The Idol of Self
What we want for our people (Outcome): That our people will understand the idol of self and the power of the value of humility.
It used to be the case that humans looked outside of themselves for answers, to the gods of wood and stone. Today, our ultimate authority and thus, our object of worship lies within – the human heart. Like idols, this ideology is a partial account of reality. So many of us today worship our feelings. Our sense of what is right and true is measured by how we feel about something.
But culture and idols of stone and wood (created things) are not the source of truth – God is. The idol emerges when we place ourselves in the shoes of God and begin to define good and evil for ourselves – therefore seeing ourselves as God and therefore worshipping ourselves as God.
This is idolatrous! It is God alone who is the author of truth and of right & wrong. He has created the world with purpose and order and imbued reality with meaning, to which our (theo)logical response is worship. To reject this meaning and offer our own in its place is to become prideful and steal this worship for ourselves.
Few, if any of us, are likely to argue that our own moral views are simply based on our emotional preferences. But the latter seems today to offer a good way of understanding how most people actually live their lives. “It just feels right,” “I know in my heart it is a good thing,” and other similar stock phrases are familiar to us all, and all point to the subjective, emotional foundation of so much ethical discussion today.Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self
To affirm God as ‘in the right’ we must accept that we are ‘in the wrong’. But this can lead us to an imbalanced understanding of ourselves. We are not abandoned and useless in our pursuit of God’s truth and ways. We have the capacity to live according to His purposes as new creations. We are simultaneously sinners and sons, once slaves yet now, heirs (Gal. 4:1).
Those who see themselves as their own authority say things like “What is right for you may not be right for me” or “right and wrong is circumstantial”.
In addition to this, there is a preference for one’s own individual perspective to be elevated over the communities. “What I think it’s right/wrong is more important than what my community says”. In short, the individual need, preference, desire, hope, and purpose is the governing standard and value.
We must willingly restore the understanding of God as Creator in our hearts (John. 5:39-44). His ways are correct, because He ordered the world (Job 38:4-7) & gave purpose to people (Gen 1:1-2:4). Humanity is deeply flawed and constantly trying to discern and construct truth for itself.
Augustine vividly describes this broken condition as though we are curved inwardly on ourselves, rather than “outward” for God and others. We have a tendency to turn away from God, towards ourselves.
Culture sees order as limiting and freedom-removing. This is nothing new, Paul had the same issue to address in 1 Corinthians. He explains that just because you have the right to do something (your flesh wants to), doesn’t mean you should: it might do you great harm (1 Cor. 6:12). Traffic laws and driving licences are for the protection of everybody, even if some see them as restricting. You can see things as restrictions or as freedom and protection from harm.
Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that God’s ways are far above any earthly culture. God is superior to anything we could come up with, therefore we’re going to live according to the revelation of God and understand our place in the created order. We are creatures who were created for dependence & relationship with the Creator (Psalm 84, Matthew 6:26). Nothing could be more counter-cultural than living in a way that is God-centred, manifesting obedience to God, rather than the great idol of self-determination.
God must have our complete dependence and trust. We are not to put ourselves on His throne. We do battle with this each day: whose will shall stand, God’s or ours? Self-will is betrayed by murmuring against God’s providence, rebellion against His laws, and obstinate obedience to self (Jeremiah 18:12; Jeremiah 44:17).
How do we do this?
The gospel shows us that sin has corrupted our view of what we are meant to be. When grace enables us to live as we were designed to through union with Christ, our expectations of a God-blessed life can trip us up. Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). When we speak of self-denial it does not mean that enjoyment is rejected as sinful, rather we are able to enjoy God Himself as all that will truly satisfy.
How do we begin to destroy this self-idolization that so deeply informs this modern society, and our own hearts? We begin by looking outside of ourselves to the God who emptied himself. In Paul’s letter (Phil. 2:5-8) Jesus emptied himself of everything. Becoming completely humble and completely obedient. Even to the point of death. Jesus is our great example.
We can embody the virtue of Humility.
Humility is the virtue that counters pride. As pride leads to other sin, true humility clears a path for holiness. Pride is a sin based on undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self worth. Conversely, the virtue of humility is about modest behaviour, selflessness and the giving of respect.
Humility is the characteristic of being able to rightly estimate yourself (Romans 12:3). On the one hand, we must not be arrogant and overestimate our knowledge, wisdom and abilities. On the other hand, we must soberly and accurately appreciate the gifts with which the Lord has endowed us and effectively use them in sacrificial service. We are to avoid both boastful pride and false humility —even to the point of self-loathing.
A final thought…
Human freedom is not the ability to be God – as Satan suggest in Eden – defining right from wrong, good from evil. No, true human freedom is the ability to be obedient to God, like the example of Jesus Christ.
Deuteronomy 12:8 (Moses’ warning) You shall not do as we are doing here today, everyone doing what is right in his own eyes…
Echoing this – Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Connect Group Resources:
Connect Group Discussion Questions:
GATHER: (ensure that these questions centre around community)
- How has God communicated His truth to us and how do we stay connected to His ways?
- What have you heard people say to justify a decision that, “felt right to them”?
GROW: (ensure that these questions prompt discussion on personal growth and maturity)
- Consider all the different human laws we live under (rights and responsibilities). Are there places in your world that God says you should be self-denying what the law permits, for your benefit and that of others? (For example: what you consume and how you behave towards others.)
- How can you use your freedom in Christ and His gifts to serve God and others this week?
- Why is humility and serving others a great antidote to the idol of self?
GO: (ensure that these questions prompt discussion on going and spreading the good news)
- How can being obedient to God’s ways be a positive witness in your world?
- God’s truth is that all people are His creations, valuable, loved and invited to join His family. Take a moment therefore, to pray for your enemies (a quick check of the news will help if no one comes to mind!) in obedience to Jesus’ command.