The False and True Self
As we turn to Mark 12, and if you’re watching online, I encourage you to grab a Bible and join us. Glad you’re participating.
I want to highlight a new ministry that I am super excited about, have been praying about this for several years, longing for us to have this. It’s called Re:generation or Re:gen. You’ve heard a few announcements over the last couple of weeks about this. It is a 12-step discipleship program that answers the question: How do I find recovery in Christ when my life is broken? By working through these 12 biblical steps within a real community, people have found freedom from substance abuse, codependency, pornography, eating disorders, depression, fear, control, emotional and physical abuse, same sex attraction, anger, obsessive thoughts, many other personal struggles.
Regen is a year round program that meets on Monday evenings from 6:30-8:30, beginning September 13th, a week from Monday. It is open to all. And if you can’t jump in right away, you can visit the first Monday of each month. Newcomers can check it out without commitment. And then if they decide to commit, they can buy the workbooks. It is a big commitment. But it is a big commitment that can lead to big transformation. So, I hope you will pray about jumping into this incredible opportunity. Child care is provided. You can register on the Need2Know at our church’s website — northhillschurch.com, Need2Know.
In an interview for Christianity Today, Sheila Walsh said this:
“In 1992 my life hit the wall. One morning I was sitting on national television with my nice suit and my inflatable hairdo, and that night I was in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. It was the kindest thing God could have done to me.
The very first day in the hospital, the psychiatrist asked me, ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m the co-host of The 700 Club.’
That’s not what I meant,’ he said.
‘Well, I’m a writer. I’m a singer.’
‘That’s not what I meant. Who are you?’
‘I don’t have a clue,’ I said.
And he replied, ‘That’s right, and that’s why you’re here.’
And the greatest thing I discovered there is sometimes some of God’s most precious gifts come in packets that make your hand bleed when you open them, but inside that’s what you’ve been longing for all your life — to be fully known and fully loved. I measured myself by what other people thought of me. That was slowly killing me.
Before I entered the hospital, some of the 700 Club staff said to me, ‘Don’t do this. You will never regain any kind of platform. If people know you were in a mental institution and on medication, it’s over.’
I said, ‘You know what? It’s over anyway. So I can’t think about that.’
I really thought I had lost everything. My house. My salary. My job. Everything. But I found my life. I discovered at the lowest moment of my life that everything that was true about me, God knew.”
Everything that was true about me, God knew. What Sheila describes here is the experience of every single believer, every real follower of Jesus. Not that every believer has inflatable hair or will lose their job or go into a psychiatric ward. Many will. But every believer will lose himself in order to find himself. Every true believer will lose herself before she finds herself.
Jesus says in Mark 8:35, if you try to save your self, your life, You will lose yourself. You’ll lose your life. Mark 8:34, the verse right before that,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny [what?] himself [herself] and take up his cross and follow me.”
God will always remain a concept to us, a commodity, a means to an end, until we experience the death and resurrection of the self. Let me say that again. God will always remain a concept to us, a commodity, a means to an end, until we experience the death and the resurrection of the self.
So, in light of this, it’s not surprising that immediately following the barrage of attacks that Jesus has experienced, what Ryan the last two weeks has called, “The Interrogation” (end of chapter 11, pretty much all of chapter 12), Jesus focuses in on his identity. In 12:35-37 he reveals his true identity. He is not simply King David’s lineage, he is King David’s Lord. He’s not just King David’s son, he’s God’s Son. After clarifying his own identity, Jesus ends his public ministry in the Gospel of Mark in the last two paragraphs of Mark 12, by exposing the difference between the fake and the true — the fake self and the true self. He does this first by issuing a warning in 12:38. “Beware of the scribes.” They’re held up as a model of the fake self, the false.
Let’s talk about our false self, some characteristics. Our false self, first of all, seeks to be impressive, seeks to be impressive. Verse 38, “who like to walk around in long robes.” These are shoulder-to-floor prayer shawls, complete with some very cool tassels. They were a sign of religious and economic status in that day.
Secondly, verse 38, “who like greetings in the marketplaces.” They want to be known, to be recognized. It feels so good to be admired.
Third, verse 39, “and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts.” To feel important. “No, no, no, no, you don’t sit here, you sit up there. You’re more valuable. You’re important.”
The kinds of questions the false self asks based on this passage: How do I look (with my new prayer shawl)? What are people thinking of me (as I manage my image)? Where do I fit in (at home, at church, at school, at work, in this room that I’m walking into and I don’t know people)? Where do I fit in? What have I achieved (to feel like I’ve made a difference, that I am someone)? Something that separates me from just being part of the mob. Our false self is always measuring and comparing, seeking to be impressive.
