Thursday, March 25, 2010

Going Horizontal: Self-Denial & Others

Here's an article I wrote this week for our church's weekly newsletter: 

Ever since the team from Glory of Christ returned from India, I’ve been contemplating what John Calvin calls self-denial. He means by this term the willing loss of our fleshly self that we might gain a richer, more Christ-like self. He, along with Christ, wants us to die that we might live. I want this too but I need help so I’ve been looking to Calvin as a Pastor, if you will, and also pleading with Christ to transform this still-so-worldly soul.

In the first section of Calvin’s treatise he focused on the fact that, in Christ, we now belong to God which means that we must gladly live our lives for the glory of God. As Paul said in 1 Cor 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Building on this truth, Calvin moves on in the second part of his treatise to deal with the relationship between self-denial and others. That is, he moves from the vertical to the horizontal.

Calvin rightly begins by identifying our problem as having an inflated view of ourselves. “For so blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love that everyone thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison.” This works itself out in different ways. At one extreme is the braggart who openly exalts himself over others. Everyone sees his arrogance and he himself will not deny it. At the other extreme is the person who seems to be lowly about herself but in fact she has made a god of her problems or shortcomings. She is all she thinks about day and night. This too is self-exaltation. Of course, the majority of us live somewhere in between these two extremes, sometimes tending toward one and then another, but always hopelessly occupied with ourselves.

This is a massive problem for it is impossible to love others when we are so trapped within ourselves. So what are we to do? Calvin does not provide us with a list of suggestions, per se, but he does hint at several solutions to this problem. I have added to his list and thus arrived at the following seven things. For this week I will simply present them, and then next week I will add some insight.

In order to develop a proper assessment of ourselves, we must, with God’s help…

1.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of the being God.
2.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of creation.
3.      Contemplate our sins and short-comings.
4.      Contemplate the brevity of life and our utter powerlessness over death.
5.      Contemplate the fact that everything we have is by grace.
6.      Contemplate the fact that “love does not seek the things of itself.”
7.      Contemplate the image of God in others.
8.      Contemplate the clear command of God to love our neighbor as ourselves.

As I said, I will fill in some details next week but for now let us pray for the grace to see ourselves aright. “For by the grace given to me [Paul] I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3).

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