Saturday, November 9, 2013

On Selfism and the Real Me

As a Christian woman living in the DC area I often find myself struggling to live out my faith in a biblical way. It feels like something akin to swimming against a cultural tide. I grew up an a very secular country, the UK, and where I lived there was hardly any biblical community to speak of (this is not to say there aren't pockets of wonderful Christians in England). As a teenager and young woman I found myself floundering without fellowship. After coming to America at the age of 22, with a view to experiencing spiritual growth in the fertile soil of a godly country, I have since found I am increasingly confronting the same obstacles I had in Europe. I've been here for over 15 years, and have sadly watched this country secularizing bit by bit--our Christian foundations are slowly giving way under the cultural weight of selfism, pluralism, and moral relativism. And the Body of Christ has not been unaffected. Many believers are going with the cultural flow in subtle ways that often go unnoticed. There are many sheep-skinned wolves lurking around us, seemingly benign, that encourage believers to compromise their faith--often in small ways--but each of which serve to inch us a little closer to the world, and further away from God.

Today, it's all about the Real Me. It's about what we find at the end of an exhaustive pursuit of self-discovery.* This is not to be confused with the healthy process of introspective self-awareness or psychological evaluation. It isn't about trying to be more authentically who God created us to be. The Real Me in today's secular culture doesn't need an external God. The Real Me is God.

It's not just talk show psycho babble that spouts these cliches. They are an insipid product of the widespread selfism in our culture that is becoming so deeply ingrained in our collective subconscious that we can barely recognize it anymore. From self-promoting humblebrags on facebook to the endless stack of NY Times bestsellers that line our bookshelves each touting the same self-help ethos, our culture is all about Me. Our youth strut around unabashedly announcing they are going to "do me" (put themselves first). The sense of entitlement our younger generations are growing up with stems from this also. It seems like the precursor to the destruction of our society. As Paul warned, in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves (2 Tim 3:2) and false teachers will worm their way into the homes of gullible women (think Oprah on TV) and gain control over them (2 Tim 3:6).  

It is not surprising that in our increasingly self-centered culture, the word pride has taken on new meaning, often being construed as an admirable trait, and even being paraded with rainbows on banners in city streets. Yet as Christians we are taught to surrender to His sovereignty, to humble ourselves before Him, and to let go of our pride, acknowledging that we are lost without His grace. As Paul put it, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). To seek the answer from within oneself is essentially a denial of the salvific nature of Christ’s death on the cross, and therefore a rejection of God. This form of idol-worship leads to death. 

When I first met my husband, he wasn't a Christian, but a believer in the popular concept of self-actualization. His testimony is an inspiring one, which I won't delve into here, but his quest to self-actualize throughout his 20s and early 30s, led him to place his identity in his own achievements. He traveled extensively, racking up life-experiences and accumulating an impressive array of stamps in his passport, went to a well-reputed business school and gained work experience to build up his resume. He was, by all accounts, a pretty good citizen. He wasn’t a down-and-out, a drug addict, or a criminal locked up in prison who had hit rock bottom and whose need for salvation was staring him in the face. But without being rooted in Christ, my husband could not shake the sense that he lacked direction, lacked meaning, and lacked purpose. As much as he talked about self-actualization and living life to the fullest, he still felt that something was missing. Something important. He was effectively living like chaff in the wind, blown about by every whim and life circumstance. When my husband found Christ, his whole life took on new meaning. His entire perspective changed. The concept of “dying to self” turned his whole worldview upside down and completely contradicted everything he had previously seen as central in his life (i.e. himself!).  He now realized that the worst thing that could happen to a person, is actually finding his Real Me at the end of his quest for self-fulfillment and being left alone with him.

The changes we are seeing in America are a precursor to something significant. And we should not be naive about what is coming. Now, more than ever we need to root ourselves in the truth so that we might endure to the end, and not be lost to the storm that may be ahead.

*This is not to be confused with the importance of dealing with mental health issues, which is entirely different. It is important for us to seek professional help in cases of mental or emotional illness. 

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