Why It's a Good Thing For God to Shatter Our Self-Delusion

It is through the true knowledge of God that we see ourselves. We as human beings are prone to self-deception.  We see what we want to see and how we want to see it.  We may perceive that we are righteous, good people and project that idea every where we go.  Yet, perception is not reality.  Humanity is spiritually blind, unable to see who and what we truly are.  Not only are we sinful creatures, we are completely oblivious to it.
When it comes to theology, it is not merely a task in which we seek to understand God, but also to see ourselves.  For it is only in the light of his glory that we grasp a true vision of ourselves. Think to the prophet Isaiah. When he received a vision of the holy God on his throne, what was his response? An overwhelming sense of the weight of his own inadequacy before the God of the universe. His sin became like a millstone around his neck that forced him to his knees.  Was Isaiah more sinful when he arrived in God’s presence than any other point in his life? No, he was just simply made more aware of it.

The Problem of Comparison: Basket Ball and 1st Graders

When we compare ourselves to other people we can seem righteous or even blameless.  We can point to others and say, “I’m better than that guy, at least I didn’t ________”. We compare ourselves to other men to attempt to rationalize the delusion of our own righteousness.  Yet, when we compare ourselves rightly to an infinitely holy, tracendent, and pure God, we don’t quite measure up.  Let me give you an example.  I love getting to play basketball against children.  Why? Because I rock at basketball when I play against kids.  I’m taller than them. I’m stronger than them. I’m faster than them.  I dominate them. Now if I walk away from playing basketball with a bunch of children and say to myself “You know what, I’m pretty great at basket ball, I think I’ve got a chance to make it in the NBA I’d be a legend”.  You and I both know that this is foolishness.  How should I really test my basketball skills? Well I need to play one of the greats – a Michael Jordan, a Kobe Bryant, or a Lebron James.  The true measure of my greatness in basketball can only be seen in light of the greatest players of all time.  Although I may be able to dominate some 1st graders in a game of basketball, Lebron James would dominate me like I was a 1st grader.
So too it is when it comes to our spiritual lives.  When we compare ourselves to other men, we may seem impressive in our righteousness, but when we stand before a holy God we are overwhelmed in by our inadequacy.  We must see ourselves in light of who God is. This is the only way we can grasp a true knowledge of ourselves.  So theology not only helps us know who God is, but helps us to know ourselves.  The only way we can accurately see ourselves is by knowing God.
In the words of John Calvin,  “The inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.” (Institutes I.i.3)  We will never see ourselves as we ought until we see ourselves in light of God’s glory.  It is then and only then that we recognize our poor and lowly state.  It is only in the radiant splendor of God’s glory that we realize how destitute and impoverished and desperate we really are.  Why would we want to think this way about ourselves? Isn’t it better to go on with the delusion of self-righteousness rather than to be exposed for who we really are? No not at all, we do not want to be so foolish as to ignore reality itself.  Do we not have pity on those who are blinded by their own delusion? 

Singers Who Cannot Sing

Think about the show American Idol.  Do we not all fill sorrow for these poor people who think they can sing like Aretha Franklin only to sound like a dying cat? Isn’t the most loving, and helpful thing for that person is to shatter the delusion they have been believing, that they can sing? We need to see ourselves as we truly are.  We cannot live in a fantasy world of our own making, because if we are not shattered from our self-delusion than far worst consequences will result than just simply being mocked on national television, we will experience the fire of hell for all eternity.  
Yet, for those who grasp truly their spiritual poverty there is hope. It is only by getting an accurate picture of ourselves that we see we have any need for the Gospel. As we grasp a vision of God, we see our own sinfulness and we see our great need.  This is why Jesus announced in those beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). For it is only by seeing our spiritual poverty that we are ready to be filled with a gifted righteousness purchased by Jesus Christ. To see ourselves as we truly are is the only way to be saved from ourselves. When the delusion is shattered and we realize the emperor has no clothes, then alone will we reach out to the hand of the savior and take the freely offered garment he offers us.  

