I need thee every hour; stay thou near by; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.
(Annie Hawks 1872)
Temptations would be easier to recognize if they all were as obviously ugly and off putting as Tolkien’s orcs and trolls. But they aren’t. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m being tempted down the wrong road until I’m stubbornly committed to it, totally lost in the certitude of knowing that I know.
Perhaps that’s why C. S. Lewis concluded that it’s not the physical sins but the spiritual sins that are the worst (Mere Christianity, “Sexual Morality”). Rooted in our heart rather than in our body, stubborn certitude is indeed a spiritual sin. Being proud of being right tempts us in ways that can damage all areas of our lives—our family relationships and friendships, our careers, and our neighborliness.
And when this proud certitude finds its way into our Christian believing, we’re truly lost. It is self-righteousness that tempts us into thinking we have the truth and others do not. Enthralled in the pride of our own believing, we might even be tempted to turn spiritual experience into some kind of a competition. Left unchecked, this spiritual pride builds a faith in ourselves that could eventually diminish or replace our faith in God.
And yet, our relationship with God isn’t based on being perfectly righteous or having a firm grasp on doctrinal truth or moral certitude. As Jesus says, God’s kingdom is for those who “change and become like little children” (NIV Matt. 18:3). For sinful temptations to lose their power, we must lose our power. And so each morning I continue to sing along with Annie’s refrain:
I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee! O bless me now, my Savior—I come to thee.