Christianity, both contemporary and historical, has focused primarily on self-denial, and so has often mishandled and abused not only the concept of self, but the people it was meant to rescue and nurture. Biblically, there are actually five different selves, one of which is to be denied, but four of which are to be embraced, developed, and invested in. These five types are the created, false, redeemed, called, and eternal self.
1. The Created Self
Every child has their own unique personality, interests, and talents. As a parent who loves a child, you embrace these unique attributes, and because you love them, you want to help them embrace, develop, and invest in these potentials. Not only does God love this person he created, we ought to love them too. That is, we ought to love and embrace our own created self similarly.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
2. The False Self
Human sinfulness, that is, a foundational moral brokenness, is nearly universally admitted. Of course, the Christian approach to this fault is regeneration, that is, being born anew through receiving Christ. However, since the world outside of Christ does not have access to this solution, they take a host of other approaches. Humanists often deny our sinfulness, and emphasize that our evil is primarily to to external circumstances, not our inner brokenness. They suppose that if we create the perfect utopian circumstances, men will be good.
This is partly true and effective because mankind is both good and beautiful in creation, but bad and ugly in its brokenness. Investing in human potential (the created self) and improving his circumstances definitely works, but not completely because our foundational brokenness still exists.
The false self may be explained this way – it is the self we build with the motives of insecurity, ambition, and bitterness. We may even build our lives based on our created potentials and gifts, but this self is not the true self, and will not lead to true success or happiness.
In fact, without a Biblical framework, we may use the valid principle of fulfilling our potential as the only principle for direction in life and satisfaction. However, the problem with this approach is that, when driven by insecurity, ambition, and bitterness, there is no room in the heart for the motive that actually leads to satisfaction – love.
Of course, you do not need to be a Christian to recognize or implement a shift in motives by loving your created self, and improving yourself through discarding insecurity, bitterness, and even worldly ambitions. You can focus on using your gifts to serve others out of care for them. This, in a sense, is abandoning the false self, the self that we have built out of fear.
However, this approach may not be enough to free us from our false self.
3. The Redeemed Self
Learning to love our created self, and to abandon bad motives and love others is a tremendous step towards maturity and satisfaction in this life. But God offers an even deeper and greater opportunity for life, success, and peace. It is the chance to heal the root of our brokenness, our sinfulness, to experience His perfect love in the depths of our souls, and to give us access to the power and truth that can make us not just our best created selves, but also like Himself. That is, to make us literally Christ-like.
Taking the basic humanist approach, we can learn to love and use our gifts, yet still have the root of our brokenness continue to poison our relationships and efforts. This is not just due to a lack of wisdom or skill, but due to the continued existence of our deep sinful brokenness. And this is what being “redeemed,” literally “bought back from slavery,” involves.
The Biblical cure that heals this deep root is called regeneration, i.e. being “born again.” It is not merely an emotional experience, nor a shift in perspective, nor a new allegiance, though it is all of those things. It is a material change in our being that occurs when we receive Christ, our creator, into our hearts to heal and restore us.
Jesus replied, “I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12)
3.1 How is the redeemed self more than just the created self?
What happens when we admit we are lost without God, and ask Him to save and change us? When the life of God revives our spiritual deadness and restores us to a relationship with God, we have significantly expanded not only our healing and potential, but our opportunity to develop spiritual and natural gifts we previously lacked access to. These new opportunities include:
1. A new self that desires holiness and moral rightness
With the entrance of the Holy Spirit into our lives, our lack of love for what is good is replaced with an often strange desire to do the right thing; not just ethically, but personally and deeply within our hearts. Where formerly we may have thought little of having sex outside of marriage, we suddenly want to live out our relationships within the bounds of commitments like marriage. We may suddenly want to stop cheating in business or on taxes. We may suddenly loathe our fetishes for possessions, sports, or radical identities by which we formerly identified ourselves. This is actually a liberation from our false self.
In fact, access to the Spirit of God working deep in our souls gives us a much greater ability to develop the virtues of love in ways we never even knew existed. Check out this list, it describes whom we can become as we leverage what God’s spirit gives as in redemption. We must ask ourselves, would people describe us this way today?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
2. The experience of the love of God
While attempts at loving ourselves and others are worthwhile, these efforts pale in comparison to being in the presence of God’s pure love and being healed by it. Many people, including myself, can attest to the amazing waves of healing that occur when we first experience the love of God in our time alone with Him. Such experience may not persist at all times, but the reality of being deeply known and loved is transforming, and enables us to love in ways previously unknown to us. The amount of emotional healing that comes in the experience of God’s love can not be overstated.
