At Work & Public Square

The One Thing You Need to Know Yourself Better

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Relationships are essential for human flourishing. One of those relationships is with ourselves – understanding we have inherent value and dignity because we’re created in God’s image.

But we have a broken relationship with ourselves. We’ve forgotten why we were created, and what it is God created us to do.

How can this be fixed?

A Broken View of Self is Nothing New

“Your relationship with yourself is the foundation of everything,” is the mantra of our current culture.

This is nothing new. In the book of Judges we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

In II Timothy 3:1-5, the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, saying:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

Almost fifty years ago Francis Schaeffer wrote:

People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God. . . . We are watching our culture put into effect the fact that when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in our whole culture – in the theater of cruelty, in the violence in the streets, in the death of man in art and life.

In contrast, the biblical creation narrative of Genesis 1-2 suggests that we are created in the image of God, meaning we are created to hold a position of honor and dignity, serving him in all we do.

Immediately after God resolves to make man in his image and likeness, humans are blessed and granted a respected position of responsibility over creation (Genesis 1:26–28). Man is made God’s vice-regent, exercising divine lordship. Being a ruling sovereign in God’s creation confers honor and prominence to Adam and in turn to all humankind.

The author of the Book of Hebrews writes in his commentary on Genesis 1,

In putting everything under them [man], God left nothing that is not subject to them [man]. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them [man] (Hebrews 2:8).

Something has gone terribly wrong. Things are not the way they are supposed to be. We have forgotten why we were created and what we were made to do.

Our relationship with ourselves is broken.

Knowing God, Knowing Ourselves

It is helpful to see what has happened to humanity as God’s image-bearer in the redemptive historical framework we call the four-chapter gospel.

  • Chapter 1 (Creation) – The image of God in humanity is created to serve and glorify God as his vice-regent.
  • Chapter 2 (Fall) – The image of God in humanity is distorted by sin, no longer in relationship with the Creator and unable to fulfill his/her appointed duties.
  • Chapter 3 (Redemption) – The image of God in humanity is redeemed by Christ, who has restored our relationship with God, allowing us to rise to the role for which we were created.
  • Chapter 4 (Restoration) – The image of God in humanity restored to live forever in a new heaven and a new earth as part of the restored creation.

In the opening chapter of his Institutes, John Calvin makes a very profound statement: “Wisdom lies in knowing God and knowing oneself.”

Calvin explains the importance of knowing both God and oneself while emphasizing that without knowing God we will really never know ourselves.

Those who are in Christ are restored with the Father by what Christ has done on our behalf, not by anything we have done.

Only when that relationship has been restored can we begin to restore the broken relationship we have with ourselves.

As Richard Pratt writes in his book Designed for Dignity,

For those of us who have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God, we have the opportunity to put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

It is that new self that hears God’s call to live lives that make a difference.  A.W. Tozer writes,

We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.

In my next post I will look at how our relationships with others were broken at the Fall.

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