Find Yourself… Lose Yourself.

The idea of “finding oneself” has come up a lot in my life recently. For the last 6 months, I have spent a great deal of my time trying to escape myself. Why? I try to escape myself because my “self” (hereby referred to as “flesh”) is depraved and desolate and desperate for a Savior. My flesh is not a thing to be sought. Self-actualization is a tricky concept that entangles itself in Scriptural commands. What self are we trying to actualize? The flesh? Or the Spirit?

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8, ESV)

It is clear by these verses that seeking to self-actualize in a worldly sense is unbiblical. When we seek this feeling of achievement from our flesh, we are being hostile towards God. We seek “autonomy.” But, autonomy is a severely unbiblical concept that we affirm, at least insofar as we understand it. I have long struggled with this idea, as a guy who has always valued independence and autonomy to the point of pretension. If you’re like me, then you probably don’t even realize that autonomy is flesh-feeding. If that’s the case, these verses should stop you dead in your tracks. When we value our self-actualization and self-dependency so highly as to seek it with every fiber of our being, we have already set our minds on the flesh. However, Paul issues this encouragement to the reader immediately after:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9a, ESV)

Paul assures us that, if we have the Spirit of God within us, we are not in the flesh. Does this mean that we will constantly have our eyes set on the Spirit? Of course not. We still battle our flesh, but as F.B. Meyer puts it:

As the living bird, obeying the laws of flight, is superior to the down-pull of gravitation, so where the life of Jesus is wrought and sustained in the heart by the incessant communications of the Holy Spirit, victory is given us over the perpetual down-pull of sin.” (F.B. Meyer’s commentary on Romans 8:1-9)

Just like the laws of flight allow a bird to resist gravity, the Spirit of God allows us to resist sin. He dwells within us and generates the upward pull. But, just like a baby bird may be too naive as to know how to use its abilities of flight, we are often too naive to know how to use the Spirit. That’s because we still assume the Spirit is something to be “used.” But, He’s not. He is the indwelling Spirit of God. We don’t use Him: that’s autonomy. That’s grievous to Him. We allow ourselves to be used by Him. We lose ourselves in Him so that we are not ourselves anymore.

“But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20-24, ESV)

Our old self is the flesh. It is the autonomous being that lives within us and places its desires in our minds to be chased after. The irony is that it’s not even autonomy. We are being drawn into our flesh by a primal desire that we actually are not controlling. Self-actualization is not autonomy. It is physionomy, “being controlled by nature.” We crave self-actualization because it is so natural that we think it’s right. But, the fact that it is natural is the very reason it is not autonomy. So, we must put off our old self. We must lay aside physionomy. For what, though? If this feeling of self-actualization isn’t actually autonomy, what is?

The answer lies in the new self. Paul says that the new self is created after the likeness of God. Then, what is the new self? The answer is just as obvious as you might think: the Spirit. The new self — the true self — is the self that is so entangled with the Spirit of God, that it can’t help but reflect His nature and character. So, then, the key to actual autonomy and proper self-actualization is autotheonomy, “self being controlled by God.” We must reside in the Spirit and be under His control to experience real freedom, real autonomy, real self-actualization. By being under His control, we are resisting nature, that which has a compelling grasp on our self. That which is actually far easier to do than we might allow ourselves to think. It is only when we submit to God’s control that we are resisting the nature and, in a sense, reclaiming our self.

However, the main point is that true autonomy is not reclaiming ourself, but allowing our self to be claimed by Someone else. Autonomy is defined as “free from external control or influence.” So, truly, autonomy is non-existent. We are all slaves to either sin or righteousness. To the flesh or to the Spirit. But, the tragic part about being a slave to sin is that it is a delusion of autonomy. We don’t realize that, when we think we are free, we are actually the slaves of a bastardly master. I continually thrive for freedom, no longer in autonomy, in self, in flesh, but in autotheonomy, in Spirit, in God. I seek to submit to the Spirit and allow Him to claim my life so that I may be under His wing and experience the joy of being in Him. In order to truly find ourself, we must lose ourself. But, we aren’t even finding ourself… We are coming to God so that He may give us our true self, after we have lost our old self.

