Saving Your Own Skin

Michael Metzger

Mitigating our insecurities requires something we rarely seem to hear about.

On recent podcasts we’ve been talking about insecurity. Often not a welcome subject as it can make people feel, well, insecure. Insecurity is a sense of foreboding. Someone is going to say something that you fear is going to embarrass you or make you look stupid.

The reflexive reaction is to set “boundaries.” Don’t trespass. You’re trying to save your own skin, a phrase referring to saving yourself from something unpleasant. But it can work the other way—as in saving your own skin, that is, disciplining your flesh-and-blood body to become an ally in “the redemption (salvation) of your body” (Rom. 8:23), which is the fountainhead of our insecurities.

We see the result in Psalm 16:9: “My flesh will rest secure.” David learned that his flesh-and-blood body could rest secure, but it came after learning how his flesh often made him feel insecure. We reminded of this in two instances, one in II Samuel 23, the other in chapter 24.

Chapter 23 closes by listing David’s Thirty Warriors. The last one listed is Uriah the Hittite, the man David arranged to be murdered to cover-up his tryst with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Insecurity makes us try to hide our sins from others. David later compounds his insecurities by ordering his commanders to number the troops (chp.24). They ask David why but he overrules, what insecure people often do when challenged. Don’t trespass.

We see Augustine’s insecurities in his Confessions. At one point he confessed to being a people-pleaser. “If I had not sinned enough to rival other sinners, I used to pretend that I had done things I had not done at all, because I was afraid that innocence would be taken for cowardice and chastity for weakness.” Can’t let that happen.

Confessions upend today’s “conversion narratives” in that the conversion does not make the convert secure. No man can completely know himself, for we are strangers to ourselves. Augustine greatly feared his hidden parts, which God can see but he himself could not. When God made them apparent, Augustine became more transparent, secure.

And how does God make them apparent? Through the spiritual (bodily) disciplines. There are two kinds: 1) Disciplines of Abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice. They “pull the plug” on what drives insecurity. 2) Disciplines of Engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission. They “re-secure our body” to God. Let’s look at the first three: solitude, silence, and fasting.

Solitude: Around 95 percent of behavior is non-conscious, what Paul describes: “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Rom.7:18-19). Solitude “pulls the plug” on the idols driving us to feel insecure.

Idols? Yes. The roots of idolatry are found in breaking the first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex.20:3). God is the standard for our well-being. Idolatry is making anyone or anything—other than God—ultimately responsible for our sense of well-being, our security. We can make an idol of our kids, family, church, work, success, faith tradition, possessions—you name it. Idols are false gods, giving us a false sense of well-being. Solitude removes us from this stuff, bringing us face-to-face with God who see our idols.

I know a man who years ago flew out west for a solitude retreat. He told me the first few days were terrifying. God made him aware of things he had unconsciously pushed away, idols that gave him a false sense of security. It was initially unnerving, ultimately freeing.

Silence: this discipline “pulls the plug” on noise. Most folks stuff their lives with noise: music, Meta, Instagram, TikTok, talking, travel, Twitter, texts, email. In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape reveals how Satan tries to pull us away from God with “Noise.” We lose sight of eternity and Heaven, which Screwtape rightly recognizes as “the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence.” He detests them both.

So do many Christians. I find noisy services distract me. Silence on the other hand trains my flesh to become a better listener, as James wrote: be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Insecure people are slow to hear, quick to say No! and easily threatened.

Fasting: this “pulls the plug” on passing pleasures giving us a false sense of security. The Bible calls them idols, and the nearest one is shoving food in your mouth. The endorphin dump gives a false sense of security in our tummy: everything’s gonna be alright.

“I have food you know nothing about,” Jesus told his disciples (Jn.4:32). He didn’t say they couldn’t know. He said they didn’t know about this food at that time. They would over time as they learned to fast. We can too. Fasting “pulls the plug” on food making us feel secure, opening our bodies to spiritual food that few Western Christians seem to know about.

That’s because few Western Christians recognize what older catechisms affirm: the flesh is the hinge of salvation. Our flesh-and-blood body is the hinge, the portal, into salvation. But salvation, or conversion, does not make the convert secure. That requires the spiritual disciplines, which involves saving your own skin. Do it.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike,
    I am planning for my first full day of a silent “retreat”. This article helps me further understand the value.
    I will also read “The Screwtape Letters”
    Thanks for this great article,
    Phil

  2. I find Keller’s definition of idol helpful because it is short and to the point:

    An idol is anything or anyone in which we find our security and significance other than God.

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