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DISCIPLESHIP SERIES: Why Knowing Yourself Matters

February 21, 2011
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The point in obtaining a true knowledge of ourselves is so we stop relying on our own righteousness, our own goodness, stop deluding ourselves—and cast the entirety of our being upon the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is in ignorance of his true nature that the Christian continues to trust in his own understanding. In doing so, the unaware Christian tends to wander through life interpreting the world from his perspective and living for his own purposes rather than God’s.  In such cases, Christian faith may prove nothing more than something we lay alongside our life plan as a means to achieving personal peace and success.

While we remain ignorant of ourselves, we are contented with where we are and unlikely to despise the flesh. In doing so, we may find ourselves living comfortably in and of the world. Our loathsome sin nature continually entices us to resist surrendering our lives to God; willful ignorance of our true nature only strengthens this resistance. The person lacking true knowledge of his corrupt nature is easily contented with his present state and inwardly fears that a deeper level of dedication to Jesus will disrupt his sense of personal peace. Such persons heed their carnal nature as it whispers words of deceit, saying things like, “Don’t get too serious about following Jesus—it will cost you all the stuff you enjoy!” or “Life just won’t be as much fun.”

However, contrary to a life of enforced austerity and the absence of pleasure, the denial of self is actually the means to true pleasure (joy) as one abides in Christ and discovers a new freedom from which one can truly enjoy life and the many and abundant gifts of God. How tragic that we resist the call of God because we foolishly listen to our deluded selves, believing that increased devotion will leave us in a lesser state, when in fact it is the path to unspeakable joy and enduring peace. 

C. S. Lewis confronted this dilemma in his classic work, The Weight of Glory. He writes:

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. … Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory [Harper Collins: New York, NY, 1949]).

Again, the person who understands his true nature and all of its corruptions would not be so easily pleased with himself or the shadows of happiness that derive from worldly things (i.e., “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition…”). It is God who renders us displeased with our present state and it is God who responds to this despair by revealing himself. The sorrowful knowledge of self opens our hearts to truly knowing God and this is the purpose of every life, the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, the haven in every storm. In Knowing God, J. I. Packer writes, “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set for ourselves in life? To know God. What is ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. ‘This is eternal life ; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17:3)” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God [InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1973]).

Packer continues, “What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, more delight and contentment than anything else?” His answer to this question is provided by the prophet Jeremiah, who wrote, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me’” (Jer. 9:23-24, NIV 1984). In obtaining this knowledge of God we discover that true joy is found in a reconciled relationship to God, others, and ourselves and to the proper hierarchy of goods and people in creation. Upon knowing this and knowing ourselves, we would abandon our paltry lives to achieve these ends.

It must be understood that “knowing God” is more than knowing some things about him. Even the unregenerate can know things about God—many things—but still not know God in the way that matters. Dr. Packer distinguishes truly knowing God as being the condition in which “the unpleasantness we have had or, the pleasantness we have had not, through being Christians does not matter to us.” Packer adds, “When people know God, losses and ‘crosses’ cease to matter to them; what they have gained simply banishes these things from their minds.”

The knowledge of what has been gained exists in direct proportion to the knowledge of one’s lost state. When the living God reveals himself to sinners and they begin to listen, they cannot resist becoming aware of their guilt, and sin, and weakness, and folly—so much so that they judge their lives to be utterly without hope. Sickened by their offenses against this Holy God, they repent and cry out for forgiveness. God hears and responds to the sinner’s cry with mercy and forgiveness; as one continues to listen to God, he realizes not only is he forgiven but this God is inviting him into a very personal relationship with himself—a friendship, or in Barth’s phrase, a “covenant partner.”

What God does to every Christian is pictured so beautifully in the story of Joseph. From prison to prime minister of Egypt, the life of Joseph illustrates the action of God in every Christian life. Not only does God rescue us from being Satan’s prisoner, he does the unbelievable; he places us in a position of trust and service to the King of all kings! Joseph would not have been suited to the lofty responsibilities of his office were it not for the humiliation of his imprisonment. Likewise, we cannot assume our lofty role in God’s kingdom until we acknowledge our unrighteousness and accept the righteousness of Christ, who reconciles us to God.

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Greg Williams  

February 21, 2011 10:11 AM

Another great article! You do such a great job on this issue and I truly believe that this is the major issue - discipleship - of our day and time as Jesus spoke to it clearly in Matt. 7: 21 - 23. I think that most of our western culture churches, once again, are simply preparing so many for Jesus 'prophecy' regarding the day of judgment when He will say to them, "Depart from me for I never knew you." How sad that we've placed the love of people above the love of God in direct contradiction to the clearly prioritized First and Second greatest commandments. Without knowing and loving God and then who He created us to be, we can never really love others. The other issue that speaks to this is the fact that we do not emphasize sin or Christ's Lordship in 'believers' lives as both of these really cause us to die to flesh and that's just asking too much evidently in today's free-sex, consumeristic (flesh appealing) marketing mentality! So much of what is passed off as service and in many cases as discipleship is really driven by the flesh as very few really spend the time to know God in Christ and the Holy Spirit, thus Jesus strong words that will come to pass on that day!

I do have a question as I've been asked often after teaching or speaking as to how we can really 'do discipleship'? One of the main struggles is trying to really focus on discipleship without it getting caught up in the current paradigm of today's churches as everything they tend to do engulfs whatever comes next and fits it into the program and funding driven paradigm of the current church which very seldom, if ever, allows for the patient, in-depth study, growth and relationships needed to make disciples and encourage them to pass it on and make more. Of course, I think the first place this begins is in the home but so many homes today in the churches are so broken with relational and sexual sin that is left unchecked and unheeded in the pulpits of today that there is very little real discipleship passed on to really develop the 'Godly offspring' that Malachi says God desires (Mal. 2: 13 - 16).

What do you think and how do you encourage discipleship among those truly seeking it?

I think this is key not only to discipleship under the Authority that we have in Christ (Matt. 28: 20) but also the key to reaching the lost as Christ's model really does prepare believers to reach out to meet needs and address the issues of unbelievers in accordance with His Word and Spirit.

Thanks again and God bless in Christ!

Greg Williams;

Response from : Robert  

February 22, 2011 9:27 AM

Amen. I have started a journey since June, 2009 of understanding this "death of self" concept. I found that I am sufficient in Christ.
Galatians 2:20 has become my life verse. Christ in me, the hope of glory. My main goal - to love the Lord God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. I then allow Christ to live out His life in me, as I serve Him in His body, the church.

Response from : melinda  

March 5, 2011 8:26 AM

this is such a good article! Thank you so much.


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