Day 12 – False Self/True Self
Idolatry might be most succinctly and helpfully understood with the following: “if I can just do, have, or be this, I will be happy.” Instead of God, what we think will make life work is what we do, what have, or what image we are able to project in the world. Generally, we might not even have the awareness to say it so directly, but this is often what is going on in our hearts.
And when undetected, for those who are in Christ, we can end up putting this “idolatry” into our relationship with God. In a sense, we can idolize God in an attempt to get our own independence and self-fulfillment through what we do, what we have, and what others think of us. Rather than a life of depending on Him/surrendering to His heart, we may view Him as one who can get us what we want. Of course, what we most desire is a life of dependence, but lesser desires are often more intensely at play.
For the people of Israel, the text of Exodus 32:6 is tragically fascinating. Aaron, the brother of Moses, had just built the golden calf. Then, he pronounced, “these are your gods that delivered you from Egypt,” and announced that the next day they will have a feast to the Lord. The word “Lord” is the Hebrew word Yahwehwhich was the personal name of God. There are two things to note. First, they were attributing their release from captivity to these false gods. Second, they were mixing the worship of those gods with worshipping the one, true God.
Let’s pause right here. Are there ways that you attribute things in your life to yourself? to your hard work? to whatever? Or do you see yourself as completely dependent upon the vine who is Christ? (cf. John 15:1-5) Next, ask God to search your heart. Are there ways that you have combined worship/surrender to God with other pursuits? Again, pause here for a few moments as you listen and explore with God. He is gracious and will meet you where you are.
In Deuteronomy 8:17–19, we read: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.” It is distinctly possible that we end up worshipping the gift rather than the giver. John Piper challenges us:
“The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but His gifts, and the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God Himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.” (A Hunger for God)
The temptation of mixing our worship of God with the pursuit of other things also includes a beautiful invitation because when we reflect on how we are tempted to be shaped by what some have called the false-self, we have an opportunity to release and remember in trust and worship. More specifically, the false-self is what we have been discussing: identifying ourselves with three things – what we do, what we have, and what others think of us. We can “use” God to prop these things up. Graciously, God waits, abides with us and beckons us, quietly and non-forcefully, to release and look fully at His provision … to rest in the reality that He is enough.
These three elements of the false-self are the same things that showed up in Adam and Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3 as well as Jesus’ temptation in Matthew 4. For Adam and Eve, it was in the silence and joy of the Garden, and for Jesus, it was in the wilderness. And in both, temptation was presented in the context of their lives with God. Notice the parallels of these temptations:
- make one wise | get the kingdoms of the world | what I do
- fruit is good for food | turning stones to bread | what I have
- delight to the eyes | throw self down | what others think of me
In his book Basking in His Presence, Bill Volkman offers that the temptation contrasted with the invitation is about knowing (possessing) and unknowing (faith). “Like Adam and Eve, we all have been given the same basic commandment: ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.’ But, like Adam and Eve, most of us continue to make the mistake of choosing to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, or tree of knowing, instead of in faith taking from the Tree of Life, the Tree of Unknowing.”
Can you allow yourself to be in that place of unknowing … of trust? The idolatry of the false-self is centered around garnering and possessing what we need rather than trusting God as our provider.
Over the next three days, we’ll look at each of these parts of the false-self and what it might mean to move from a place of striving into rest where we are increasingly freed to worship God alone. It is out of the “enoughness” of God that our true-self emerges.
Questions for reflection: is God alone enough for me? In what ways would you say yes? In what ways would you say no?
Prayer: Lord, today I confess that in particular ways … dependence and trust in You alone has not been enough for me. And I desire deeply to live into the worshipping You alone more and more. Thank you for the grace of letting me be in process along the way. Amen.