Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13)
I cannot think of anyone who would willingly choose a path that runs right at the crumbling edge of a cliff. One quick glance down is usually enough to remind us the inevitable outcome of such foolish bravado. Picturing the plunge is sure to make us step back into the safety of solid ground beneath our feet. And yet many of us do exactly this in our spiritual lives in complete ignorance of the dangers and our tenuous footing, tempting grave danger with every step and dancing with the devil on the very edge of deception and destruction. The tune we dance to is presumption, and it’s extremely seductive and intoxicating.
Pride lies at the root of presumption and powers its deception.
All Christians will fight an ongoing battle with pride throughout our lives, because pride is essentially the manifestation of self. It’s the thing that continually raises itself up against the things of God, seeking to impose its control on our lives and our choices. Pride is the thing that spawns emotions like rejection, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, offense, and disunity. That’s why God sets such store by humility – it keeps us in the safety of God’s sovereignty and helps us to live in worship rather than self-focus. When pride gains a foothold and begins to direct the course of our choices and way of life, it becomes presumption and presumption is something we can seldom recognise for ourselves.
Defining presumption is interesting. There’s a long list of words which all encapsulate the depth of meaning of this one little word: brazen, overconfident, arrogant, egotistical, overbold, bold, audacious, pert, forward, familiar, impertinent, fresh, free, insolent, impudent, cocksure; cheeky, rude, impolite, uncivil, bumptious; overhasty, hasty, premature, previous, precipitate, impetuous. All of them have one thing in common – they essentially deny the sovereignty of God and reinstate the power of self. They are the outward manifestation of a lack of humility and yieldedness to God.
Presumption is the evidence of rebellion.
Because of its close relationship with pride, presumption all too often lies at the root of those sins which bring down men and women of God. To understand this better, we need to take hold of the reality that pride is an inner condition of putting self first, while presumption is an active and powerful way of life founded on that inner condition. Presumption is pride in action, and it exists to exclude God through the deliberate exercise of free will. Essentially, presumption is an active way of life in rebellion.
This may sound harsh, but rebellion is anything that acts against the vital truth that God is sovereign and has the right to determine the purpose and progress of our lives – lives we willingly yield to Him at salvation. Rebellion, in simple terms, is ignoring what God says and believing and doing what we decide is right. Presumption is assuming we know what is right and then acting on it. It’s very clear that there is almost no difference between presumption and rebellion. It’s an attitude, a belief, and an action based on our choice.
The danger lies in the fact that presumption starts with enthusiasm for the things of God.
Trace the beginnings of every single servant of God who has fallen from grace, and you will always find a believer who possessed enthusiasm and zeal for the things of God. It seems unfair that something God looks for and encourages should actually work against us, but self and the devil don’t really care. They will use whatever they can to lure us into deception, and deception is a defining characteristic of presumption. That’s what makes it so dangerous – we truly believe that it is right and approved by God.
Zeal for God is wonderful and should be desired. It enables us and empowers us, and He will use it challenge us and transform us to the point where we step out in faith into things we would otherwise never even consider attempting. But zeal must always be tempered and balanced by humility, which is surrender to the sovereignty of God and a realistic acceptance that we are utterly dependent on Him. Presumption puts us in the place where we superimpose a dependence on self through a false perception of our ability and anointing.
Pride and presumption come from enthusiasm without patience.
The injunction to wait on the Lord is a powerful protection, and we find it over and over in the Word, either a command or through the obedience of men who served God. We also find examples of the consequences of presumption – consider Abraham and Sarah, and Ismael, the son born out of presumption. The reality is human beings do not naturally possess patience. We want it, and we want it now. This is especially true in a world filled with quick fixes, instant solutions, and blink-of-an-eye technology that means we seldom have to wait for expected results.
Patience is one of the defining characteristics of humility. It is content to wait, secure in the faith that God is in control, that His purposes and timing are perfect, and that He has already prepared everything for the particular moment of His choosing. Enthusiasm, though, is the voice that prods and pushes and has us rushing in where even angels fear to tread. When enthusiasm isn’t tempered with patience it becomes a potentially deadly force, pushing us towards pride and presumption.
We are easily deceived, because enthusiasm feels inherently good.
Being ‘sold out’ for God sounds good. It sounds bold and courageous. It makes us feel that we can achieve anything, that how we feel is sufficient to prepare us for extraordinary things. This is where humility is critical, because it’s all too easy to shift across the line. Self is essentially emotion-driven and intellectually rationalised. We all to easily begin to believe that we’re ‘different,’ that our enthusiasm somehow sets us apart, and we begin to grow impatient, and then we fall into presumption,
First, it’s impatience with ourselves – rather like a sense of needing to catch up with what ‘God is doing’ – but it very quickly becomes impatience with others. The don’t ‘see the vision.’ They aren’t committed enough. They don’t understand the things of God enough. Pride slowly creeps in beneath all this, and we begin to ‘perceive’ that we have ‘revelation’ of things others cannot comprehend. Because of the sense of our ‘difference,’ we drift into a place of separation from the accountability and guiding wisdom of those God has raised up to teach and mentor us. Presumption is always manifest in a belief that a ‘special anointing’ somehow sets us apart for ‘special things.’
