Beware of Self

"And when the Holy Spirit comes He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." John 16:8

On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your personal appearance? In a survey of 26,000 people almost no one listed themselves as lower than a 7. In one experiment researchers took 11 pictures of the subject, altered 5 to look better, 5 to look worse. Then they asked the subject to choose the real one. Everyone chose a better looking picture. We tend to overestimate ourselves. By the way, people under 30 were especially misled.

We also overrate ourselves in altruism. 80% said they would give to a charity, but only 40% actually did. Even lottery winners are less generous than they believe themselves to be. By the way, every time someone wins one of those half-billion dollar lotteries, I think "I hope they're tithing church members." Of Broadmoor, of course. And yes we are very serious about confidentiality.

Intelligence, physical abilities, work production are three other areas we generally overrate ourselves.

While ego inflation is harmless and even amusing in these areas, it is vastly more serious in spiritual matters. Failing to be aware of and then address grievous faults can distance you from God. We have to admit a severe handicap here. Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (17:9)

And self-improvement, even genuine repentance is not simply a matter of "trying harder." Paul wrote of knowing the right thing but doing the wrong thing. We have all felt that frustration. We need help from something beyond ourselves.

The challenge is also magnified because of a shift from self-sacrifice to self-fulfillment. Daniel Yankelovich, a social scientist working for the New York Times noted this shift began in the 1970's. Self-sacrifice is good for surviving Depressions and winning wars. Self-fulfillment is good for promoting and obsessing about self and then overlooking flaws. Self  is a great deceiver.

Where do we turn? Jesus said one function of the Holy Spirit is to convince us of sin and righteousness (John 16:8). The Spirit of God is always characterized by energy and action. One of the Spirit's tasks is to search our souls and illuminate the dark places to which we have become accustomed and even embraced.

So especially during Lent, beware of self. We can’t be trusted. Pray that God will reveal to you the spiritual areas He wants to work on. Listen and follow Him


Dr. Terry Ellis

March 17, 2013