The Psychological Implications of the Gospel

by Pastor Don Willeman, Th.M.


The following article is intended to tease out the implications of Core Value #5 of Christ Redeemer Church (CRC):
Core Value #5 Christ Reorients Our Hearts

We value internal character over external conformity.

Since the root of all sin is in the heart, true repentance is fundamentally a change of heart (Proverbs 4:22; Mark 7:21; Romans 2:28-29). At the core this involves forsaking our trust in false saviors (i.e. the idols of the heart) and turning to the true Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this process the gospel promises conformity to the image of Christ, not conformity to any particular socio-economic group. Therefore, grace demands that we look beyond the external to the internal work of God.

In practice this means that we will not judge by petty externals nor burden anyone with rules, standards or laws not found in God’s Word. Rather we will seek to motivate one another with the grace of the gospel. True reformation and revival do not come through “beating the sheep” nor through “moral straight-jacketing” but through adoring the lovely person and work of Christ against the backdrop of God’s judgment of our sin.
A list of all the Core Values of CRC can be found here.

How Does The Gospel Affect Our Psychological Perspective?

The Cultural Situation: The Autonomous, Sacred Self

We are indoctrinated by our culture to think of ourselves as autonomous, sacred selves before anything else. We are encouraged in a sort of radical narcissism. Consider the words of R. R. Reno: “Within a liberal social economy…such a society’s members think of themselves not as inhabitants of a pre-established moral order, but as individuals that are utterly unique, as selves that have particular personal histories and needs, and as persons who have rights that allow them to express their individuality and pursue their individual well-being.” [from R. R. Reno “Sex in the Episcopal Church” in "In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity" (Brazos Press, 2002).] To challenge this assumption is to run headlong into one of the most deeply held myths of our civilization, and to engender the ire of those captivated by its spell.

New York Times columnist, David Brooks notes the effects of the same disease upon religion: “While religious dogmatism is always a danger, it is less of a problem for us today than the soft-core spirituality that is its opposite…. We’ve got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it.” (David Brooks in a New York Times Op-ed 3-9-2004)

The Bible Explanation: Sin as a Soul Shrinking Principle

We must remember, though, that this cultural problem of the “Autonomous, Sacred Self” is simply the present manifestation of a deep and universal human problem. To understand this we must turn to the explanation of our Creator, and to do this I am enlisting the help of one of the best thinkers on biblical psychology, Jonathan Edwards.

Why Edwards? After all, he lived and died well over a hundred years before the introduction of modern psychology! What does he know about the modern discoveries of the subconscious, etc.? Well, listen to Perry Miller, late Harvard historian: “[Edwards] speaks with such insight into…psychology so much ahead of his time that our own can hardly be said to have caught up with him.” Of course, if Edwards were to hear this, he would simply say his insight was the result of carefully considering God’s description of the soul given in the Bible.

So what was the essence of Edwards’ insight into the biblical understanding of the human psychology? Simply put, Edwards’ insight was that the soul under the influence of sin shrinks, while the soul under the influence of the gospel forever expands. Sin is defined by the narrowness of self-love but the gospel is defined by the broadness of God’s love. “Self-love…most commonly signifies a man’s regard to his…private self, or love to himself with respect to his private interest.” [from "The Nature of True Virtue", in: "Ethical Writings, The Works of Jonathan Edwards", vol. 8, ed. by Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 577.] It is important to note that the problem of self-love, according to Edwards, is not the seeking of one’s own happiness; that is necessary and good. The problem is the seeking of one’s own happiness as a mutually exclusive principle, especially exclusive to the glory of God. The problem with the sinner is that that he tends to think only of himself, or of himself first. In other words, the problem with the sinner is narrow selfishness or selfish exclusivity. He assumes a place for self that belongs only to God, and leaves no room for love to others.

Moreover, according to Edwards, we have become prisoners of this self-love. “The ruin that the Fall [of Adam] brought upon the soul of man consists very much in that he lost the nobler and more extensive principles, and fell wholly under the government of self-love….” [from Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, pp. 252-253] “Immediately upon the Fall the mind of man shrunk from its primitive greatness and extensiveness into an exceeding dimunition and confinedness…whereas before his soul was under the government of that noble principle of divine love whereby it was, as it were, enlarged to a kind of comprehension to all his fellow creatures; and not only so, but was… extended to the Creator, and dispersed itself abroad in that infinite ocean…. But as soon as he had transgressed, those nobler principles were immediately lost and all this excellent enlargedness of his soul was gone and he thenceforward shrunk into a little point, circumscribed and closely shut up within itself to the exclusion of others. God was forsaken and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself and became wholly governed by narrow, selfish principles. Self-love became an absolute master of his soul, the more noble and spiritual principles having taken warning and fled.” [from Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, pp. 252-253]