Recognising the danger of presumption was part of what enabled David’s humility.
Our greatest protection from presumption lies in the absolute truth that, in God’s eyes, none of His servants is of more value than the others. The great evangelist who brings thousands into the kingdom, the deliverance preacher who brings the freedom of Christ to others, and the simple servant who is at the church early to make sure it is swept and clean are all of equal value. Every single believer has a vital and powerful part to play in the purposes of God. Who and what we are in terms of status, reputation, skills, or abilities is completely an utterly irrelevant.
Humility is recognising that, without God, we are nothing and can do nothing. This was the very foundation of David’s lifestyle of worship, and what made him a ‘man after God’s own heart.’ David was raised up by God from shepherd to king not because he was somehow special, but because he realised that he wasn’t special at all. He knew that he was fully human, with all the weaknesses, temptations, and sinful tendencies common to man, and that it was only through absolute dependence on God that he could hope to walk in righteousness.
Presumption puts the focus on doing rather than on being.
Pride always demands recognition. It is centred on achieving something visible, something others can see, recognise and applaud. Within each of us is a desire to be recognised and accepted, and a need to ‘leave a mark’ that defines what is essentially a transitory life. We find ourselves in presumption when we act on this need by using God to justify and validate. Presumption essentially says that God approves of what we believe and act on. It disregards His Word or uses it to rationalise and empower our rebellion.
In our enthusiasm and accompanying impatience, we fall into the trap of ‘hearing’ what we want to hear. Because we don’t wait on God and allow Him to fully reveal and work out His purposes, we latch onto what ‘feels’ right and immediately act on it, expecting God to come to the party. The stark reality is that the devil is more than willing to provide the gratifying results of our presumption. Once we step beyond the line, he’s quite happy to play to the deception. Not all the seemingly miraculous events and sweeping ‘moves of the Spirit’ we find in the church are the work of God. Satan is perfectly capable of masquerading as an angel of light, and what better way to seduce us further from the truth than to provide the ‘evidence’ that we are absolutely right, even though we’re acting in presumption.
We are easily seduced when we step out of real humility.
Patience is one of the most powerful evidences of real humility. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, and is something that neither man nor the devil can produce. It is a ‘product’ of right relationship with God – the kind of relationship that is based on an accurate perception of who and what we are in Him. All of God’s children are special, but that is because of Christ in us. All of us have the potential to ‘do great things’ for God, but that is only because of Christ in us. All of us are holy and set apart, a royal priesthood, but that is only because of Christ in us. Presumption sees us, not Christ in us.
Our calling, our anointing, and our service and success in the kingdom of God has absolutely nothing at all to do with us. David also said, ‘who is man that You are mindful of him?’ This is real humility, the very foundation of right relationship with God. David always saw himself in the correct perspective – one that saw, first, the vastness of the great I AM. Presumption shifts our focus from that to self, and removes us from real humility and surrender to the will and purposes of God.
Presumption abuses and misuses a critical truth.
The Bible tells us very clearly that each and every one of us is called to a particular purpose, one which God ordained and prepared for us to walk in right from the very beginning of time. Some may seem ‘bigger’ because they may be more public or visible, but that is a worldly perception. In God’s eyes, every purpose has equal value, no matter how much bigger or smaller it may seem to us. We are commanded in the word to desire the gifts God has provided so that we can walk effectively in our calling. We are commanded to seek out our calling and make sure we know what it is, and to wait on God for His anointing, instruction, and release. Presumption puts the cart before the horse.
It’s as if we’re somehow afraid that if we don’t act now, we’ll lose our enthusiasm, that our zeal must be fed by action. This is the root of the deception. Real zeal can only be imparted and sustained by the work of the Spirit through intimate relationship with God. Real purpose and real anointing is only possible with real revelation – the kind that puts us in a place of absolute dependence on God and keeps us in a place of humble acknowledgement of His sovereignty. Presumption’s power lies in the fact that we are all too easily swept along on a tide of success, of results, of visible ‘evidence’ that drowns out the still small voice of God.
It’s critical to pray for protection from presumption.
Today’s verse reminds us of our inherent weaknesses, and that we should pray continually that God would keep us from this deceptive, seductive condition. Presumption, without fail, is a crumbling cliff edge with us poised at the point of a very long fall to destruction. This is a truth we should take hold of and continually guard against, and the only protection is humility. Zeal and enthusiasm for the things of God is a gift from God Himself and will always flow from a humble and intimate relationship with Him.
It is the relationship that counts, not what we do for Him. Jesus Himself said that He would disown many who even did miracles in His name, because they simply did not know Him. Theirs was presumption, not anointing through intimate knowledge and relationship. God has plans for us all, but He never asks us to dance with the devil on the edge of a cliff. Rather, He wants us to stay safely on our knees with Him.
Thank You, Father, for the precious warnings in Your Word. Help us to take them to heart. Teach us to pray, and to listen to the voice of Your Spirit. Draw us closer to You and give us a real desire to come in humility and worship, acknowledging Your sovereignty in all things. Grant us patience, Lord, and a willingness to wait.