Secondly, are false self tends to be oppressive. The false self tends to use people rather than love people. Look at verse 40. “Who devour widow’s houses.” Witherington explains that the phrase “to devour a house” is a technical expression in extra-biblical Greek, referring to devouring “someone’s funds or property.” Using a position of trust to exploit someone or take advantage of the vulnerable.
For example, I knew a widow who lived in a tiny house. If you went by her home, you would think she was dirt poor. But she had millions of dollars invested. She didn’t have any children. Her great joy was funding the spreading of the joy of Jesus here and around the world. She gave away her money freely. And in her will, she had designated these millions of dollars to various ministries around the world who were training up leaders to expand the gospel of Jesus. Well, as she began to grow weaker and lose her mental clarity, a young couple posing as Christians won her trust, moved into her home to take care of her, eventually coerced her into changing her will to funnel the funds to their own benefit. They devoured a widow’s house.
Now, the false self is a striking contrast to what Ryan was talking about last week. We will not love God or love neighbor when we are consumed with our own image and our own needs and our own agenda and our own accomplishments. We will use people rather than love people and it will seem right to us. Our false self tends to be oppressive.
Third, our false self can be repressive. We will try to suppress. What are we suppressing? Look at verse 40, “for a pretense make long prayers.” The word pretense is “to show, a veneer, a cloak, a cover up.” In one sense, these long prayers are simply another example of the attempt to impress people. But notice the context here. They also might be an attempt to repress. The size of the prayers is placed right next to the size of the condemnation. Verse 40, “For pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Their big prayers cannot repress, cannot cover up their big judgment. And the more they pray it seems like the greater their judgment is going to be.
Early on, our false self knows something’s wrong. Pretending to love people is not the same as loving people. It’s not as satisfying. Bluffing is not as satisfying as believing. Using people leaves us feeling like a shady salesman. We know there’s something wrong. The longer we go on living that way, the more right and even necessary that kind of falseness begins to appear. And what ends up happening is, we try to compensate. We know something’s wrong, so we have to compensate. So, the long prayers we’re hoping will offset the coming judgment because we know judgment is coming. Look at Romans 1:18,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
This is the irreligious version of truth suppression. The very next chapter has the religious version. Romans 2:3,
“Do you suppose, O man — you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself — that you will escape the judgment of God?”
A lot of liturgy will not offset a lack of integrity. A lot of liturgy, long prayers or whatever you try to do to compensate, will not offset a lack of integrity. This is what Isaiah’s concern was in Isaiah 58. You fast, you pray, and yet you’re oppressing the people you work with. You’re fighting for your rights. This is the kind of fast I want, he says in verse 6. Isaiah 58:6,
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Hide yourself. Do you know that religious performance can be a way we hide ourselves? The false self will use whatever it can use to impress, oppress, repress.
Look at the true self, our true self. In verses 41-44, the true self is pictured as a widow in contrast to the false self pictured as a scribe. In verse 38, Jesus said, “watch out for the scribes.” And now in verse 41 and following, he is watching the widow. So, watch out for him. Don’t be like him. Then, watch the widow. Emulate the widow. Look at verse 41,
“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”
Jesus is moving in the temple, from the court of the Gentiles (which is the big outer court), into the inner court, the court of women, where the treasury was. The treasury consisted of thirteen offering chests or boxes with a trumpet shaped metal thing on the top so that you couldn’t reach in and grab a handful. It also provided the handy benefit of when you poured in your coins, if you were giving a big offering, you just hear lots of noise. Everybody listening, big offering, impressive. And it may have been the way Jesus knew how much the widow was giving because her offering was very unimpressive. Not much noise, slight clinking as the two lepta, these two tiny, they call them here “two small copper coins.” Literally in the Greek, it’s two lepta. The lepta was the smallest coin in circulation. It was about 1/64th of a working man’s daily wage. It’s virtually nothing. As far as the benefit to the repairs on the temple, it’s not going to help much. As far as the benefit to the poor, which many of these offerings went to, not going to do much. It’s virtually meaningless compared to others. Yet look what Jesus did in verse 43,
“He called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”
Jesus calls his team for a huddle. Wouldn’t that have been a beautiful thing to watch? All these guys gathered around Jesus saying, “Look at her. Look how much she just gave.” And they’re just looking at him totally unimpressed. She gave more, she put in more. But everything about her screams less, but Jesus sees more. Why? Because she put in everything.
Now, of course, Jesus is talking here about money, but he’s talking about much more. The scribes were always posturing themselves to be noticed more, to be greeted more, to accumulate more at the expense of the widows. To pray more, longer prayers in order to impress and oppress and suppress. The irony here is thick. The ones who crave attention, more and more attention, receive a warning from Jesus. “Beware of them.”
And the one who doesn’t care is invisible, completely unnoticed to everyone around them, gets the notice of Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth. Look at her! Look how much she gave. She simply showed up with her “less.” She can’t compete with their “more.” She died to that a long time ago. She died to the desire to impress, oppress, suppress. She just shows up. This is what I’ve got, I’ll give that. The glory of God and the good of her neighbors are more important to her than her image or even her needs.
