Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing about ways in which we can come to a more proper assessment of ourselves in light of others so that we can grow in humility and succeed in what John Calvin calls self-denial. So far I’ve addressed four ways we can do this which I will simply list below and then add four more with some brief comments.
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. Paul said in 1 Tim 6:7, “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” Everything we have comes to us by the grace of God: strength, talents, abilities, resources, personality, looks, difficulties, challenges, sufferings and so on. Since this is the case, we should neither take credit for our accomplishments nor turn obsessively inward in our difficulties. In all things God and his grace should be at the center of our thoughts. This will take us a long way down the road of humility and self-denial.
6. Contemplate the image of God in others. One of the most powerful ways to humble ourselves before others is to contemplate the fact that they are image bearers of Almighty God. No matter what a person appears to be on the outside, or how off-putting they are to us, we must learn to assign eternal value to them because they are eternally valuable. A particular person may be condemnable in God’s sight, but we are not allowed to look upon others as God does because we are more like them than him! So may we humble ourselves before all people and learn to see and value them for what they are: beacons of the being of God. They may be good beacons or bad but they are beacons indeed.
7. Contemplate the fact that “love does not seek the things of itself.” In recent days this phrase has ministered so deeply to my soul and helped me to act more like Christ in a variety of situations. It’s taken literally from the Greek text of 1 Cor 13:5 and it means that true love looks upward to God and outward to others. True love knows that its own needs will be met as it dies to itself and lives to the purposes of God. True love knows that its joy will be found in seeking the “good of the whole” rather than the advancement of self.
8. Contemplate the clear command of God to love our neighbor as ourselves, or as Jesus put it, to love one another as he has loved us. God has commanded us to look outside of ourselves and care, truly care, for the needs of others. He’s done this for his glory, the good of others, and the joy of our souls but at the end of the day we must come to grips with the fact that he’s done it. He’s issued a command and we who love him must obey. So if nothing else, we are compelled to deny ourselves and value others because the one who has loved us with an everlasting love in Christ has commanded us to do so.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus commanded his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. There is no other way to progress as a child of God but death to self. Therefore, I pray that God will use the eight insights I’ve shared over the last couple of weeks to teach us how to do this in a very practical way. May God give us life in Christ as we choose the death of self by his power at work within us.