I've been on a journey of self-discovery.
It's been just over three weeks since I last posted anything. I've taken that time to examine some notions that have embedded themselves into my mind. I'd like to share what's come of that examination.
The basic idea is that the Christian life - the life I'm trying to live every day - requires me to participate in the killing of my self.
Let me unpack that astounding statement, please.
The Christian life is a life centered on the person of Jesus the Messiah. The Christian tries to act as Jesus would act, to pray as Jesus would pray, to love as Jesus loved, and to experience life as Jesus did. In essence, we are trying to become Jesus in our own selves.
If I'm going to become more Jesus-like, if I'm going to displace my own wishes and prejudices for those of the man who I declare to be my Lord and Master, then some parts of me must be removed, excised - killed, never to return.
Let's call the Jesus-self, that work in progress, the real self.
If that's true, then the pre-Jesus self, the "old me," is a false self.
So, in brief, what I'm being challenged to do is to kill the false self and let the real self flower to its fullest extent in the years of life that I have remaining to me on this Earth.
What is this false self? How can it be false, if it was the "natural" me that existed before Jesus entered my tidy, well-organized world?
Imagine that we are each a self. We're the product of our nature, and our nurture. I'll leave to others all the argument about which is more dominant, and which aspect caused what character trait, behavior quirk, or belief choice. For the purpose of my illustration, we're each the product of our heredity and our environment.
Our heredity is beyond our control, for the most part. Our environment - ah, our environment - the things we expose ourselves to, the people whose views we share, the heroes we admire, these things are within our control, to varying degrees.
What are we told in modern twenty-first-century America that might have some effect on our self?
"You'll only be truly fulfilled if you have the newest car, you know."
"You deserve to live in that house. You've earned it!"
"Why not get that home theater system? It won't cost that much!"
"Those jeans make your butt look so cute. Go ahead - get 'em!"
"Don't you think that you're just a little too heavy? Wouldn't you feel better about yourself if you looked like that actress?"
"You'll never amount to anything unless you take this class."
"It doesn't matter if you like working there. For the sake of your career, you need to work here!"
"Why do you keep hanging out with those people? They're just so uncool!"
"What's with this interest in God? Are you nuts!? You have to check your brain at the door to believe that stuff!"
"Nobody will ever give a crap about you unless you get yourself together. You need to do this, and buy that, to shape up. Get on the ball - you're falling behind!"
Do any of these sound like the messages you hear every day? Do you get the feeling that you're being brow-beaten by every commercial and every magazine ad that you see? Do you feel a little uneasy that you're not the person you could be, because you just don't have enough cool stuff, or hang out with the right people?
Welcome to the consumer-centered manipulation circus of 21st-century America. The rest of the world isn't really so different, so I guess we could say it's the 21st-century world that bombards us with these sorts of messages.
Of course, the messages we hear are more subtle than I've portrayed them above. However, that's what you're really hearing so many times a day, in so many different venues, from so many different voices. We're awash in a sea of manipulative, carefully designed persuasive art that is primarily intended to keep us consuming the products and services of the modern industrial state. As long as we're good little cogs in the marketplace, everything rolls along fine and dandy, and it's the best of all possible worlds.
And over time, that best of all possible worlds kills our very souls...
On the other hand, I contend that when we become Christ-followers, and from that point, Christ-imitators, we begin to slay the false self and replace it with the true self that is the gift of Jesus to each of us. What do we hear from this Jesus that we're working to become?
"You are worth saving, worth dying for, in fact! It's done - the work's completed."
"Your Father in heaven loves you, has always loved you. You're a special creation in His universe. He's not content to leave you as you are, though. You can be so much more than you can imagine."
"Nothing pleases the Father more than hearing from you. He loves coming to your aid. He doesn't need you to be complete in Himself, but He wants to be with you just the same. See the difference?"
"I call you my friends if you do what I ask you to do. I only want what's best for you. Sometimes what's best for us requires pain. I've already been there, so I'm with you every step of the way."
"We make a great team. I'd love to go on forever like this; it can only get better."
"Stay with me, and I'll stay with you. I'll be here even when you think I'm not around."
This is what the three-part community of the Father/Son/Spirit says to each of us. These are some of the words that speak into existence the true self, and begin slaying the false self.
The true self does not come into being overnight, nor without a struggle. Like any pitched battle - and it is a battle, make no mistake - there are backs and forths, victories and defeats. The objective of this war is the future of our life. The theater of operations is our mind and our soul. The signs of combat are the changes we make in our lives as the true self comes more and more to the fore.
We begin finding different things to do with our money - but not always.
We begin re-evaluating associations and friendships - but not always.
We start to consider what we do with our spare time - but not always.
We may re-examine our political loyalties - but not always.
We may begin to work to repair broken relationships - but not always.
Our lives may seem to be in turmoil, and yet we may be smiling - but not always.
The true self is a different kind of person. That self is focused on a different goal, a different life-objective, than the false self that is being slain. Here's what a single verse from the Hebrew prophet Micah says about all this:
6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.
And this, from the pen of The Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes:
12:13 Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.
That's all. Hold in awe the Lord your God, obey his pattern for living, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.
It all sounds so simple. Well, actually, it is simple. I've heard words of wisdom, though, and they are these: Simple doesn't mean easy.
That distinction is the subject for the rest of the life of each Christ-imitator. We each have to account for it in our own way; we each live our individual lives along our own personal trajectory. No two lives are alike.
I wrestle every day with how that death of the false self and the advance of the true self will look in that day. Some days I'm more successful in winning the battles than in others. Some days I lose badly, and I feel like I'm back in the old self all over again. God gives me the determination to get some sleep, and wake to engage in the battle of a lifetime all over again the next day.
May you be blessed with the faith and determination to engage in your own confrontation every day, and to remain on duty until final victory is won.
Amen! Grace and peace to us all...