How to Step into the Background of a Man who Casts a Greater Shadow

  15495574_23d222463e_z

It takes great humility to joyfully step into the background of a man who casts a greater shadow. We like to be the center of attention. We want everyone to look at us and see how great we are! We want the praise of men. We thirst for it with unrelenting lust.

This is why I am so amazed at the humility of John the Baptist. If you think about it, John's ministry would have been perceived as a complete failure if he was a live today. John starts a movement as the baptizer. Jesus comes along, steals his disciples and his baptizing ministry. John with his ministry passed on to Jesus is decapitated at the request of a teenage girl.

John Loses His Disciples to Jesus

In John 1, starting in v. 35, we read about Jesus selecting his first disciples. John was standing with two of his disciples and sees Jesus walking by and cries out, "Behold the Lamb of God!" John had just baptized Jesus and the Lord had made it clear to John that this Jesus was the Son of God (1:34). John's two disciples that were standing with him abandon John and start following Jesus. Imagine the heartbreak John must have felt. These two men he had been discipling abandon him to go follow Jesus. John knows that Jesus is the messiah, but if we put ourselves in John's place we can feel his pain with being cast to the side. However John's purpose from the beginning was to be a voice crying out in the wilderness, 'make straight the way of the Lord' (1:24). John knew ultimately that his ministry was never going to be about him. John is simply the one who prepares the way for the Messiah. Now that the Messiah has arrived, John graciously and joyfully steps in the background.

John Loses His Ministry to Jesus

In John 3, starting in verse 22, both Jesus and John are baptizing people. A discussion begins to develop with John's disciples and a Jew over the issue of baptism. John is told that Jesus is on the other side of the Jordan baptizing people and everyone is going to Jesus instead of John. The disciples of John are beginning to see a rivalry between John's ministry and Jesus' ministry. I'm sure the disciples of John were thinking, "We were here first!" However, John's response to his disciples is the most astonishing. John would say, "Therefore this joy mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease" (3:30). John knows it is time for him to fade into the background and to get out of the way. His job of preparing the way for the Messiah is now over, his task is complete. John's job know is to simply decrease and fade away so that Jesus' ministry can get all the attention.

Fade Into the Background

What amazing humility John the Baptist has! Would you and I do the same? I suggest our egos and pride would far to much get in the way. We are far to narcissistic to bow out gracefully like John did. Yet, we must imitate John in his humility. As we serve the Lord it is so easy for us to seek to become the center of attention. We want everyone to praise us for our gifts, for our obedience, and for our service. A true Christian however has the attitude of John the Baptist, we must decrease so that Christ can increase. Our task as Christians is not to make much of ourselves, but to make much of Christ. Just as John the Baptist we must get our own egos out of the way so the people around us can see Jesus clearly as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

It takes great humility to joyfully step into the background of a man who casts a greater shadow.

Run to Jesus

Hebrews 4:14-16 is a passage that never ceases to be an encouragement to me.  Here is what it says:

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
This is a beautiful reminder that God is for me, and that in the midst of my ever present weakness, Christ identifies with me.  He is sympathetic of my shortcommings.  Jesus has faced temptation as I have faced temptation.  He knows what its like to be human and to experience incredible suffering.  The beauty of this passage is that it reminds me that in my troubles I can run to God not away from God.
I'm sure you can relate, but when sufferings come my sinful impulse to be self sufficient. I come up with a strategy to get myself out of this mess.  I put in place a 5-step plan to suffer no more.  If it is with tempation, I come up with a rigerous accountability system to help stifle any possibility of sin.  Often times I isolate myself and try to take care of my problems with my own strength.  However this is so contrary to the truth of the Gospel!
Jesus, as my high priest, means that I can run to him, not away from him.  This means that I can approach his throne and find grace and mercy in my time of need (which is literally every second).  The Gospel means I trust in Christ's strength, not my own.  Everyday, I have to remind myself of this truth and take a spoonfull of Gospel before I head out the door. The root of self-sufficiency is pride, and the Gospel is a medicine that quelches the egotism of my sinful heart.
In you suffering and in your sin run to Jesus.  He is the Kingly High Priest and he loves you and cares for you.  Therefore, boldly approach him with confidence and you too shall receive mercy and grace to help you in your time of need.