3. The experience of communion, communication, and instruction with God
One of the natural reactions to the grandeur of nature is awe, which is literally a type of worship. The feeling is literally “awesome,” and gives us a sense of peace. In a sense, this shows us that we are made for worship. When we experience God, who is the creator of nature, it is natural and awesome to find ourselves in a posture of worship. In fact, we realize that we were created for it! This communion with God is literally life giving, and is one of the elements missing from the non-redeemed life.
In addition, we find that God wants to personally communicate with us, not just indirectly, but conversationally in our minds and spirit. Admittedly, this communication is subjective, and we often struggle in this area because our minds are often insufficiently renewed to hear well, but it is still a reality that we can learn to communicate with God.
Lastly, we now have instruction from God. Not only does God promise to lead, teach, and and give us wisdom beyond those around us, he does so without requiring anything more from us than belief that He is generous enought to give it to all who ask, without our having to be “good enough.”
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. (James 1:5-6a)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:26)
But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. (1 John 2:27)
4. The power to overcome fleshly addictions
Sometimes our best efforts at overcoming addictions fail. While recieving Christ is not a magic pill that instantly frees us, it does promise to give us the ability to overcome these problems. While many are instantly released from addiction upon receiving Christ, others of us must work through our hurts and hangups through a recovery program like Celebrate Recovery. But the good news is, we are not fighting on our own anymore, and the root of the problem, our sinful and broken nature, is now repaired in our inner being, and spreading from the inside outwards.
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. (Galatians 5:16)
5. The awakening and liberating of previously undiscovered abilities
Not only were some of our natrual abilities suppressed or warped by our emotional baggage and hopeless or wordly mindset, the Bible teaches that with our new life come new spiritual gifts and talents previously unknown or inaccessible to us. These include natrual and supernatural abilities to teach, motivate, inspire, understand, have mercy on the hurting, be hospitable, and anonymously serve others with a deep joy.
Personally, when I became a new Christian, my abilities in music and public speaking awoke in ways that surprised even myself, and learning the proper rules for interpreting scripture and discovering truth improved my analytical mind a hundred fold.
4. The Called Self
Beyond the created and redeemed selves, there is the person we are to become through dedication to a purpose larger than ourselves. A comittment to a larger narrative of history, and of dedication to a cause greater than just our own self is how we create meaning.
Of course, there are many narratives that attempt to explain the progress of history, and provide a framework of hope under which we can labor. It may be an evironmental narrative, or a global spiritual awakening narrative, or a healing narrative, or a human utopian narrative like Communism or Communalism.
But Biblically speaking, the arc of history surrounds the restoration of humanity to God through Jesus. He died to rescue us from death, from the penalty of sin, and for an eternity of fellowship with God and one another in a new creation free from sin, sickness, and death. And He invites us to participate in that purpose.
He has saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but by His own purpose and by the grace He granted us in Christ Jesus before time began. (2 Timothy 1:9)
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Though we might not be called as a prophet to the nations as Jeremiah was, we are all called to works that God has prepared for us to do. This calling shapes who we are in this world in that we now are meant to fit our created self, and our redeemed self, into the grander work of God. In fact, Jesus gave a very specific call to all those who follow Him – it’s called The Great Comission:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
5. The Eternal Self
There is a reason why the cause of Jesus is more valuable and important than all other temporal, well-meaning causes and narratives. Because His Kingdom is coming, in which all of creation will be restored, and where individuals will be restored and given imperisable bodies with eternal life.
Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies….
For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44a, 53-54a)
Other narratives do not overcome our biggest enemy, death. Some worldviews, such as eastern religions, offer some hope for eternal life, but through reincarnation, where we must re-enter into the cycle of death and earn our enlightenment over hundreds, if not thousands of lifetimes. If we are particularly wicked, this means that our next life might be as a cow killed for meat, or a bug that we squashed.
This is a feeble hope compared to what Christ offers – and what he demonstrated was true by His resurrection from the dead, as well as his many healings and miracles during his life on earth.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
You and I have the chance to inherit eternal life in a new body in a recreated, perfect earth. And we have the opportunity, if not obligation to love and serve others, bringing this “good news” to them. Those who do not “enter the Kingdom” have no hope of entering it or overcoming death. Instead, they will face the day of judgment and then fail to recieve life, but die again, irreversibly.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
There is much more to be written about how we approach these five selves, especially mistakenly, both in the world and the Church. However, now you know what is available. May you become your best self. Your eternal self.