In last week’s article, we diagnosed the spiritual disease of selfitis. Selfitis refers to the inflammation of the self to the exclusion or reduction of God. Selfitis can be diagnosed by observing the speech patterns of an individual. If an individual utilizes personal pronouns in excess during conversation, then he or she has likely contracted selfitis (e.g. Genesis 11:4; Judges 16:20; 1 Samuel 13;11-12; Daniel 4:30).
The prognosis for this disease is not favorable. Since selfitis involves the elevation of the self to a position that is at least equal to if not greater than God, it is a form of idolatry, and Scripture indicates that, if left untreated, the sin of idolatry is always fatal. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, we are told that “idolaters…will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” In Galatians 5:19-20, “idolatry” is identified as a “work of the flesh” that will prevent one from “inherit[ing] the kingdom of God.” Then, in Revelation 21:8, we learn that “idolaters” will be punished “in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Thus, the bad news is that selfitis is a fatal disease, but the good news is that selfitis is treatable. The treatment for this debilitating and detrimental condition is a heavy and consistent dose of self-denial. Jesus made it very clear that in order for someone to be His disciple he or she must be willing to “deny himself [or herself]” (Matthew 16:24), but what does that entail?
First, self-denial requires one to develop a deferential mindset. When some of John the Baptist’s disciples complained about Jesus’ increased popularity, his response was “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30). John’s words reveal his understanding that his mission was to prepare the way for Jesus, not share the spotlight with Jesus. Through his deference to Jesus, John demonstrated self-denial, and, if we want to combat selfitis, then we have to do the same. God did not create us so that He could magnify and glorify us, but so that we could magnify and glorify Him. In Isaiah 43:7, God said that “everyone who is called by my name” was “created for my glory.” David called for everyone to “magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3), and Paul instructed the Corinthian church to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). All of these passages indicate that our primary purpose in this life is to make much of God, and the only way we can do that is if we make little of ourselves. Therefore, we can conclude that selfitis treatment necessitates deference.
Second, self-denial requires one to embrace a new identity. In Galatians 2:20 Paul declared that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Paul’s identity was based on his Jewish heritage and education (Acts 22:3-5; Philippians 3:4-6), but, following his conversion, his identity was based on his relationship with Christ. Not only did he say that “Christ lives in me,” but he also claimed that the loss of his previous identity was incomparable to what he gained in coming to know Jesus (Philippians 3:7-11). Thus, Paul demonstrated self-denial through the rejection of his former identity and adoption of a new identity in Christ. If we want to combat selfitis, then we must undergo the same identity alteration. The New Testament indicates that an identity exchange is a requirement. Paul told the church in Corinth that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He expounded on this concept when he instructed the church in Ephesus “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Such statements indicate that a change occurs when one becomes a follower of Christ. In other words, choosing to deny one’s self results in the demise of one’s own reflection in order to make visible the reflection of Christ. That is why Christians are repeatedly instructed to imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21). Based on the identity change referenced in Scripture, we can conclude that selfitis treatment necessitates transformation.
Finally, self-denial requires one to surrender his or her will. Jesus was not even exempt from this requirement. As He agonized over His pending death, while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked God to “remove this cup from me,” or, to put it in modern terms, to “find another way.” However, he followed that request by saying, “not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In so doing, Jesus made sure that His Father knew that He would submit to His Father’s will regardless of whether or not His request was heeded. The Son of God demonstrated self-denial in His willingness to put God’s will first, and, if we want to combat selfitis, then we, too, must be willing to surrender our will. That is ultimately what repentance is all about. We often associate repentance with an apology or the cessation of a wrong behavior, but repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry” and stopping participation in a sinful activity. Repentance is giving up our kingdoms. That is the point Jesus made when He instructed the rich young ruler to “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor” (Luke 18:22). Why did Jesus give the rich young ruler a salvation requirement that He did not not give everyone else? Because He knew that the rich young ruler was not willing to surrender the kingdom of His finances to God. In other words, Jesus was addressing this man’s particular kingdom issue. He pointed to the one part of this guy’s life where his kingdom trumped God’s kingdom. The point is that repentance is a call to surrender our self-serving kingdoms so that we might “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Therefore, we can conclude that selfitis treatment necessitates surrender.
As we have seen, the prognosis for selfitis includes the treatment plan of self-denial because Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In order to deny ourselves we must be willing to adopt a deferential mindset, accept a new identity, and surrender our will. The question that remains is whether or not you have undergone and continue to undergo the treatment that will prevent selfitis.