Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The religious false self

This is something that I read this morning from Bob Mulholland's book The Deeper Journey....perceptive and challenging, something I need to hear every day.....:

"A friend of mine once said, as he began the second of a two-lecture series, 'The first step is the hardest. Then it gets more difficult!' The same could be said in dealing with our false self. The reality of this pervasive, deeply entrenched, self-referenced structure of being as the primary context of our spiritual journey is one of the hardest things for us to acknowledge. We tend to think of it as a 'surface phenomena' that can be treated by a few cosmetic alterations in our behavior. We are slow to accept the fact that our false self is who we are all the way to the core of our being. We are profoundly habituated to a self-referenced way of being in the world. Jesus makes this umistakably clear when he says, 'If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves,' and, 'Whoever loses their self for my sake will find it' (Mt. 16:24-25)." Jesus is not talking about giving up candy for Lent. He is calling for the abandonment of our entire, pervasive, deeply entrenched matrix of self-referenced being.

It is even more difficult, however, for us to acknowledge the reality of our religious false self. Our religious false self presumes, because we are religious, that everything is fine in our relationship with God. Oh, to be sure, there may be a need for some 'fine-tuning' of a few aspects of our life, a polishing up of a few of our rough edges. Our religious false self may be rigorous in religiosity, devoted in discipleship and sacrificial in service-without being in loving union with God.

We see a frightening example of this at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus depicts a scene before the throne on the judgment day. A group of people appear and they say, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Obviously these were serious, dedicated disciples. Their lives had been spent doing 'God things.' But Jesus replies to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers' (Mt. 7:22-23). Their lives, their ministries, were not grounded in loving union with Christ. They were religious false selves. They were so busy being in the world for God that they failed to be in God for the world. There is a great difference between these two ways. A religious false self will expend amazing amounts of energy and resources to be in the world for God. But you see, we are called to be in God for the world, and this is costly. It requires the abandonment of the whole self-referenced structure of our false self and, especially, the religious false self. Oswald Chambers says it well: "Salvation is not merely deliverance from sin, nor the experience of personal holiness; the salvation of God is deliverance out of self entirely into union with Himself (pgs. 47-48)."


geoff and sherry said...

"They were so busy being in the world for God that they failed to be in God for the world."

wow. thanks for posting this, bill. i read these parts of the book last week when i was in your office. this sentence (above) has stayed with me and i'm increasingly aware our work in this neighborhood and city must be rooted in the energy, compassion, and faithfulness of the triune God. all else is religious (or ideological) tinkering. i am drawn back again and again to the sermon on the mount as an orienting scripture. my urge for self-preservation needs to be continually undermined by the second person of the trinity and the gentle urgency of his kingdom coming.
thanks again...keep it coming.

Stephen Lawson said...

Thanks for this, Billy. I quoted it on my blog, if you are interested.