Believe in yourself. Do it yourself. Discover yourself. Love yourself.
These days we’re all about self: self-discovery, self-love, self-care, self-determination. In fact, honoring oneself, pursuing oneself, being totally true to oneself, might be our highest value.
The focus on self is so pervasive that it has crept into a place previously set apart for someone else: namely the Lord Jesus. Our obsession with ourselves has bled into our Christian culture. Our Bible studies and books and Sunday gatherings and worship songs often center on ourselves over and above our Savior. Whereas saints used to ask, “How can I serve the Lord?” our consumer culture has us asking more often, “How can God serve me?”
We approach our salvation and sanctification from within. “Who has God made me to be?” we ask, rather than, “Who is God?” Or we ask, “What should I do for him?” rather than, “What has he already done for me?” While these questions aren’t wrong, they point to our tendency to fix our eyes on ourselves rather than on Jesus.
This invasion of self is subtle. It’s like the “false brothers secretly brought in” (Gal. 2:4) when Paul, James, Peter, and John met in Jerusalem to discuss the true gospel and how new Gentile believers might really be saved. The false brothers “slipped into” the church (Gal. 2:4) and were teaching that the Gentiles must be circumcised like the Jewish Christians if they wanted to be true followers of Christ.
In Galatia, as in today, the focus was on self.
PRESERVE THE GOSPEL
But Paul wasn’t having it. He says, “to them we did not yield in submission for even one moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Gal. 2:5). Paul was entrusted with the gospel (Gal. 2:7) and fought fiercely to preserve it. Paul explains, “the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12).
The gospel of grace does not originate with man, nor is it initiated by man, nor is it carried out by man, nor does it glorify man. Paul says God set him apart before he was even born (Gal. 1:15)! What could he have done to save himself before he even came into this world?
And it was God who called Paul by his grace (Gal. 1:15). As a Jew who "was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers,” (Gal. 1:14) Paul was not in search of the one true God. Instead, God was “pleased to reveal his Son” to Paul “in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:16). As a result of this transformation, the Gentiles glorified God because of him (Gal. 1:24).
We see in this letter to the Galatians why Paul spared no effort in preserving the gospel: he knew it was from God alone and he personally knew its power, as it radically changed his own life. Paul wasn’t about to let the false brothers add anything, “that they might bring us into slavery” (Gal. 2:4).
DETHRONE SELF. ENTHRONE JESUS. REPEAT.
Questions of self aren’t always bad. It’s not wrong to examine yourself, to seek to understand how God gifted you and to ask him how you might serve him. But today we tend to look within to our own preferences and power, and then set out on a self-determined path, asking for the Lord’s blessings as an afterthought. We tend to behold ourselves far more than our Savior.
Certainly, some of the false brothers in Paul’s day operated in a similar way. Some of them preached salvation by grace through faith, but they added that you must be circumcised to be blessed.
And don’t we do this, too? Sure, Jesus is my Savior, but let me pull myself up by my bootstraps.
As Paul did then, so we must do now: we must preserve the gospel. We must take seriously any false teaching that slips in and enslaves. Truth be told, self is a wretched and inept master. We’re never sure we’ve done enough, tried hard enough, or pleased God enough, and so we look within and try harder and harder until we can try no more.
Any gospel that centers on self leads to exhaustion and death.
We must dethrone ourselves, enthrone Jesus, and repeat.
Repeatedly dethroning ourselves and enthroning our Savior isn’t popular. To center on Christ, even in the church sometimes, is out of fashion. But are we now seeking the approval of man or of God? If we try to please man, we cannot serve Christ (Gal. 1:10).
May you and I, with the help and grace of our Savior, remember that this life, this gospel, the truth, is all about him. May we, in the midst of the age of self, remember that it was God alone who set us apart before we were born, called us by his grace, and revealed his Son to us that we might glorify him.
Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for nearly two decades on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women to a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.