Why is not thinking about ourselves a significant part of sanctification?
Because our hearts are like a black hole. You can ask Peter and he can tell you all about black holes because he is an undercover astronomy professor. We went star gazing a few months ago and we were all shocked at how much Peter knows about stars. I am not Peter so let me give you the 2nd grade version of what a black hole is. It’s a collapsed star and there is such a high density where the star had collapsed that the gravitational pull increases to the point that not even light can escape it. That’s why a black hole appears black because there is an absence of light.
That’s such a good description of our hearts. The more we think about ourselves, the more we get sucked in and there is no way out. Our thoughts have a way of collapsing in on themselves. Why am I not happy, why did that person say that to me, why am I not being appreciated? Our thoughts continue to revolve around ourselves in an endless loop. And like a black hole, light can come in but light doesn’t come out.
It’s like Elijah. He’s like Jack Jacki from the movie, The Incredibles. He looks all cute and cuddly, but at the end of the movie, he turns into a flaming ball of fire and rage. Elijah is like that. He seems cute from a distance but you get closer and you see the dark side of Jack Jack. I call him the beast because he has no control when it comes to food and he’s hungry. At around 5:30pm, it’s total chaos at our house. I pick up the kids and I get home and immediately I strap down Elijah in his eating chair because around 5:30pm, that’s when the beast awakens. He gets so hungry and his stomach is like a black hole. Jackie is in a race against time because she, too, is afraid of the beast. She is frantically cooking up a storm before the beast loses it.
Elijah is out of control. I know he is just an infant, but he has zero restraint. We are trying our best to appease the beast while dinner is being prepared. We keep stuffing him with apples, crackers, cheese sticks, anything we can get our hands on, we are practically throwing food at Elijah. And he just shoveling it down. I don’t know where he gets that from.
And he can’t communicate yet. So all he can do is to scream. Ah, ah, ah, ahhhh! And we are all going, ahhhh! I don’t feel like a father during the pre-dinner hours. I am more like an animal trainer. I have my spoon and I’m like back baby, back, no more food.
And it’s too much, but he’s an infant so it’s kind of cute. But what if he grew up and Elijah was an adult and he still acted like this. Not so cute.
Then, we’d say, that’s a problem. Yet, don’t we see a lot of people and they are overgrown Elijahs. It’s about me, me, me. We’re so alive to ourselves. MY happiness, MY comforts, my family, my job, my reputation, my little world where I am the king or queen where I call all the shots. I did my fair share, you need to do your fair share, I am scratching your back because I expect you to scratch my back later.
How do we know we are alive to ourselves? Examine your thoughts. What percentage of your thoughts in a given day are about yourself? That’s a sobering question.
If it’s all about me, me, me, and your thoughts have turned inward, then it’s like a black hole. There is no way out.
In Greek mythology, there is a god named Narcissus. And he was known for his exceptional beauty. And you know the story. One day, he was walking beside a pool of water and he saw his reflection and he fell in love with himself. And he couldn’t leave his reflection and he died there. And from this god, we get the word narcissism.
A narcissist is someone who loves himself. It depicts a person whose thoughts are bent inward. And when your thoughts are solely about yourself, it’s a black hole because there is no end to self-engrossed thinking because our hearts are bottomless pits of greed and desire and self-interest.
Even well-meaning Christians fall into this trap and they end up totally self-engrossed.
When I was a college student, I used to journal every week. This was an important part of my spiritual formation, but looking back, I clearly had the wrong focus many times. I thought that to know the depth of my sins, to uncover every hidden motive and nuanced, multi-faceted manifestation of my sin would help me to get closer to God.
And I would journal and type up page after page of this kind of self-flagellating, introspection. And coming back from missions in Tokyo in 2004, I had experienced a lot of God’s miracles and the work of salvation, but I also had a lot of baggage from witnessing the damaging effects of human sin.
And so I arrived at Life Baptist Church in WLA with a debilitating sense of defeat and failure. And I remember sending P Daniel in 2004 one of my novels and he told me something that I didn’t understand at the time.
He said, don’t be so introspective. There is no end to that kind of self-analysis. Instead, he said, focus on God.
And I thought, what do you mean? I thought I was focusing on God. I just didn’t get it. This kind of self-introspection was the only thing I knew how to do. I had become so good at diagnosing myself. I could take one of my sins and like a jewel, I could pick it up and explain it from every angle. I could talk about my pride and how it originated from unmet childhood affection from my parents. Or something from my past made me the way I am. Or I could point to hidden motives even when I was serving at church because I wanted to look good. And I could go on and on and confess every minutiae of my sins.
And over the years since that conversation, God has been showing me the truth of that advice.
To not be self-focused but God-focused. Count yourselves dead to sin. Reckon, consider, account for your sins and compute them as dead. And if self is the core of sin, then I need to be dead to myself. That means, when I repent of my sins, I am forgiven and my sin is forgotten.
My second son, Jeremiah, has issues. He is super moody. At times, he can be the happiest kid on earth and he is the life of the party. Other days, he’s just in a foul mood and he doesn’t listen and he gets in trouble often.
And every time we discipline him, he cries and he acts like it is the end of the world. And he says sorry and we forgive him. And his sin is forgotten.
And as soon as the punishment is over and he says sorry, in an instant, he’s back to his laughing, trash talking, mischievous self. He is all smiles and he goes off and plays with his legos. There is not even a hint of brooding or self-analysis paralysis. His sin is forgiven and even to him, it’s completely forgotten.
It’s like it never happened. And I see that and I wish I could be like that. I wish I could repent and forget and move on every time I sin.
There is no value in dwelling on my sinful past, how people wronged me, my present failures and sins because my heart is a black hole.
Do you practice this? When you repent and receive God’s forgiveness, do you forget it? Or do you dwell on it?
How many times do we repent of some sin but we don’t really think God forgave us? So as soon as we finish praying, we resume right where we left off.
That’s not repentance. We can’t lay our sins down during prayer and pick them back up as soon as we are done praying.
But it’s easier said than done. It is so ingrained in us to be narcissistic because we have been doing it our whole lives. Every person grows up assuming the world revolves around themselves.
Counting yourself dead to sin means to stop thinking about yourself.
We repent, we are forgiven and it’s forgotten. We count ourselves dead to sin. We stop thinking about ourselves. That is what it means to dethrone ourselves from the center of our hearts. We focus on God and he helps us to end the cycle of being self-engrossed.
Counting yourself dead to sin, and refusing to think only about yourself, that’s the first part of a life that thrives.
But sanctification doesn’t end with our minds.