What mankind lost in the Fall of Adam was the abiding and pervasive presence of “divine love”, a love that was big enough to encompass benevolence for the entirety of creation and the being of God Himself. And so self-love has become “an absolute master”. In the words of the early reformers: sin has caused us to become “incurvatus in se” (turned in upon one’s self). To be clear, the worship of self is not bad because self is bad but because self is too small. We were made for God, not for ourselves, and so to be fixated upon our selves is to damn us to something less than our destiny.

Sin as Addiction

Addiction, at least in part, seems to be an uncontrollable fixation on an object that one believes will bring ultimate pleasure or control. And so the Scriptures intimate that fallen humans universally, because of their shared corruption in Adam, have a fixation on themselves, trusting in themselves, hoping in themselves, thinking that they can be the masters of their own eternal pleasure.

The main problem with this, cosmically speaking, is not just that it doesn’t work, but that we rob God of His glory, of His rightful place in His universe. We were made to be image bearers of His glory, to open up as a flower to the brightness of His beauty. But instead we are closed in on ourselves, denying God (and ourselves) the pleasure of seeing His beauty displayed in His creation.

The manifestations of this problem as it relates to us psychologically are at least two-fold:

  • Firstly, sin addicts us to an object too small for our satisfaction (“worshiping—that is, serving and enjoying—the creature rather than the Creator”, a la Romans 1).
  • And secondly, sin blinds us to the one object (i.e. God) that is able to give us satisfaction (2 Cor. 4:4 “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory [i.e. beauty, desirability, pleasure] of Christ, who is the image of God.”).

In the words of Jesus in John 8:34, we are “the slave[s] of sin” and in deep denial, needing the truth of Christ to break in and set us free (John 8:31-32).

God’s Solution: Salvation by Grace

To remedy the situation God has actuated three strategies that hardened addicts need:
1. Radical intervention. 2. Justification by Grace (a safe place to come clean), and 3. Self-denial.

STRATEGY #1: Regeneration as a Radical Intervention by God

  • We are addicted to self because we don’t possess anything better to love and have refused to look beyond our selves. We are devoid of the love of God.
  • Such hardened addicts require someone to intervene aggressively from the outside. In biblical language, this is grace. Grace is a rescue from the “outside”.
  • And so Paul speaks of conversion in this way: “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, emphasis added). Paul here likens conversion to the original creative act of God. In the words of the theologians, conversion is ex nihilo (i.e. out of nothing) by the Spirit-empowered Word of God. That is radical intervention.
  • And what is the substance of this radical intervention? It is the gift of the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. In other words, He gives us Himself, the love of God in the person of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This in turn reverses the direction of our souls from diminution to expansion.

STRATEGY #2: Justification by Grace, as a Covering by Christ’s Righteousness

  • Genesis 3 tells us that we hide ourselves (core strategy: self-protection) because we are fearful (core motivator) because we are naked (core problem: lack of righteousness). One could properly argue that behind all of this is pride: a core commitment to be one’s own God and Savior, and so a refusal to accept God’s provision.
  • The answer to this is the alien righteousness of Christ. At the cross, God has taken our dirt and then in turn given us Christ’s spotless righteousness, so that we have nothing to fear, nothing to hide and nothing to prove. Such righteousness is “alien” in that it is completely Christ’s and comes to us totally from outside of us. It is not native to us, but naturally foreign.
  • And so in the alien righteousness of Jesus, I have a safe place to come clean, a place of complete acceptance.
  • And so the Psalmist can say: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense [i.e. protector] of my life; whom shall I dread?” (Psalm 27:1). “In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge [i.e. hidden]; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me.” (Psalm 31:1).
  • God doesn’t just demand that we stop hiding, but He bids us to come and hide in Him and His righteousness freely given in Christ. He accepts us in light of Christ and in spite of ourselves.