Why I’m No Longer a Charismatic

Within the past 6 months, I have begun to identify as, what some would call, Reformed. What was I before? I was, as some would call it, Charismatic. Now, anyone who would have known me a year ago would be surprised to hear that I now identify as Reformed, because I was utterly disgusted by Reformed Theology not too long ago. In fact, I had arguments formed against it and why I believed it wasn’t helpful to the Christian faith. I was an Emergent church Charismatic. Quite frankly, I believed that because I was into philosophy and I was never surrounded by people who were concerned with being biblical, aside from my youth pastor. Existentialism makes a whole load of sense to a newbie in philosophy and someone who hadn’t read their Bible much or very critically.

But, eventually that well runs dry. Existentialism cripples you in unexpected ways. You find yourself being unable to form an argument because everything is relative. You find yourself constantly unsatisfied with any answer because Truth doesn’t exist in your worldview… Thus begins my journey of radical faith change…

Step One: Absolutism

Absolutism is the philosophical worldview that affirms absolute truths as existing. I didn’t come to affirm this worldview until I listened to a debate between an absolutist and a relativist and I was struck by one very simple rebuttal.

Relativist: “All truth is relative to the person who is interpreting it. There are no absolutes.”
Absolutist: “Is that absolutely true?”

The relativist had no satisfying response to this simple question. There was no logical way to rebut this for the relativist. Logically, absolute truths must exist. I thought about this long and hard. I had, in theory, been an absolutist for a while. I was constantly seeking Truth. In fact, my youth pastor once commended me for being a Truth-seeker. Now, I saw how silly it was for me to affirm relative truths and deny absolutes. This heavily influences how a person reads the Bible. It removes this “gray area” mentality that oft plagues the Church. I was now armed with a philosophical worldview that would change my life.

Step Two: Apophaticism

The next paradigm shift I had actually came from the realm of Emergent Church theology in which I was interested. Apophaticism is a step from the purely philosophical and into the more theological. It is the act of painting an image of who God is through negation. For example:

God is love.

God is not love, for he transcends our understanding of love.

God is not not love.

What this does is bring us to the end of human language in terms of attempting to define God. Further still, it acknowledges the limits of the human mind in understanding how God works in our world. It is a rather humbling practice which forced me to let go of my precepts of what God looks like and what His love looks like. How arrogant of me to assume I know how God loves.

Step Three: The Holy Spirit

Here comes the most purely theological aspect of my conversion. I had long had a problem with the Charismatic view of the Spirit, but I never knew why. I never knew why because no one had ever taken the time to explain to me what the Spirit was. Which is where the problem was… I viewed the Spirit as a “what” and not a “who.” Then, I read Spurgeon on the Holy Spirit. In retrospect, it was completely providential (as are all things, really), because I was literally just in a used book store, yearning for strong theology to heal my damaged soul from being a part of a spiritually manipulative Charismatic worship collective. I looked up and saw Spurgeon and thought to myself, “I know that name. My buddy who is solid likes him. It’s only $4?! Sold.”

Armed with the philosophy of absolutism and the theology of apophaticism, I was ready to properly engage with the doctrine of the Spirit. Spurgeon posed logical, biblical support for who the Spirit was and I could feel my heart softening to the Truth with each proof. It was undeniable. My philosophy told me that Truth was out there. My theology told me that I couldn’t understand how God works. My background told me that Scripture was True. I had to face the facts: I was not in control of my own destiny. People were only saved through the understanding given to them by the Spirit. The Spirit only comes from God…

Reluctantly, I began to identify as Reformed. I was not happy about it at all. I became something by which I used to be disgusted… But, that’s how I know it’s true. Many a theologian has said that if how God works always agrees with how you think He should work, you may, in fact, be worshipping a deity of yourself. I know that what I now believe is true because it still doesn’t always set right with me. But, it’s biblical. It’s logical. More importantly, I have never been as close to God as I have since this shift in my theology. A richness of faith came along with this change.

I am still baffled by how this change occurred. It is yet another testament to the mysterious, yet providential, ways of the Lord. I thought I had it all figured out. That was my problem. Now, I know that I don’t have it all figured out. I will continue changing all of my life. I identify as Reformed simply to distinguish my two faith walks. I am certainly not traditionally Reformed and I’m sure my theology will evolve in the years to come. But, I know for sure that I will never go back to where I was.