Now that is heresy in our culture. If we have a state religion in America, it is selfism. And you never want to question the doctrinal statement of this religion of selfism. If you Google, “How do I find my true self,” in less than a second you’re going to get around 3.5 billion results. And many of these methods can be super helpful on a practical level, but they’re often described as the greatest accomplishment in your life. If you live and die, and you find your true self, you have lived and died a worthy life. Most true self plans include steps like these:
Be present — give yourself space and time and care for your body.
Take an inventory — make sense of your past, and be sure to differentiate yourself from your past selves and external voices.
Define values — what is really important to you?
Say no — to destructive thoughts, to toxic relationships.
Express yourself — recognize your personal power to desire, to act, to explore.
Establish priorities — choose your words and activities that resonate with you, and then block off time to do what you really want to do.
And then execute plan — live it out, and be sure to re-evaluate to make sure that your plan is in line with your values, continue to evolve.
Are these steps good or bad? You’re all like, “I know we’re getting set up.” They are good, when they’re used in a particular context. A lot of these are biblical principles when they’re used in the right context.
But I think we need to explore this from a bigger perspective. Should I be trying to find my true self? A couple of thoughts on this.
First of all, this question is situational. What I mean by that is, this question is culturally situated. If I asked my grandfather, “Gramp, have you found your true self?” He would scowl at me. What are you talking about? I’m trying to get a job. I’m trying to put food on my family’s table. I’m trying to clothe my children. I’m trying to help my neighbor get his car fixed so he can go to work and do the same. What are you talking about, find your true self? A culture has to gain a certain level of opulence for that question to make much sense.
Secondly, this question can be circular. And I say “can be” because it doesn’t have to be. But in our culture, it is. By circular, I mean, it’s self-referential. The difference between your true self and your false self is defined internally and subjectively. You must be you. Well, how do I know when I’m truly in touch with my inner you? Well, you know because you’ve found you. And if you use any kind of external standard or any kind of guide to define where you really need to be, then you’re immediately defined as inauthentic. The only you has to be defined by you.
So, if I have a passion to bungee, I’m going to leave my wife and kids, I’m going to abandon my job, I’m going to spend the rest of my life bungeeing off bridges around the world. This is something I’ve always longed for. When I’m floating through the air upside down, I feel alive like no other time. That’s when I feel like I’m not playing by somebody else’s music. That’s when I feel really tuned in to who I am and what I was made to do. And if you question my choice of leaving my family and disregarding all my obligations, then you’re just a bungee bigot. Don’t judge me! As Neil Pasricha in his book, “You Are Awesome,” says this.
“When you’re authentic, you end up following your heart, and you put yourself in places and situations and conversations that you love and that you enjoy … And you end up following your heart and feeling very fulfilled.”
Do you see the circularity? How do I know if I’m authentic? Well, you follow your heart. Well, how do you know if you’re following your heart? Well, you end up following your heart and you feel fulfilled about following your heart. I’m getting the feeling like a dog is chasing its own tail. The Bible would call this form of seeking your true self as idolatry. 2 King 17:15,
“They went after false idols and became false.”
They chased themselves until they became themselves. So, if that’s what we mean by finding our true selves, then we are simply pursuing a secular, solitary version of the fake self of the scribes.
So, back to our question, should I be trying to find my true self? Well, this question can be biblical. The Bible, more than any other ancient literature, addresses the self. And that was very rare back then. But when you read Jesus pleading with his hearers, “If you try to save yourself, you’re going to lose yourself.” When you read Paul describing in places like Romans 7, this rich inner life — the things I want to do, I can’t do — all this internal torment. He’s describing his understanding of the self.
But we don’t have time to walk through all those. So, let me just give you a couple of examples from David in Psalm 103:1, for example. He said,
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!”
He is implying here that parts of him tend to go rogue. They become false. And he is praying to God, I don’t want that. I don’t want just part of me worshiping you and then part of me worshiping other people. “All that is within me bless your holy name.” Or one that I just cannot get away from is Psalm 86:10-11,
“For you are great and [you] do wondrous things; you alone are God.”
Exclusive. Bungee jumping is not God. My view of myself is not ultimate. It’s important, it’s not ultimate. He establishes this, just like we heard last week with Deuteronomy 6. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. In light of that, love him and love your neighbor. Same thing here. You alone are God. Next verse, verse 11, in light of that,
“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; [Your way defines my walk, so I’ll know what is true and what is false. I’m not just following my heart.] unite my heart to fear your name.”