STRATEGY #3: Self-denial

  • This is not something that is separate from “radical intervention” and “grace-justification”, but grows out of it. Self-denial springs from grace and is a call to greater experience of that grace. If self cannot save me, then I must look outside of myself to find salvation. I must turn aside from self to find restoration. Indeed, if self is complicit in my problem (if I am addicted to self), then I must deny self, in order to avoiding aiding and abetting the enemy.
  • It is not surprising then that Jesus said to all His would-be followers: “If anyone wishes to be come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To Jesus the self didn’t need assistance to be a better self. Self was the problem. Self had to die. When someone in ancient Palestine was seen walking the streets carrying a cross, being flogged along by Roman soldiers, this could mean only one thing—that this person was a dead man walking. His life was over, for he was on his way to be executed. It is this sort of powerful and dramatic imagery that Jesus uses to describe life in the gospel.
  • But what exactly did he mean by this? First of all, it must be clearly stated that he didn’t mean that the point of life was sacrifice and denial—as if God had a personal vendetta against our pleasure. No. God made us for pleasure! Rather, what is in view here is self-denial for a greater pleasure. Because self is under the complete yoke of sin, an embargo must be enacted in order to overthrow the self-captivating power of sin. When an army is seeking to liberate a city that has been seized by an evil dictator, one of the things that the liberating army does is set up a blockade around the city, in order to cut off supplies that could keep the evil dictator in power. The hope is that by cutting off his supply lines, the dictator will weaken in power and so be deposed. The liberating army doesn’t cut off the resources of the city because it hates the city or the people of the city. Rather, it does so because it seeks the city’s ultimate happiness, which will only be achieved after the dictator has been taken out of power.
  • So it is with the self. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves—and is so working this self-denial in us—not because He doesn’t love us or desire our happiness, but precisely because he does. He knows that our ultimate happiness will never be achieved unless sin’s self-addictive principle is banished from us. And so it must be eradicated at all costs.
  • There is a sweet irony in all this: To the degree we die to our selves, to that degree we actually live for ourselves. And so we see the meaning to the verses that immediately follow Luke 9:23: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24). Finders weepers. Losers keepers!
  • Sure, self-denial hurts. It’s painful; just like a person who is undergoing “de-tox” from substance abuse feels like he is coming unglued. But in the end it will give the person their life back.


Notice that all of these strategies place our salvation completely out of our hands and into the hands of God alone. It is salvation by grace and not by works. And so in the same act God both: 1) provides the very thing we need (i.e. a complete and radical rescue) and 2) destroys our pride (i.e. we were helpless and did nothing to earn it and so we can do nothing to lose it).

What Conclusion Can We Draw From This?

  • This “love of God” is God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. “…for the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). God is not ashamed to engage in intensely intimate fellowship with us, those who were former enemies (Romans 5:6-10).
  • Conversion (i.e. repentance, life change) is fundamentally not moral reform (i.e. a person trying to get his act together for Jesus). It is the introduction into the soul of a previously foreign principle/element, namely the love of God, the pleasure and person of God. This makes the gospel radically different from religion and morality.
  • Because we are saved by grace and not by religious achievement or moral reform, anybody can become a Christian—anybody can be converted. We are saved by something outside of ourselves, not by something within ourselves. This will change the way you look at your non-Christian friends, and it will change the way that you look at yourself. Salvation is a total grace-miracle, and so it can happen to anyone.
  • We mustn’t confuse common morality with gospel spirituality. Many good, religious, traditional, conservative, family-oriented, moral people are aloof, self-focused, judgmental and confident in their critique of others. Many may faithfully attend church, but they have a very difficult (impossible?) time “belonging” except on their own terms. They are morally straight, but not morally broken. They may serve others but they do not enjoy others. They are still addicted to themselves. Now, don’t get me wrong. When you come across such folk, they are not to be judged or ostracized any more than you are to be. Rather, like us all, they are to be called to genuine repentance, not mere moral reform. They are to be challenged in their deep denial and called to a genuine Christo-centric life.
  • The “through faith” of “justification by grace through faith” means “through trust”. Why is this significant for the addict? An addict, because of fear and addiction to self, needs to get out of himself, so to speak; getting out of one’s self is the essence of trust. The gospel calls us (and empowers us) to trust God and others.
  • “Much that we have interpreted as a defect of sanctification in church people is really an outgrowth of their loss of bearing with respect to justification. Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure people…. Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness [or “rightness”], and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge the suppressed anger.” (Richard Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life)
  • “Justification by faith alone frees me to love my neighbor disinterestedly, for his or her own sake, as my sister or brother, not as the calculated means to my own desired ends. Since we no longer have to carry around the intolerable burden of self-justification, we are free ‘to be Christs unto one another,’ as Luther put it, to expend ourselves on behalf of one another, even as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us.” (Timothy, George & John Woodbridge).

What Is The God-Appointed Means Of This Radical Intervention?

