the world by the choices we make, the Father we serve, and the kingdom we embrace.