The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

“The problem with self-esteem–whether it is high or low–is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom. Every single day, we are on trial.”

Recently, a friend suggested a small booklet by Timothy Keller called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

This booklet addresses the issue of ego. Ego can either become so inflated that it is unbearable to others, or it can become so deflated that it is unbearable to others. On the one hand, it is difficult to put up with someone who is constantly bragging or overly sure of themselves, but, on the other hand, it is difficult to put up with someone who is insecure and always looking to be built up and affirmed.

Keller shows that they both have the same root problem: it’s all about the self. He also shows that the answer is not to have a lower view of self, or a higher view of self. In his words, the answer is “not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”

That’s why he titles the book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.

But how can we possibly just stop thinking of ourselves? To Keller, the answer is found in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

Paul’s answer is not to put people around himself who will be positive and build him up. His answer is not to tell himself that he is strong, important, and smart. He does not care what others think, but he also does not care what he thinks.

This is not some hipster who is too cool to care what anybody thinks. Human opinions have not actually become smaller to Paul. The judgments of peers and his own heart have not changed in size. The whisper of men and the echos of the heart have not changed volume, but the trumpet blast of God’s judgment has drowned them all out.

The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that God pronounces a judgment of “accepted and not guilty”, not based on performance (because all are guilty), but on the basis of Jesus Christ’s obedient life and perfect sacrifice. God calls us righteous. God calls us loved. God accepts us. When the shout from God comes, “No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” it drowns out all other judgments and condemnations.

The phrase, “Only God can judge me” is true, but it doesn’t remove the responsibility of right living. God’s judgment is not based on my performance (thankfully), but he does call me to live out the judgment he has proclaimed over me. Because he says, “You are righteous in Christ,” I live righteously. Because he says, “No condemnation from Me,” I live like someone who would not need to come before a judge for punishment.

When a life has been shaken by the voice of God saying, “Righteous, accepted, and loved,” no other voice can shake it. Whispers from outside or inside may be harsh, critical, and sometimes very right, but my identity is built around God’s judgment of me, and my character will continue to be built on God’s judgment that I am his righteous, loved child.

How Did God Make Humans?

Why did God makes humans? God made us to worship him through overseeing and caring for his creation.

How did God make us? God intricately and carefully wove our bodies and souls together.

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

The picture given is of God descending from heaven, bending down to the ground, and building a special design in the dirt. When God commanded it, that design transformed into a human body. When he breathed life on it, that human body was alive.

Psalm 139:13-18a says:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was no one of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.”

God works that same miracle thousands of times each day as babies are conceived. These babies are intricately woven together, body and soul, in their mother’s womb. After one month, that baby will have already started to develop all of its organs. Around 5 weeks, the baby’s heart starts to beat. At 6 weeks, its facial features begin to form. By three months, the baby will have unique fingerprints.

What does this mean for us?

  • God made us just as we are. God planned for me to have a big nose and hairy feet (although I think the balding head is a result of the curse!). Our body is not the problem. Our sin is. (Sickness, disease, and death are a result of the curse, but I am mainly focusing on the insecurity or pride that can arise from our body imperfections) Sin causes us to feel insecure or proud about our body. Others can sin against us to cause this, or we can be self-absorbed and selfish, which causes shame, insecurity, or pride. Diets, workouts, and surgery are not the final answers. The answer is to trust in Christ for forgiveness from your sins and rest in the truth that your Creator formed you and loves you.
  • We are not animals. We must never reduce man or woman to a creature of instinct, or pleasure, or desire. Recognizing and believing the Imago Dei in others not only prevents you from acting in animalist ways towards them, but draws out of them a desire to be more than just an animal.
  • We are made from dust, and to dust we will return.  A few weeks ago, Ash Wednesday kicked off a special time of humility, repentance, and sober-mindedness leading up to Good Friday. This prepares our hearts to consider the depth of our sin and the frailty of our lives. The fact that we were created from dust reminds us that we all will return to dust one day. Any life or beauty or gifts that we have are given from God. Soon—very soon for some—we will face our Creator and answer for what we have done in this life.

The Gospel and Dust

Though God fearfully and wonderfully made each one of us, every one of is also born in sin (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23). That means that our very nature is naturally bent toward sin (Ephesians 2:1-3). God makes us in a wonderful way, and yet, every one of us rejects our Creator (Romans 1:21) and substitutes fake gods in his place (Romans 1:22-23). This is a cosmic scandal that fills God with a fair anger (Romans 2:2) that we can never escape (Romans 2:3).

But God is also merciful (Ephesians 2:4). Jesus received all of God’s wrath (Romans 3:25) for our scandalous rejection of the Creator. Through faith in his death and resurrection (Romans 3:26), we can be restored and given a new heart which rightfully honors our Creator (Ephesians 2:10, 4:22-24).

A Prayer to Our Creator

Father, as I consider your work of creation–the power that it displayed, the wisdom that it required, and the interest that you showed when you made–I am filled with wonder. I am sorry that I love the gifts that you gave me too much, or think that I have earned them in any way. I am sorry that I appreciate the gifts you gave me too little, or think that your gifts are not good. I believe that you are my Creator, and that you carefully formed me before I was born. Forgive me for my pride and selfishness through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Give me a new heart and mind. Fill me with faith that you are my good Creator, and that you love me with a perfect and unfailing love. As I enjoy this new confidence, help me to love you with a faithful love and use the gifts you have given me for your glory.