Don't Flatter Yourself

by Bill Davis

It’s been said that “blarney” is flattery that’s so thin we like it, but “baloney” is flattery that’s so thick we don’t believe it. However you measure it, flattery can sure distort how we see things. I think the flattery we believe most is the kind that comes from ourselves. That flattery will indeed get us somewhere, but to a place we don’t want to be.

Psalm 36 describes the self-flattery of the wicked person like this: “There is no dread of God before his eyes, for in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to discover and hate his sin.”  The scriptures, especially the wisdom books like Psalms and Proverbs, have some standard ‘opposites’ for classifying people (wise vs. foolish, righteous vs. wicked, etc.). If you’re someone who’s been redeemed by Christ (the ‘righteous,’ in spite of ourselves) you no longer are counted in the camp of the ‘wicked.’ Yet, we would still do well to consider this trait of one who doesn’t fear God. Namely, he can’t have a right fear for God properly because his ‘eyesight’ is already filled with himself.

We still fight this battle as we grow in Christ. We think of ourselves “more highly than we ought,” but perhaps a key reason is that we look too much at ourselves and not enough at the Lord. One definition of ‘worship’ is to rightly view God and myself in proportion to him! The more we see God for who he truly is, the more we have the right reference to understand ourselves and how he desires us to grow and “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). Ask yourself:  do I come to our Sunday worship gathering with the anticipation to gain, grow, or renew this perspective of rightly viewing the Lord?  

If we don’t, the Psalmist helps us see the alternative. When our eyes are too full of our own selves, we flatter ourselves and are then blinded too much to be able to discover where we miss the mark. We are prevented from even detecting our sin, which in turn prevents us from hating it. Hating it? That just means viewing and assessing it properly (if we did, we would indeed loath and reject it). So instead, we hold on to our sin, not think it a big deal, excuse it, and continue to stunt our spiritual growth by remaining to be held down by it (“let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us,” Hebrews 12:1).

In fact, you might even be like me at times where I have twisted God’s patience of my sin to where I treat it as if he merely overlooks it. On the contrary, Romans 2:4 untwists this self-deception: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Instead of overlooking, God is patiently giving me room to repent—to change from sin as I discover it by his grace. How will I find those discoveries? I’ll discover sin as I loosen my grip on my own self-opinion, self-justification, and self-focus—because my tight fist just naturally loosens when I consider the awe and majesty of who God is and the gospel of his amazing grace to love me in spite of my self-everything. That’s worship. That’s what we come together each week to do—not just individually, but also as we help and spur each other to do as God’s people. 

Do you think you can grow without laying aside “every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares”? Do you think you can “discover and hate” that sin apart from gaining a right view of God through authentic worship? Do you think you can most easily cast off that self-focus apart from linking arms with God’s people in that worship?  Don’t flatter yourself. ;-)