I've written (and preached) many times before about the religion of the self. We construct our lives around ourselves. Our thoughts of self are revealed in what we talk about. We enshrine ourselves on blogs, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter. We love ourselves, and we live in a "me"-centered world that teaches us how to love ourselves even more than we would have had we never come into contact with countless media telling us that we are the "it" of our own little worlds.
But, the truth be told, there are two angles from which people enter a me-centered life. The one everyone notes is the secular one. It is the one of practical, rather than philosophical, atheism. Practical atheism usually believes that God exists, but continues to live as though He doesn't. God is just the fairy godmother who shows up when life is acting like a mean old stepmother and won't let you go to the ball. Then we call upon him to fix our not-so-me-centered situation and restore it to a more me-centered situation. In other words, God is the means to our ends, and our ends are the pleasing of the self. When life isn't treating us so bad, God is put on the shelf. After all, this is the "me show," and it's all about me (and the things that make me feel good about myself). God, I'm sure has His own show, and is working to center things around him. I'm just following in His footsteps. Forget the fact that He deserves worship and I do not, I'm not giving up my great me-centered pursuits, because they will make me a better me and give to me a much better life. Hence, religion is good in the minds of these people because it enhances their me-worship in some way. If a religion requires sacrifice of self (e.g., biblical Christianity), that religion is seen as fanatical and a bad thing. All religions should lead to the same god, me.
But that's the secular version, the version that many people even professing to be Christians practice. After all, even Christianity can be watered down enough to make the transformation into a religion of the self (or haven't you been paying attention to what churches, books, radio programs, etc. sell these days to "Christian" audiences?). What I want to talk about now is the second angle one enters the religion of the self. This is an angle I feel is neglected, yet I see a lot of need to address it.
The second way someone enters a self centered life is by having God all over the place in it. Well, sort of at least. What I mean is that the God as judge and His law is everywhere. Grace is something for other people. Law stays at this house. This is the person who is constantly depressed over how sinful they are. They constantly beat themselves down as horrible sinners. They focus on the idea that they probably are not saved. This leads to further depression.
Here's my non-clinical, but highly interactive, diagnosis of depression: it occurs when someone is overly focused upon themselves. In other words, a major trap of the religion of self is to get you to take your focus off of Christ and put it onto yourself. This is accomplished by sin in your life. Sin then causes you to realize that the God who is good and rejects evil will not accept you as you are. You start feeling sorry for yourself, or hate yourself, or just plain feeling bad about yourself. Notice, that Christ is not in this picture. It is all about the self. And the more you concentrate on the self, the more sin you will commit in your life, since a cultivated love for Christ is the only way to gain victory over sin, and that is something this person does not have. Hence, the trap has been set, the trap has been sprung, the person remains a slave to self.
I used to counsel a lot of people who had chronic depression, and I can tell you, this is a characteristic that they ALL had in common. If Christ was in their lives, it was only as the Person for whom they were not good enough. Of course, this is all true, but the law exists to show us that Christ is our Savior from the self, not the One who condemns us to a life of hopelessness. He has come to destroy the works of the devil in our lives, and He does so through His love and grace in forgiving our heinous sins, so that we may forget about ourselves and focus on serving God. When we fail, He forgives us, so that we can get back up and start serving God again. We can fellowship with God, who is pleased with us, because He is pleased with Christ. There is now, therefore, no condemnation for the one who is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
For some reason this type of person thinks that he's being noble and honest by constantly focusing on his sin; but all he is doing is ensuring that his life will remain unpleasing to God, since his focus is on himself and not on the Savior who would save him from himself. Could it be that he doesn't really want to be saved from the self? Could it be that this too is just a way we can exalt, by focusing upon, ourselves in every thought and word while appearing contrite and repentant? But true repentance turns away from self toward Christ. That is what this person is not doing. He is turning to self in order to solve the problem of turning to self. Duh! Talk about fighting fire with fire.
But our answer to sin isn't ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. Looking at our present situation and thinking of self only destroys us. Think of the example Christ laid out for us on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had gone out to sea without Him. Suddenly, they are in a massive storm. They look over, and there He is, walking on the water. Peter says to Him, "Bid me come to you on the water." The Lord bids him to come. He steps out to follow Christ. But the winds and the waves our great, and Peter looks away from Christ to acknowledge the impossibility of the situation. It's clear he's thinking, "This is too much for me. The waves are too strong. I cannot prevail. I cannot walk on water. O wretched man that I am. I will surely perish." Of course, he has no ability to overcome the waves. He's not a savior. He's not a god. The One who stands in front of Him, unmoved by the mountains of water, unyielding to the most powerful of storms, is. Peter begins to sink. He's not going to make it. He's on his way to becoming fish food. Only when the Lord reaches down and grabs him, does he refocus his attention on the One who can save him. He is then saved.
This isn't just a nice story to tell your kids how cool Jesus is for walking on water. It's there to let us know that if we are going to be saved from our sinful selves, there is no way for us to do it without Him. Only He has the power to overcome the impossible situation, the overwhelming temptation to exalt the self above God. We must keep our eyes on Him. That is the only way to overcome the power of desire to worship the self. We will prevail only when we let go of thinking about ourselves all the time and let our thoughts dwell with Him and in Him instead. We ought to eat, drink, and breathe Christ. Because if we don't, we will be doomed to worship the self in one way or another forever. And I can think of nothing more depressing than that.
So stop obsessing over yourself, whether that is because you've been brainwashed in practical atheism or a more "pious" form of self abasement that allows you to make yourself the center of your own little world. And pick up your Bible, read, and pray, not because you want something for yourself, but because you want to love Christ more than yourself, because you don't want to let your oppressor reign anymore, but Christ who loved you and gave Himself up for you that you might become something greater than fish food.
Sin is powerful, but love is more so. What you love will ultimately be what empowers or destroys your sin. You don't need to look far for what you love. Just look to what your thoughts focus on the most. "For wherever a man's treasure [i.e., what he considers most valuable to dwell upon and focus his energy] is, there is his love also." You don't need self-help books, to muster up your own will power, or to get some support group of equally self exalting individuals to set you free from a depressed, and shackled, life of wallowing in the self. If you know this truth, that cultivating a thoughtful love of Christ in your daily life destroys the exaltation of self, then you know it will set you free. And if you don't know this truth, my hope for you is that you will come to know it and be free.
"If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:36)