Levi, my 7-year-old cousin, recently provided us with an invaluable lesson. He illustrated how our preoccupation with self hinders us from discovering our true self. Several village children approached him as he held his new ball, received at Christmas. They were fascinated. But Levi stood bewildered. Unaware that they only wanted to play with him, he suddenly turned and sped to his mother. “Mummy, those boys want to take my ball,” he whined. Embarrassed by his selfishness, his mother told him to share. She added that God would bless him with more balls to play with if he did. Levi’s eyebrows shot up for a few seconds. Then he surprised us all in the room with the question: “But when?” His mother clicked her tongue and promptly sent him away to play.

Levi’s question may have reflected children’s innocent, inquisitive nature. But it also reflects the inclinations of us all, young and old. Like my cousin, we rarely rest from pursuing what is best for ourselves. I bet you can hear it behind the question, “But when?” We are often tempted to twist God’s sovereign arm to fit our desires. Why? Because our hearts are constantly challenging God’s sovereignty and tirelessly celebrating the self.

We rarely rest from pursuing what is best for ourselves.

A Distorted View of the Self

The uniqueness of the Christian worldview is that the true God is sovereign, a stumbling block to self-consumed people and our quests for deification. In Levi’s and his mother’s responses, we see an all too familiar self-centredness. The latter posits God’s blessing as a primary reason for sharing. The former demands to know when that blessing will manifest. Habitually, central to prayer is a belief that we can determine the outcomes through our words and actions and not out of reverence for God’s will and sufficiency. We ask and demand from God within the same breath.

God’s sovereignty is a stumbling block to self-consumed people.

The futility of self-aggrandisement is akin to searching for a treasure based on myth and folklore. It is self-defeating because the treasure is non-existent. Similarly, we cannot alter the will of the One in whom all things consist. For a human to assume God’s position is to make an irrational decision and welcome dire consequences, the worst of which is separation from the one true God. It also distorts our understanding of the true human self. For instance, in seeking equality with their Creator, Adam and Eve didn’t only lose their exalted position. They also distorted God’s original design for them and the world. In the end, they neither became that which they sought nor did they remain the same.

The Son of God Forgot Himself

But just as the devil challenged God’s will and authority in Eden, he cunningly questioned the authority and sovereignty of both God the Father and his Son (Matthew 4:6). The tempter knew Scripture. But he did not acknowledge the God of Scripture (Matthew 4:7). Don’t we sometimes imitate the tempter this way? Nevertheless, unlike man who surrenders to Satan’s temptation of self-pursuit, Christ Jesus submitted himself to God. This meant he could serve others rather than his own needs (Philippians 2:4-6). Thus Christ redeems man from the consequences of distorted self-estimation. He also sets an example for discovering our true humanity, our true selves.

Christ redeems us from the consequences of distorted self-estimation.

Levi’s story highlights how easily we pursue being like God. Our self-seeking desires are inter-woven in the minute details of our lives. Thus I would like to conclude with an exhortation to be “like Christ,” conformed to God’s will (1 Corinthians 11:1; Romans 12:1-2). In combatting our obsession with self, we learn that we find our true self in becoming the people that God intended us to be.

How to Find Your True Self

1. Submit to God’s Lordship

To be like Christ means to submit to God’s lordship. Like Levi and his mother, the temptation to have our way often goes unnoticed. However, we ought to consciously submit to God’s sovereign will. Jesus portrayed the perfect example of submission in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless; not as I will but as you will”. Our lifestyle, which includes prayer, should be undergirded by the knowledge that God is sovereign. Having humbled himself to death on the cross, Christ redeemed and restored us. Therefore, God exalted him as ruler over all, and ours is to delight under and devote to his ruling and reign (Philippians 2:9-11).

Jesus portrayed the perfect example of submission.

2. Obey God’s Commands

When we submit to Christ’s salvation and lordship, obedience follows. Obedience is the outworking of our submission. Therefore, to be “like Christ” means to obey his precepts (John 14:15), the knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture. 1 John 2:16 notes how the lust of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life comes not from the Father but the world. The world’s desires are contrary to those of our Father (Galatians 5:16-18). We must daily lay aside the desires within us that war against our Father’s precepts. Therefore pursuit of our true self does not always mean pursuing what we want or feel is best.

3. Worship God Alone

To be “like Christ” means to worship him only and not man (Deuteronomy 4:14-20). John Piper says that “true worship is based on a right understanding of God’s nature, and it is a right valuing of God’s worth”. Knowing God, which happens as we study his word, shifts our gaze away from self and towards Christ and his cross. As this happens, the reason for our worship gradually evolves from material gain towards a genuine reverence for our holy, merciful, and righteous God. Like the psalmist, we must say: “To you alone, O Lord, to you alone, and not to us, must glory be given because of your constant love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1).

Knowing God shifts our gaze away from self and towards Christ.

4. Selflessly Love Others

Fourth, to be “like Christ” means to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:3). Levi only considered sharing his ball when there was something in it for him. How often do we find our good deeds motivated by what we stand to gain? The gospel is other-centred, not self-centred. This is exemplified in the person and works of Christ. For even though he was blameless, he became sin so that we might receive redemption instead of judgment.

5. Remember that You are Not God

Finally, we must not think similarity means sameness. Man is made in the image and likeness of God, and thus we cannot be ‘as God’. The fall in Genesis 3 demonstrates this. God is sovereign, and in trying to deny that through our selfish and self-seeking ways, we deceive and distance ourselves from him. We struggle with the assurance of salvation simply because we look to self and not the Saviour. Only in being ‘like Christ’, imitating him, do we find lasting fulfilment and satisfaction. This is where you will find your true self.