A Forgotten American Folk Song’s Powerful Message

I live in Nashville, Music City; however, we don’t hear songs like this old American folk song in Nashville or on MTV:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtlxoRAAHVU

Our culture has changed and the message of this song is no longer heard (or even tolerated).  The name of the song is O Sinner Man.  You don’t hear the word sinner used in America any more (except possibly in the most ultra-conservative churches).

I used to work as a chaplain/counselor in an alcohol and drug rehab center.  As I would interview men new to the program, they would tell me the story about how they managed to create such misery in their life.  After listening their tales of self-destruction and crime, I would ask a simple question:  “So what kind of person are you?”

I interviewed more than 1,400 men.  Not one ever told me:  “I am a sinner.”  In fact, 90% of them would answer:  “I’m a good person.”

Why?  Perhaps it is like a man who has been lost in the woods on the darkest night of the year.  He is filthy.   Yet when he looks at his hands and his clothes, he sees no dirt; so he falsely believes that he is clean.

As the first rays of light come over the horizon, he notices that he is a wee bit dirty.  As the sun comes up, he begins to see that he is quite dirty.  Finally, in the bright, noonday sun he sees that he is filthy.

Oh, so it is with us sinner men and sinner women.   When we are in spiritual darkness and very far from God, we think we are good people.  When we see the first bit of spiritual light, we know that we are a little dirty.  However in the brightness of God’s glory, we see ourselves like hymn writer John Newton:  a wretch like me.

How much of God’s light do you see?  Here’s a hint:  The more light you have, the more you will know that you are a sinner.

Here are a few quotations:

“The nearer we live to God, the more sensitive we become to the presence of sin.  Increasing light means increasing self-judgment.”  –Peter K. Nelson

“We see the dirt in our hearts all the more as we move toward the light of God.”  –Tim Chester

“One of the surprises of the Christian life is that as you grow more holy in life and practice, you also grow in your awareness of your own sin and depravity.”  –Michael McKinley

“The holier a man is, the more he is aware of his sinfullness.”  –C.S. Lewis

“O, wretched man that I am.”  –Paul of Tarsus

And an ancient, Jesus prayer, used by Orthodox monks since the early days of Christianity:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. I have written two books: Mindrobics: How To Be Happy For The Rest Of Your Life and Your Sperm Won--Experiencing Your Value As A Championship Human Being. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I lead a non-traditional church in Nashville based on open participation and Spirit-led sharing. We long to see the power and passion of the early church come to life in our time.
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5 Responses to A Forgotten American Folk Song’s Powerful Message

  1. sherwood8028 says:

    A sinner for certain, but more importantly, a sinner saved by grace.

    Now, my role to grasp the reality of ….”I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life I now live – although, in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God…” (Galatians 2:28 – amplified)

    We are nor perfect, but we are being perfected, day by day, moment by moment, merely by placing our trust in the One who loved us, knowing all there was and is to know about us.

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