How are we to produce this radical intervention? How are we to minister the gospel? What do the Scriptures say? It is not in our cleverness of technique or method (2 Cor. 4:1-2) nor is it in our slick sales appeal (2 Cor. 2:17). But it is in the power of the preached Christ (“We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord” 2 Cor. 4:5). Romans 10:14, 17 “…how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher… So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” We hear His truthful and tender voice in the proclamation of the gospel, and we are compelled out of our prison of fear and self-addiction. We begin to turn from trusting ourselves to trusting Him.

Consider Acts 2, the seminal passage on the establishment of the church, for example. Many are impressed with the incredible community that we find described in Acts 2:42-47. But is the source of this community? It is the natural outflow of the repentance (change of heart) that we find in the immediate context. And what is the source of the repentance? Peter’s sermon—the preaching of the gospel. Note well that this is not necessarily the same thing as teaching Bible knowledge, though certainly not less than it. It is knowledge of Scripture funneled through the person and work of Christ and pressed upon the heart by the Spirit of God—not calling us to try a little harder, but to undergo a Copernican Revolution of the soul, from a me-centered world to a God-centered world. Their me-centered world may look different than ours (theirs was an ancient-Jewish-religious world and ours is a modern-Western-secular world), but at root they are the same. People from both “worlds” need this radical intervention to force them into “self-addiction recovery”.

In addition, consider the example of Paul’s ministry in Philippi as found in Acts 16. “And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Lydia heard the voice of Jesus in Paul’s preaching of the gospel and she believed – she trusted the truthful and tender voice of Jesus. The Lord opened her heart. Radical intervention via the preaching of the gospel.

What people need in order to be changed is not merely to be shown the gospel by our lives; they need to hear it—they need to hear the voice of Christ. Therefore, if we prize real life change and real transformed community, we must support and attend with diligent passion the preaching of the word of God.

The Destiny Of The Self In Hell

Sin, as an inordinate fixation on self, is actually a dehumanizing thing. According to C.S. Lewis, “a ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self . . . is the mark of Hell.” Some may think that such a hell is not so bad. At least there are no flames and torment (By the way, I am not suggesting here that there are not). Don’t get your hopes up! You have no idea how terrible “a ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self” would actually be. Right now, even with the most selfish of us, our self-obsession is somewhat restrained by the common grace of God. However, the nature of hell is such that all such common grace is removed with the exception of the grace of existence, so that the bent of one’s soul is completely unrestrained, able to rush headlong toward its most base desire, the worship of the self. Since we were made for the infinite God, whose presence is now completely absent, our infinitely empty soul will demand from the self the one thing that it is completely unqualified to give, infinite and eternal pleasure. There will be nothing to restrain the dual action of an absolute obsession with oneself on the one hand and the burning disappointment with oneself on the other. Crushing loneliness and self-hatred will be uninterrupted. And so the Psalmists’ words will be ultimately fulfilled: the wicked will be caught in their own trap. (Psalm 5:10, Psalm 7:15-16, Psalm 9:15, Psalm 10:2)

The Destiny Of The Self In Heaven

In heaven we will behold the beauty of the Lord with ever increasing joy. And so our souls will be forever expanding, being filled with greater knowledge of and joy in God. Since “God is infinite, the creature cannot fathom the totality of his greatness, or comprehend his infinite beauty or delight in all that he is. Rather it will take an eternity for us to know and to enjoy all that God is; that is, God will be progressively revealed to us. Thus, since the display of God’s glory in our finite, creaturely experience of knowing and delighting in God is the aim of creation, the achievement of this will take all eternity—there will never be a time when there is no more glory for the redeemed to discover and enjoy.” [from John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, p. 160.]

What Does This Look Like Practically Speaking?

The Difference Between Religion And The Gospel

[Adapted from Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan.]

The solution to radical self-centeredness is not religion, per se. One can be religious and be equally self-obsessed. Consider the following chart:


“I obey – therefore I’m accepted”


“I’m accepted—therefore I obey”
Motivation is based on fear & insecurity
Motivation based on grateful joy.
I obey God in order to get things from God.
I obey God to get God—to delight and resemble him. (Psalm 27:4)
When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends, that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
When circumstances in my life go wrong I struggle, but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.
When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person.’ Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.
When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism. That’s how I became a Christian.
My prayer consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of my environment/ circumstances.
My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.
My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel humble but not confident – I feel like a failure.
My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator—simultaneously sinful yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.
My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work, or how moral I am—and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the Other.’
My identity and self-worth is centered on the one who died for his enemies, who was excluded for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.
Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my acceptability, my heart manufactures idols.It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, significance, and security, whatever I may say I believe about God.
I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, & despondence they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

Power, Sex & Money

Because of the shrunken nature of self, it must use outside props in order to remain functional. The three most popular are power, sex and money. However, once the self is enlarged by God’s powerful presence and righteousness, power, sex and money lose their appeal and are no longer needed to bolster self-identity. They then actually become chief ways that we are able to show the beauty of the gospel to the watching world (“Power”—Mark 10:43-45; “Sex”—Ephesians 5:22-33; “Money”—Luke 19:1-10). They become ways to give to and serve others, instead of a means to manipulate and dominate others.

