We all live within a story. It should be within God’s story of redemption where Jesus is king and our identity is in him. More often than not, we live in our own little world where we are king and our identity is comprised of lies and half-truths we hear from the culture, others, or ourselves. This isn’t about who’s saved and who isn’t. Christians can still live in a world where they haven’t “put off the old self, which belongs to the former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph 4:22). Christians can still live in a world where self-obsession is the common practice, where we believe the lie that everything revolves around me, myself, and I.
At first you’d think that this would create confident, self-centered people. But when we’re the center of the universe we actually become insecure, reactive, and overcompensate for our failures. If we find our identity in our own success or appearance than we may appear proud or confident for a time. Yet it all comes crashing down when failure exposes us for who we really are. We’re bound to react by either curling up in the fetal position or fighting to the death.
How do we get out of this vicious cycle of self-obsession leading to epic failure? There are two things we have to keep in balance. First, we must do some introspective heart work to identify the lies we hear from ourselves or others, and fight them with the riches of the gospel. Are you desperately trying to to make people love you? How about meditating on the love God has shown you before the foundation of the world? Struggling with idolizing fame and glory? Consider what the glorious and powerful God of the universe has gone through to enter into a loving relationship with you so that you will reign with him in glory forever. Under every idolatrous longing we have, there is a deeper longing we may be unaware of that Christ only fulfills. Self-reflection can often expose those lies and evil desires that are unique to our story. This then allows us to apply the healing balm of the gospel. C.S. Lewis summarized our plight well in “The Weight of Glory“…
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us… We are far to easily pleased.”
Second, to balance that introspection, we need to actually think of ourselves less. We can “work on ourselves” so much that we become our own spiritual project and our sanctification becomes our idol. We have to find a way to think of ourselves less and love God and others more (shoutout to Tim Keller and The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). If we’re bogged down in self-introspection we’ll never take the opportunity to love others in need. Certainly we won’t worship God for who he is if we’re focused so much on how God has to meet our perceived needs. Introspection is good, however it must turn outward and reflect on scripture if it is to be true Christian self-examination. The 19th century Dutch philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said it this way, “We have fabricated the notion that to think about oneself is vanity, morbid vanity. This indeed may often be the case, but not when it is a matter of letting God’s Word have power over oneself (For Self-Examination, pg 36).” Thus, when we read scripture it should always be like the act of looking in a mirror and seeing how we need to become more like Christ. Once we know ourselves, we look to Christ because the honest picture of ourselves isn’t pretty. The culture would have you think that knowing yourself is the first step toward self-actualization. Once you know yourself, you then feed that “self” whatever it wants in order to continue to be true to that “self”. Christians look to Christ and his word for guidance, not ourselves.
To truly live within God’s story we must identify the lies that make up our false stories or “the old self”. Then by God’s grace, we fill our minds with gospel truth that causes us to respond outwardly in love toward God and others. May we deeply know ourselves, but never stop there. May it be for the sole purpose of clearly perceiving how to appropriate the objective gospel of Jesus Christ in a more lasting way.