I was blessed to grow up in the church, and I am grateful for the solid doctrine I was taught growing up. Most of what I learned was a good foundation that has been invaluable to me in my Christian walk. However, there were some things about the way I was taught that I have had to discard. One of these things is what I like to call “house elf theology”.
Whatever your opinion of the Harry Potter movies, I think the first minute and a half of this video with Dobby the house elf provides a humorous yet fitting example of self-loathing.
We have a tendency in reformed circles to focus on how sinful, lowly, and pitiful we are. We look at ourselves and say “Wow. I'm such a wretched sinner. There is nothing good in me. All my righteousness is like filthy rags. I'm like a worm before God. I deserve to go to hell forever.”
We end up acting like Dobby, tearing apart everything we say and do to see the sin in it, and then beating ourselves over the head when we find it.
Brethren, we are not house elves!
Do you remember how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness by manipulating the Bible? This is Satan's favorite way to deceive- to use the very Word of God to twist the truth into a lie. Satan knows that a half-truth is often even more damaging than an out-and-out lie because there is an element of truth that we can point to for validation.
There are many Bible verses that talk about how we are wretched sinners. But acceptance of our wretchedness is only a half-truth. Yes, and amen. We are wretched sinners. But if we stop there, we actually rob God of glory. We forget that before we were sinners, we were human. God created us good. He created us in His own image. This means we carry intrinsic worth and value, unlike the worms. Furthermore, Christ died to give us a new nature. He has given us His Holy Spirit so that we can actually grow in righteousness and goodness.
House elf theology confuses low self-worth with humility
Romans 12:3 says “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” Sober judgment means being realistic about who you really are. Our flesh wants to exaggerate our view of ourselves beyond what is actually true. The answer to this is not to pretend that we are worse than we are, but rather to view ourselves truthfully, as God does.
C.S. Lewis once said that a humble man, “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” This is the key to humility, not thinking less of yourself, but of thinking of yourself less.
Despising ourselves is actually false humility. Like arrogance, self-denigration is dishonesty about who we are. And here's the thing- having an exaggerated view of ourselves – whether better or worse than we truly are – is pride. It's pride, because it causes us to focus on ourselves instead of on God… It's pride because it rejects God's view of us. Let's give the right label to this sort of theology: this is unbelief.
Keeping up this false view of ourselves leads us to focus so much on our sin that we don't have our focus on Christ. We end up talking about how sinful we are instead of exalting Jesus. We are so focused on self, we can't love and serve others. Do our words speak more about sin, or joy? Is the preaching we listen to focused more on sin or on the beauty of Christ?
We have been created for more than shame. House elves are so busy seeing themselves as sinners that they can't see themselves as loved. But God’s holiness is not the fragile kind that would be tainted by contact with broken, bent, damaged people. Thank God that we were not worthless to Him! We were, and are, precious and valuable. We are wanted, a source of delight to our Father. We can be so secure in the love of God for us, that no matter how much sin we find in ourselves, we know that we are in Christ, and our dominant nature as believers is not that of a sinner, but that of a righteous child of God.
Hear this Scripture, spoken of all those who are in Christ…
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
Can you imagine what it would be like to hear God singing? And He sings over you. He rejoices over you, His cherished bride. Let your heart be joyful today in that truth.