Tag Archives: sanctification

Who am I? What is my ‘self’?

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In our young adults group on Tuesdays we have been working through the book of Romans. When we were in chapters 6 and 7 there were some great discussions about our true identity as Christians.

In chapter 11 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains how a Christian’s identity cannot be recognised accurately without reference to the cross.

Who am I? What is my “self”? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity, because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me. My true self is what I am by creation, which Christ came to redeem, and by calling. My false self is what I am by the Fall, which Christ came to destroy.

Only when we have discerned which is which within us, shall we know what attitude to adopt towards each. We must be true to our true self and false to our false self. We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation, redemption and calling, and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.

Moreover, the cross of Christ teaches us both attitudes. On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is uthe God-given model for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and so put it to death.

Or, more simply, standing before the Cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 329-30.

Birdwatching and the freedom of self-forgetfulness

As the hatchback hurtled towards the airport, I asked a most unnatural question to the man in the front passenger seat: “So are you a birdwatcher?”


A few people know me well enough to be able to see and point out a specific way that my proud heart shows itself. When talking with people, I have a tendency to insert myself into the conversation. I’ve done it too many times to count.

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? I was there 3 months ago, and I did this and this and met so and so, and I think this about Sydney even though it’s not relevant to you. I love Sydney, what a beautiful city.”

Sorry dude, your friendly conversation starter just got hijacked by my ego.

If your conversations with others seem to always steer towards topics you want to talk about, you probably have the same self-aggrandising tendency as I have.

True gospel-humility

It was from reading Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” with Cheryl earlier this year (best $2 we’ve spent all year) that God switched on a light bulb to my problem, and the solution.

Tim Keller writes:

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself: it is thinking of myself less.”

And:

“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

The ultimate self-forgetter

So the problem essentially is that I think about myself too much. The solution is not to think less of myself (“Oh I’m so terrible, I must tell you that” – a false show of self-pity, and really just another expression of selfishness), but to think of myself less.

It’s immensely difficult to change this consciously, especially if you’ve spent your whole life thinking about yours truly, and talking about yourself and what interests you. Blogs and Twitter/Facebook feeds aren’t the problem, they merely amplify the narcissism already in my heart. I’ve been a self-promoter since my youth.

But with the strength of Jesus — the ultimate self-forgetter, advocate and example in true gospel-humility (Phil) — I’ve been given grace to work on dying to myself.

I’ve been practising trying to listen better in conversations with friends or strangers, asking questions and adding responses to encourage the other person, and resisting the temptation to assert my points of interest.

Biting my tongue

So instead of asking Don and Joy what they thought of worship music trends, debating the recent Christian trends, or over-inflating my understanding of Don’s bibliography, I just bit my tongue.

I listened to them retrace where they went on their holiday, excite me with descriptions of the various birds they encountered (Australian birds, I’ve learned, are much more raucous than New Zealand species – perhaps a parable of two nations’ temperaments). I laughed with them upon their discovery of the ubiquitous pukeko (or “water chickens”, as I told them).

“So are you a birdwatcher?”

“Oh, not in a professional sense. But I’m familiar with the different types of birds in our area, local and migratory.”

I’m not there yet. Please tell me, then forgive me the next time I “convojack” you.

And by God’s grace, let’s journey together towards self-forgetfulness.

You’re not a zombie anymore!

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I enjoy reading what dead guys have written, but there’s some things that are explained uniquely by the pastors and theologians of this generation.

In Chapter 3 of “Faithmapping“, Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper combine to deftly explain and illustrate why the grace that saves Christians motivates them to live holy lives:

Paul asks the notorious question in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1), and we all begin to squirm in our seats. If grace means that our religion merits us nothing, then why on earth would we torture ourselves with moral purity, monogamy, and sobriety? If I can literally do nothing to save myself, then why shouldn’t I commit myself to a life of doing nothing?

… Consider Paul’s own response to his question:

“By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:2-4)

Paul’s response is not to say, “Don’t do it! You’ll ruin everything if you sin again!” He’s saying, “You don’t get it! You don’t live in that world anymore. Everything has changed because of the gospel!”

(Here’s where I had a bit of a chuckle…)

Day 1: Zombie!!!

It’s like the difference between being a zombie and being a living person.
Zombies have no interest in literature or science, no table manners, no concern for job skills and personal marketability. They’re focused only on eating brains and moaning. They’re dead to literature, dead to music, dead to a family meal. If they’re miraculously healed, they’ll suddenly be alive to all of these things. “Should we keep eating brains so that we’ll be all the happier not to be zombies anymore?” By no means! You’re not a zombie anymore!

Amen – I’m no longer a zombie anymore! 🙂 This is how some saints now in glory (not as zombies) phrased the same idea:

“Regeneration is not an aspect of justification, but both are aspects of salvation, and neither can take place without the other… The justifying work of the Son and the regenerating work of the Spirit cannot be separated (Titus 3:5-7).” – John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p.220

“The tree must be first, and then the fruit. For the apples make not the tree, but the tree makes the apples. So faith first makes the person, who afterwards brings forth works.” – Martin Luther, Epistle to the Galatians, p. 247, on Galatians 3:10.

I read “Rhythms of Grace” earlier this year, also by Mike Cosper, and thoroughly appreciated it. Am enjoying this one so far too. The big idea of this book is that the “gospel in all its forms” (channelling Tim Keller’s triperspectivalism) gives a beautiful coherent map for one’s entire spiritual journey in following Christ.

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“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)