The Idol of Self

The idol of self is perhaps the greatest threat to our spiritual lives. How do we destroy it? Why is it so difficult in our culture to die to ourselves and live for God? This is the subject we will consider today. If this is the first of these posts you are reading feel free to read all the posts in this series, Idol Factories, HERE

Our culture says that our greatest fulfillment will be found in expressing our authentic self. You are the most important thing. Your health and self-expression are what matter most. The world says to shine your own light and that your greatest satisfaction in life will be discovered by "being true to yourself." 

We are the selfie generation. We have customized profiles and accounts that feed us exactly what will appeal to our personal preferences. My apps, my shows, my followers, my tastes...Me, Me, Me. 

Furthermore, we go so far as to say in American culture that my identity is what I say it is. My inward feelings and emotions define MY reality about who I am and what behavior is right for me to do. This baby is inconvenient for ME, so I should be able to terminate my pregnancy. This marriage doesn’t make ME happy so I will get a divorce. My sexual desires are _______ therefore it is right to have them fulfilled. I think of my gender as ______ therefore everyone else should cater to my chosen pronouns. After fall, my greatest fulfillment is found in expressing my authentic self, this is the only way for me to be happy. 
It is a lie. 
God says that true life is found in dying to yourself! 
And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:15
You see the problem with YOU being the driving force in your life and the source of moral truth is that you and I are sinful to our very core. Our "authentic self" is broken. If parents acted "authentically," many would hurt their children in anger. Many who are depressed people would commit suicide. Many lustful people would use others selfishly for their own pleasure. Many who love money would steal.  The argument from "authenticity" fails us. We need to found our lives upon something other than our self. 
We need to found our lives upon something other than our self. 
What does God say about the self? I am glad you asked. 

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"
-Luke 9:23-25

What does it look like to kill the idol of self? Jesus gives us three steps to stab a dagger through the heart of the idolatry of self. I will frame these three as abdicating the throne, burning the ships, and giving God the keys. 

1. Abdicate the Throne

"Let him deny Himself." This word "deny" carries the idea of renouncing yourself. One way to picture it would be like a king or queen abdicating their throne. Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away not long ago after a very long time on the throne, would never have been the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom had her uncle, Edward VIII, not abdicated the throne. His reign ended, Elizabeth's father's reign began. 

When we die to ourselves, our reign ends. We have a new Lord, Master, and King. 

This means that our new King has the authority and right to define our identity and purpose. We have abdicated the throne of self-expression and self-centeredness. We now live to please King Jesus. This means:
  • I am God's possession. I belong to Him.
  • I am who He says I am. My identity is now found in Him. 
  • I am His servant. My purpose is to please Him. 
Dying to ourselves means abdicating the throne. There is a new sheriff in town. Killing the idol of self also means that we...

2. Burn the Ships

"Take up his cross daily." The cross was a symbol of a violent degrading death. It was a mark of shame and of pain. Why would Jesus use this imagery to describe how a true disciple lives? The reason is that following Jesus costs us something. This is unpacked in verse 24,

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)
We gain by giving up. God commands us to burn the ships behind us. We need to move on from our past, from our former manner of life. Jesus knew that following him would not be easy. At times, following Jesus will make our lives more difficult. God calls us to say "no" to our sinful desires, give generously of our own belongings, sacrifice our time, treasure, and talent, and embrace cultural rejection and even persecution! Take up your cross. 

The phrase "burn your ships" generally refers back to a new world explorer, Hernán Cortés. In the year 1519, Cortés arrived in the New World with 600 men, and upon arrival, made history by “burning his ships.” This sent a clear message to his men. There is no turning back! We will either conquer our enemies before us and settle in this land or die trying. We are "all in."

This is the mentality of a disciple. I will chase after the way of Jesus and leave it all behind. I will take up my cross for His Name because He took us His cross to save me. He bought my allegiance with His blood. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are to burn the ships and lastly,

3. Give God the Keys

"Follow Me." Following Jesus is the opposite of following yourself. I despise the phrase, "follow your heart." God's Word never teaches this. We are to follow Jesus and follow God's heart! Who is in the driver's seat of your life? 
Who is in the driver's seat of your life? 
Dying to ourselves is taking our hands off the steering wheel and letting God take us wherever He desires. Are you following Jesus? Not just a Christian. Not just a believer. ARE YOU A FOLLOWER? Have you given God the keys? Paul expresses this idea beautifully,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
I have been crucified with Christ. I have taken up my cross and died to myself. I am not in control anymore, I have given God the keys, and Christ lives in me. Do we realize this? That Christ wants to live in us and through us!

Why would I ever want to do this? Because when you give yourself to Christ, you gain everything! You gain Christ. Peace with God. The power for a changed life in the Holy Spirit. And a hope for eternity. You gain by giving up. How do I know this?

Because God loves us. He loves yourself more than you love yourself. Did you realize that? Jesus loves you so much that "he gave himself for [you]!" What He calls us to do will certainly be for our own good in the end (Romans 8:28). When we abdicate the throne, burn the ships, and give God the keys we win in the end. Yes, dying to ourselves is hard. The idol of self still calls our name and says "live for yourself, only this will make you happy." But believe me, you were made for so much more than yourself. You were made for the glory of God. 
You were made for so much more than yourself. 
With Grace,
Phil Leineweber

If you want to read more about how our culture became so infatuated with the self and individual expression I highly recommend Carl Trueman's book, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual RevolutionTrueman shows how influences ranging from traditional institutions, to modern psychology, to technology and pornography moved modern culture toward an era of “expressive individualism.” 


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