This is my prayer. God, please unite my heart to fear your name. I am a “scri-dow” — a scribe and a widow mushed together, a “scri-dow.” There are times where I think all I want to do is worship you, Lord. I just want you glorified. I don’t care about anything else. And then there are times where I think I am consumed with what people think. I want them to think well of me. And all that gets tangled together. And it’s like, God, please, I don’t even know my own heart. They say follow your heart. Which heart? What parts of the heart? David, acknowledging this says, God, you are the heart knower. Please unite my heart to fear your name, to stand in awe of you, because I won’t really know myself by seeking myself. I will know myself when I’m seeking you. You kill my false self, you raise up who I really am.
Back to Sheila as an example. Remember, she ended this way:
“I really thought I had lost everything. My house. My salary. My job. Everything. But I found my life. I discovered at the lowest moment of my life that everything that was true about me, God knew.”
And she goes on to describe after being in the hospital for three weeks, she asked the doctor if she could go to church. They sent two nurses with her. She went to this little Episcopal church in downtown Washington, D.C. As the priest was ministering, and the hymns were being sung, she said the old hymn described her perfectly.
“Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling.”
She had given everything, like the widow. Here, God. It’s not much, but it’s all yours. It’s all yours. And she concludes this way:
“Jesus knew the worst, and he loved me. What relief to know the worst about yourself and at the same moment to be embraced by God. It’s so liberating to reach the end of yourself.”
Woah, the end of yourself? When you come to the end of yourself. This is what Jesus was talking about when he says if you lose your life, you’ll find it. If you lose yourself, you find it. You come to the end of yourself and you find yourself. He raises up to a new you.
So, question: This morning, will you offer yourself today? How do I do that? First, repent of the false. Be honest. If the Spirit has put his finger in your heart on ways you are managing your image, afraid to be candid about your struggles, unwilling to get help. People have thought of me as a Christian for so long, they are impressed with my long shawl. I can’t come out and say a lot of this has been a lie, or I need help. James Finley wrote this,
“There is something in me that puts on fig leaves of concealment, kills my brother, builds towers of confusion, and brings cosmic chaos upon the earth.”
Now stop there for a second. James, calm down! What he did is he just walked us through the beginning of Genesis, right? To help us understand that this brokenness within us, this false self, doesn’t just affect us. It is the source, ultimately, of all the brokenness in the universe as the creation groans, longing for us to become what we were ultimately made to be. It shatters relationships, divides marriages, breaks up churches and life groups, causes people to not trust other people, and it leads to all the garbage you see going on in the world around us. This is not a secondary issue. This is very core. Will we start here repenting of our false selves?
“There is something in me that loves darkness rather than light, that rejects God and thereby rejects my own deepest reality as a human person made in the image and likeness of God.”
We will not know ourselves. Until we come to the One who made us and knows who we really are. Will we repent of the false? I don’t want to be a “scri-dow.” I want to be yours. And so that means we’re offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. It’s an ongoing thing, daily yielding ourselves up. As Colossians 3 describes, in Jesus we have
“put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
And this transformation from the false to the real is individual, yes, but it’s also collective — we together. We are not changed alone, we are changed together. The person who is most frustrating to you might be part of God’s transforming work, moving you out of the fake into the real.
I know this can be overwhelming at this point. It’s so big. Let’s bring it down. What one step can you take right now, today, to move from fake to real? It may even be a tiny one. For some of us it’s a huge step. It’s saying for the first time, “Jesus, I need you to save me. I can’t save myself. I can’t even find myself by looking for myself. I look to you. You will reveal who I really am through your death, your burial, your resurrection.”
Others of us. Maybe need to confess a sin we’ve been hiding that hurts people near us deeply. Come out of the shadows, quit living the fake, and let’s be honest. Others may sign up for Regen and say, “Man, there are layers of hurt and everything else. I don’t even know where to start. This kind of message just cause me to turn off everything. I don’t even know where to begin.” Well, that’s why we have help, so that you, in an authentic community, can face who you are in all the brokenness and then move toward who Christ is transforming you to be. Will you take a step? I mean, there may be others the Spirit is speaking to you about. Let’s just take a moment right now to bow our heads and ask the Spirit to guide us. What’s the next step?
Spirit of truth, we ask that you would show us what that next step is so that we don’t become like a group of scribes. It’s so easy to look at them and think, “Oh, that’s disgusting.” But we see ourselves in them. Apart from your grace, it is so easy to stay fake and to figure ways to manage what we let out and what we keep hidden.
Jesus, thank you for these gifts, these images. You speak in such vivid images with the scribes and this beautiful widow. So, Lord, I pray there would be hundreds of little offerings being presented right now. Lord, I’m giving you my life. I’m trusting you with this difficult situation where you are revealing parts of me that I feel are only being revealed because of this person pushing my buttons. But Lord, it is you revealing the falseness within my heart and drawing me to yourself. I pray that we would act, we would respond so that we as individuals and as a church would be much more like this widow than these scribes. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.