The End of Independence

I would like to say that the summer I just finished up serving as a leader of missions camp was the best summer of my life. I would love to say that it was spiritually enriching and so much good happened for me. But, that’s not how the summer was. Don’t get me wrong, this summer was good on a number of levels, but there were a lot of things that maybe made this summer not as incredible as it could have been.

First, the positives… I met so many incredible kids and adults whose lives were changed and who, in turn, changed my life in the process. I got to see kids and adults get saved practically every week. I got to see kids and adults light up with joy as they served the people around them and were blessed to be blessings. A lot of good did happen over the summer for the community in which I was placed.

But, it was easy for me to think that good was not happening for me. At least, not as much good as was possible. I was steeped in a mass of interpersonal problems, which is not unusual for a guy whose personality is an acquired taste. However, I began to feel like these problems were detracting from my experience this summer. I was constantly nagged by this feeling of “Please your crew, please your employer, please God.” Please everyone around you. Do it yourself. You don’t need help. This is the message we often receive in the world today. This is the message I had etched into my brain from a young age by the US culture in which I was raised.

So, that’s what I tried to do. I tried to please everyone and do it myself. I didn’t need help. After all, I’m an extremely intelligent 21 year old who has had practical life skills since he was in 7th grade. I am more than qualified to do all of this myself…

As I was attempting to make it through the summer alone, I was reading a Tim Keller book, Jesus the King. There was a very thought-provoking portion of one of the chapters about religion vs. the Gospel. It’s simple, really; a core Truth of Christianity… Religion is an attempt to work to please God so that we might be counted as righteous. The Gospel, on the other hand, essentially says this:

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5, ESV)

Keller goes on to basically say that attempting to please God with your actions makes light of the finished work on the Cross. So, that evening as I sat and heard my unrelenting criticisms for the umpteenth time, I started to think… I am not here to please these people. I’m not even here to please God. I’m here out of the overflow of my love for God.

It was in this moment that I felt a release. No matter what kind of discouragement those around me threw my way, I didn’t care. That’s not why I was there. I honestly did not care how unhappy I was behind-the-scenes so long as I was leading this camp in a way that brought kids to Christ, because that is what Christ deserves and that is how much I love Him.

I realized that I was not using this camp as the opportunity to express my love for God that I could have used it as. In fact, I had largely ignored Him most of the summer. My autonomous-to-a-fault attitude had led me away from any personal time with Jesus over the summer. That depravity of any spiritual connection coupled with the emotional and physical strain I had been under led to a crippling duel with cynicism.

When I came back to my home and went back to my church for the first time, the sermon series on Psalms just so happened to have reached Psalm 46, which reads:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

This is a resounding Truth that I had rested on for the minority of my summer. Once God had jarred me awake into the reality that I had been starving myself, I realized that God is all that I need. I was depending far too much on the relationships I could have had with those around me and not enough on my relationship with God. My cynicism was rooted in the folly of dependence upon depraved human beings… Myself included.

I was so wrapped up in being independent and with being encouraged by those around me that I lost sight of the true source of life: God. Once I came to grips that I don’t need to please anyone, not even God, as He is well-pleased in us through the satisfying work of His Son, I was able to address the fact that I was still shackled to religion. I was still shackled to the American DIY aesthetic. I craved the empty encouragement of those around me because I craved being able to rely upon something other than God. If I rely upon God, then I have to run to some supernatural Being for strength. How weak does that make a person feel? Well, the truth of the matter is that I am weak. We’re all weak. But, I am fortunate enough to be a child of God in whom He is well-pleased through the work of the Christ. Therefore, independence is no longer a goal in my life, because independence doesn’t exist. Everything we do hinges on the will of God. So, the end of this summer is also the end of my striving for independence.

So, while I felt like I wasn’t getting the most out of my summer, I can look back and realize how misguided I was to think such a thing. God is sovereign and providential. I can trust Him fully and depend upon Him for all things. Since He is sovereign and I can trust Him, I can rest assured that I gained the most from this summer as was possible. To be entirely honest, there’s nothing more I would have rather gained this summer…