Music & Corporate Worship

Our worship should not so much be focused on us and our subjective experience but on God and his objective work in Christ on our behalf. Our subjective experience is good, but it is the result of finding and focusing our joy on the objective work of God in the gospel.

We should seek to display and celebrate life change in our worship through such things as testimonies and open sharing times.

Seeking Happiness Without Being Selfish

Once again, consider the words of Edwards: “Some, although they love their own happiness, do not place that happiness in their own confined good, or in that good which is limited to themselves, but more in the common good, in that which is the good of others as well as their own, in good to be enjoyed in others and to be enjoyed by others. And man’s love of his own happiness which runs in this channel is not what is called selfishness, but is quite opposite to it…. [the former] is the thing most directly intended by that self-love which the Scripture condemns. When it is said that charity seeketh not her own, we are to understand it of her own private good, good limited to herself.”


Depression often reveals our functional savior. A functional savior is something in which you have placed your hope for happiness. When we are depressed (barring the possibility of physically rooted issues), it is because our functional savior has or is letting us down (“I had hoped for a particular response from a girlfriend and didn’t get it.” Or “I had hoped for a particular outcome with my children and didn’t get it.” Or “I expected that I was a better or more impressive person than I’ve suddenly discovered myself to be.”).

The solution is for us to find our hope in the only thing that is able to give us real lasting happiness, that is, in God alone. This is what the Psalmist means when he says: “Why so downcast, O my soul, put your hope in God” (emphasis added). Playing off this verse, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, in his excellent book Spiritual Depression, encourages his readers to spend more time “talking to themselves” than “listening to themselves.” We get into trouble when we listen to ourselves, because this is the self refusing to listen to the life-giving message of the gospel. To hope in God requires us to do as the Psalmist: talk to yourself and tell yourself the gospel—“Put your hope [trust] in God [and not in yourself]!”

It should be noted that even the ability to overcome depression can become a functional savior (i.e. “I think that I should be better at overcoming depressing feelings, so I get depressed that I am depressed.”). This is just another form of self-disappointment and so reveals a “hoping in self” instead of God. The gospel calls us to take our eyes off our selves (completely) and to fix our hope on God (alone). This then liberates us from self-obsession, so that I am able to give myself away to others.

Self Image: A Humble Confidence and a Confident Humility

Over and over again, particularly in the Psalms, the Scripture shows us a psychological profile of a person who has an unusual combination of both heart-felt despair and steady confidence—despair in self and confidence in God. This foreshadows the cross-centered life in which the self is at once destroyed and affirmed.

Listen to Edwards’ description of the person who has been gripped by the gospel: “As he has more holy boldness, so he has less of self-confidence…and more modesty. As he is more sure than others of deliverance from hell, so he has more of a sense of the dessert of it. He is less apt than others to be shaken in faith, but more apt than others to be moved with solemn warnings, and with God’s frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort, but the softest heart: richer than others, but poorest of all in spirit; the tallest and the strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.” (Edwards, Religious Affections, p. 364)

The reason is that the person under the influence of the gospel has a radically accurate view of himself because he has a radically accurate view of God: “I am more sinful than I ever feared, but I am more loved than I ever dreamed.” Our tendency, however, is to trust ourselves (our righteousness, our ability, etc.) which of course leaves us lacking—naked in some way and so, prone to fear. And so we are all the more compelled to compensate, to come up with bigger and more impressive “fig leaves” to cover our selves. At the root of this is pride. Pride will make us confident in ourselves or despairing of ourselves, but it will not make us both, not at the same time. If we are not under grace, we will tend to be either crushed (“I’m no good at anything. I’m not good enough to serve in the church.”) or cocky (“I am really something. I am God’s gift to the church.”). Under the influence of sin, we will feel compelled to find ourselves above the church (a critic) or below it (a mere consumer), but only in the gospel are we able simply to belong (a communicant).