Tuesday, January 16, 2018

To Abhor or Not To Abhor? That Is The Question - Part 1

The Pharisee and the Publican
The 3rd membership vow of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church reads as follows:
(3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone
Abhor... such an antiquated and negative word, at least as many understand it today. I submit that we moderns really need to refresh ourselves with a biblically and theologically sound understanding of the word abhor. It isn't a word commonly used anymore. Today, the shorthand definition or synonym is "to hate." Yet the word abhor classically understood, in a theological sense and as used in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church 3rd membership vow, does not mean "to hate" (i.e. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; to detest). And why, you ask, is this the subject of a blog post? Because in some corners of the OPC the third membership vow is indeed controversial because the understood meaning is that to abhor myself means to hate or detest myself, which I agree is a somewhat negative and extreme position to take as a Christian. And, as the thinking goes, for a Christian to abhor himself because of his sinfulness is to deny that God loves him as he is now in Christ and therefore the use of the word abhor in the vow should be rejected.

My purpose in this post is limited to showing that a believer abhorring himself as a sinner doesn't deny God's love, grace, and redemption in Christ, but rather more clearly affirms it. Or put another way, to abhor oneself because of one's sinfulness and at the same time to affirm God's love in Christ are not inconsistent positions.

From what can easily be found, consulting various dictionary sources, Abhor essentially is defined as "to regard with horror or loathing" and comes from the Latin word *abhorrre* which means to shrink. 

Let's look at a verse from the early Christian hymn (Ambrose), Te Deum Laudamus: 

When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb

And the Christmas carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful:
God of God, light of light, Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb
Let me ask a question or two with the synonym hate in focus. Are we to understand that prior to the incarnation God hated or detested the Virgin's womb? That wouldn’t make sense since children, the fruit of the womb, are a blessing of God (Ps. 127:3). Scripture teaches that God, in the person of his Son, did not abhor taking humanity upon himself (Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:20). If abhor is understood to mean hate, does that mean that prior the incarnation God hated and detested humanity? I suggest the answer is no.

In the beginning God created humanity and saw that man, along with all creation, was very good (Gen. 1:31). Yet after the Fall with the introduction of sin into humanity God shrank back and separated from man, i.e. He removed His immediate presence and communion from sinful man so much so that in the Old Testament sinful man was threatened with death if certain rituals of cleansing from sin were not followed by the Israelites when approaching God in Temple worship. It wasn't because God hated humanity or the Israelites. But God, who is Holy, abhorred or looked upon His once holy but now sinful couple with an holy horror and separated from or shrank back from them. There were two reasons for this separation. First, an holy God and sinful man could not continue to dwell together face to face without the resultant death of man. Secondly, God, though abhorring Adam and Eve as sinners, yet already had a plan for their redemption born of His love (Eph. 1:4-6). God's protection, care, and love for man and his abhorrence of man as a sinner therefore were not inconsistent with one another.

So we see that after the Fall and because of man's sinfulness, God abhorred the sinner in that He looked upon the corrupted man and woman with horror in what they had done and become. He separated Himself or shrank back from sinful humanity (Gen. 3:22-24) as He drove Adam and Eve from the Garden. He did this because of man's sinfulness. And yet God also did this because He had, and has, in His eternal plan a caring and providential love for mankind and a redemptive love specifically for Adam and Eve and their children of promise (Gen. 3:20-21). To stay in God's immediate presence would have meant death for them. In a true sense we can say that for God to abhor the sinners Adam and Eve didn't exclude for God to love the sinners Adam and Eve. And we can thus deduce that if God had not abhorred sinful man by separating from Adam and Eve, then mankind would have died (in them) as can be understood by the warning God gave to Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:20). So God's abhorring or shrinking back from the sinner did not and does not exclude His love for the sinner.

Now looking again at the OPC 3rd membership vow -

(3) Do you confess that because of your sinfulness you abhor and humble yourself before God, that you repent of your sin, and that you trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone
My focus is the question: Is it unbiblical for the Christian, because of his sinfulness, to abhor and humble himself before God? Some would say yes. Why would someone think that? Well, as the thinking goes, to hate ourselves as Christians is to deny that God loves us! If God loves us and we are now His children it would be an act of unbelief on our part to hate that which God loves as well as a nonacceptance on our part of what Christ has accomplished on the cross to remove our sin and sinner-status before God. We are now children of God, new creatures! In short, the thinking is that to abhor ourselves because of our sinfulness and to be loved by God are exclusive of one another. We should not hate that which God loves. This conclusion is erroneous and based upon an insufficient knowledge of holiness of God and knowledge of the sinfulness of man.

Now back to the third membership vow. How are we to interpret the first clause of the third vow? It says that being sinners who have sinned against and do still regularly sin and offend our Creator's holiness, we should have a certain regard or attitude toward ourselves when it comes to salvation. The attitude we are to have is that because of our sinfulness, we should completely shrink back from or separate from any perceived ground of goodness or righteousness in ourselves. Why? Because even our righteousness are as filthy rags before God (Isa. 64:6; Rom 3:10-1, 7:18-19; Phil. 3:9a). And that we, remaining sinners in this life, should regard ourselves with a kind of self-separation, loathing, or horror of ourselves as sinners who have and still do rebelliously sin against God (Ez. 36:24-32), especially in light of the mercy and grace lavishly bestowed upon us in our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian acknowledges a truth that is based on a biblically revealed knowledge of self:
That which is OF me produces no good or righteousness IN me. In other words, nothing OF me can move me toward an acceptance with God. Rather what I am in and of myself as a sinner can only move me away from God.
Thus the only ground, source, and hope for forgiveness and righteousness that secures everlasting fellowship with God, and indeed eternal salvation, lies in 1) abhorring oursleves (judging our sinful selves as completely wanting of any righteousness and shrinking from or turning away from ourselves), 2) in repentance humbling ourselves before God, and 3) trusting alone in the One who abhorred not the Virgin's womb. God in Christ Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, ended the separation between Himself and sinful man by uniting Himself with our humanity. Jesus took upon Himself our sins and judgment in order that we should be counted righteous and without sin unto eternal life solely on the basis of His work of the cross (Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21; John 3:16).

In a word, there is a G
ospel necessity, that because of our sinfulness we confess our self-abhorrence and humble ourselves in repentance before God as an integral part of placing our complete trust in Christ and his finished work alone for our salvation.

1 comment:

  1. One thing I learned when God converted me (age 40) is that God is justified in justifying. God is not only sovereignly gracious to us. God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ died to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.

    Romans 3: 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” 5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world?

    God is Revealed as Righteous and Just. And God’s word is justified in history by what God did when Christ gave Himself up to death on the cross because of the imputed guilt of the elect.

    We were wrong. God was right and God is still right. God prevails, but God's success is not only a matter of “might makes right” or “sovereignty always wins”. We have no right to ever make a negative judgment on God. As Isaiah 53 says, the righteous servant will be satisfied. God will be just to Christ. God is just to justify elect sinners for the sake of Christ.

    Psalm 51:4-6—“Against you have I sinned and done what is evil, so that you are justified in your words and blameless in your judgment..Behold you delight in truth…”

    When we try to say, “well at least our lack of morality (or orthodoxy) is only making God look more gracious”, we need to read Romans 3:5—God is the righteous judge of us. God takes sides with Himself. God takes sides against sinners. And the only sinners that God will ever justify are all those for whom Christ died, who will be taught to take side with God against themselves. https://jamesward.bandcamp.com/track/isaiah-53-he-shall-be-satisfied

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