We Want to Be Ourselves
Engage in a casual conversation with just about anyone today and you’re likely to hear, “I’m a seven, wing eight; how about you?” Followed possibly by, “I don’t know my number, but I’m an ISFJ.” Personality tests and types abound, reflecting a society-wide drive to know ourselves. We’ve employed numbers, letters, and even animals to help us in our quest for self-discovery.
We want to know ourselves because we want to be ourselves. Authenticity and self-awareness are worthy goals and even biblical endeavors. We take personality tests and read books with a good desire to label our strengths and weaknesses, in hopes of fulfilling our role in this world.
But often without warning or intention, this drive to know ourselves becomes all-consuming. It’s impossible to not be affected by the age of self in which we currently live, where autonomy is king and self-help reigns. It’s the cultural air we’re breathing. A good desire for self-reflection easily becomes a sinful fixation with self.
It affects our Christian pursuits, too. Our spiritual lives become another means to the end of self-actualization. We unknowingly drift from Christ-centeredness to self-centeredness. The drift is subtle, but harmful.
Here’s what’s so easy to forget in our current cultural climate: our lives are not primarily about us. We are not at center stage. God is. And that’s good news for you and me.
God, Not Self, Is Preeminent
All things were created through Jesus and for Jesus. He is before all things and holds all things together (Col. 1:16-17). In everything he is preeminent (Col. 1:18).
Conversely, self-reflection is helpful, but not preeminent. It is useful, but not ultimate, to search one’s heart, or to know one’s motives, or to evaluate one’s gifts. But our God alone is preeminent. He is the answer to our questions: why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? What is my calling? How am I wired? Our Creator and sustainer, not ourselves, holds the key.
The age of self, with its focus on self-help, makes us forget that we fall woefully short and are beyond self-redemption. The truth is, we need a Savior, and we need to center our lives on him.
How to Pursue Jesus, Not Yourself, In Your Spiritual Growth
It is for our own good that the Bible instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2). We are quick to fix our eyes on ourselves, but the word of God admonishes us to behold our God. He is our refuge and strength, the one who will make us glad, the one who will help us (Ps. 46: 1, 4, 5). It is God who makes known to us the path of life, and it is in his presence that we find fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11).
Brothers and sisters, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, not on ourselves. Especially in our spiritual growth—in our Bible study, church life, and prayer time—may we look to him.
1. Center Your Bible Study on the True Subject
The Bible is not primarily about you and me. It is the story of our God in heaven—who he is, what he has done, and what he is like. The Bible tells his story, which is the best story. It tells of creation, the fall, redemption wrought with Jesus’s blood and resurrection, and the restoration to come.
We who are in Christ are there in those pages, too: God created us, we all have fallen; but Jesus redeems us by trading his righteousness for our sin, and we look forward to eternity’s consummation in the new heaven and new earth. Rejoice! God’s story is the great story that we fit into.
Because God is preeminent, the more we know him, the more we understand ourselves and our world. It is in ruminating over his ways that we are equipped to know ourselves and to be who he created us to be.
2. Contribute, Don’t Consume, in the Church
Created in the image of a triune God, we were made for community. The body of Christ is a family with many members who need one another to survive and thrive. We often approach our community of faith, though, as a buffet of programs and people who are there to serve us.
But Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:28). We who want to come after him must also take up our crosses and carry them (Matt. 16:24). We will experience the abundant life when we seek to be like Jesus—when we seek to serve others. Whether it’s in the children’s ministry on Sunday, hosting small group during the week, or inviting a new attendee for coffee, we thrive when we lay our lives down.
3. Behold God in Prayer
A final way to guard against a self-centered walk with Jesus is to center him in our prayer lives. It’s our natural reflex and tendency to come to God with our concerns. Our prayer lives can easily be a one-way conversation. But in remembering that God is the source and goal of our lives, we can re-center our prayers on him, welcoming in the fullness of joy he wants to give us.
If we want to truly know ourselves, we must empty ourselves, and draw near to him.
Prayer is a great place to lift our eyes from ourselves and up to our almighty God. Rather than focusing solely on the details of our desires, when we focus primarily on his goodness, his character, and his track record that proves his great love, our eyes and our hearts are lifted high. Praying in this way lifts our gaze. Our needs and crises grow small as he grows big.
Especially in this current age of self, like moths to a flame, we are drawn to ourselves. Even we who are in Christ, are prone to seek fulfillment within, rather than in our Maker and Savior. This tendency bleeds over into our spiritual lives as we seek ourselves in Scripture, seek comfort and consuming in church, and seek blessing rather than worship in prayer.
But the truth is, our God is magnificent and he alone satisfies. As the Creator of our lives and the holder of our hearts and souls, we need Jesus-help, not self-help. We need a rescuer, a Savior, a sustainer. Only he is preeminent, only he is able.
Our God is immeasurable, unsearchable, and infinitely good. We will never grow tired of fixing our eyes on him. In him is the path of life, the fullness of joy.
If we want to truly know ourselves, we must empty ourselves, and draw near to him. Ultimately, but counter-intuitively and counter-culturally, it is for our good that we center our lives, our self-reflection, and our spiritual growth on Jesus.
Jen Oshman is the author of Enough about Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self.
For Calvin, self-denial was not a special requirement for the few but a norm for all believers, and we deny self because we have been united with God, not because we want to achieve such a union.
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People threw off the shackles of the church and the state and they began to look inward. They began to look to themselves for what is true and what is real.
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