I remember the first day I walked into Criswell College in Dallas for orientation day. My mind was racing. I was completely new to the seminary, and the jitters of walking into a hall full of people I’d never met before were doing two things to me. I was excited for the opportunity to make new friends, but, at the same time, all I could think about was: did I dress well? Was I wearing the right shoes? What do I say when they ask me questions? Am I making a good impression? Will they like my story? The cross-examination in my head refused to let up.
As I sat there, battling my thoughts, a gentleman in a suit took the seat right next to me. He greeted me with a smile and asked me how I got to Criswell. Again, as I shared my story, all I could think about was: what is he thinking about me? After about 15 minutes, I finally asked if he was with the college. He smiled again and said, “Yes, I am; I have the honour of serving the students at Criswell as their President.” I was dumbstruck. To date, I often wonder if I hadn’t asked that question, if he’d ever have told me who he was.
I learned something difficult about my heart that day. I cared too much about people’s judgment. On the other hand, my college president — who had every reason to boast about himself and glory in his achievements — decided to sit with me, get to know me, encourage me and, very likely, end the conversation without saying anything about himself. That day, I looked gospel-humility in the eye — and I can never forget it.
We’re all running after verdicts. We care so deeply about what others have to say about us, what we have to say about ourselves. Opinions matter, because that’s how we measure ourselves. They help us gauge if we’re on the right track or not, but is that the honest reason we seek others’ viewpoints? Is it not more often because we are driven by our egos and want to ensure we’re always one step ahead of everyone else?
In The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller notes a few things about the natural condition of the human ego; he calls it empty, busy and fragile. We look to everything besides God to satisfy us and so, at its core, the human ego is empty. It is also busy boasting and constantly seeking attention in order to fill that emptiness. Doing this makes us fragile, because as we put all our energies into comparing ourselves to others, we get overinflated. And that means there is inevitably going to be a point when we deflate or burst. Yet, despite having this happen to us multiple times, we continue in the same destructive pattern.
That’s because the root of our ego is pride — and pride is driven by the mechanism of ‘more’. By nature, we are full of ourselves. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about.”
The root of our ego is pride — and pride is driven by the mechanism of ‘more’. By nature, we are full of ourselves
In other words, pride is the pleasure that comes with being ‘more than’ the next person. This is not only dangerous for our own hearts, but also for the people we live with. Look at the broken marriages, broken friendships and broken economies around us. Look at the countries warring, politicians fighting, and companies battling for #1. Is it not pride that has brought each one of those situations about? Look into Christendom today: fights between leaders, church splits, failed ministries, ‘believers’ turning apostates; is pride not at the very heart of each of those issues? If it’s not already evident, allow me to state it plainly: pride has the potential to destroy our lives — if we don’t do the hard work of getting to it first. Here are some things to consider:
Watch out for the snare of self-approval. The opinions of others are not the only thing we need to care less about. Hinging everything on our own approval is a trap too. Ever heard the following statements? ‘Don’t worry about what others think about you; their standards don’t count; the only thing that matters is what you think about yourself.’ There is way too much emphasis being placed on self-approval today. In 1 Corinthians 4:3, Paul says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” He even goes a step further and says, “In fact, I do not even judge myself.”
In other words, he says: I care very little about your evaluation or examination of me and, what’s more, I care very little about what I think of myself. Why would he do that? Why would he not care about what he thinks about himself? I think it’s because Paul recognises it as a trap. You see, we cannot keep the standards we set for ourselves, simply because we are not perfect. We all struggle with sin in our lives, so when we find ourselves constantly failing our own standards, our natural response is to lower the standards — but that leaves us feeling terribly inadequate. If we can’t look to ourselves for approval, where do we go?
The verdict is out. Your judge is God and He has already given you a verdict through Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 4:4, Paul goes on to say: “For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” In other words, it is only the Lord’s assessment that matters. He has the final word. The best part? The moment we are saved, our verdict has already been delivered.
We do not have to stand before God for the verdict because Jesus took our place. He took the condemnation we had earned; He bore the wrath of God that we deserved; He stood the trial on our behalf, so that we need not. All we have to do is repent and trust in Him — and we can find our worth in Him. Because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we can enjoy the freedom of self-forgetfulness. We no longer have to do anything to look good before God; we are made ‘good’ before Him through Christ Jesus. And it’s all that matters.
Because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we can enjoy the freedom of self-forgetfulness
Self-forgetfulness helps us to serve better. When we realise that God’s judgment is all that counts (nothing else), we grow to care less about that of others or even ourselves. It’s no longer about us, but about caring for others. When you walk into a room, it won’t be about what we’d say or do, but about what we can do for others. That is what my college president portrayed for me that day.
We need to start enjoying the gift of self-forgetfulness in our lives. The moment we do this, it helps us to love others the way God loves them. It helps us to serve others the way God would want us to serve them. Because God has attributed Christ’s righteousness to each one of us, we don’t need to add or do anything more to look good for anybody. We are finally free, because of who we are in Him.
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