More and more people these days swallow the lie that what the Bible calls sin is nothing more than harmless displays of self-expression and that the real sin is self-repression. They’ve decided the only way to become liberated from outdated morals is through self-expression. Is it any wonder church attendance is declining in America? The last thing an unbeliever wants to hear is putting Christ first is the key to a meaningful life. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Well, that traumatizes their ego so they reject the idea out of hand. Larry Crabb wrote, “Because our soul is so thoroughly stained with self-reliance, the death of pride feels like the death of our self.” That’s why the cult of self-expression gains more converts daily. Its strong allure is its claim that every person has an inalienable right to express their self regardless of what “God’s laws” mandate; that no matter their preferences, the rest of us must either recognize them as fine and dandy or doom ourselves to being labeled bigots. The “modernization” of our education system bears a lot of the blame for this trend. The focus has shifted from teaching our children the “3 Rs” and the advantages of self-discipline to training them how to best express themselves. That approach doesn’t efficiently instill anything in them except an unrealistic “entitlement” mindset.
But I digress. It’s more productive we delve into how this philosophy affects the realms of religion and the soul. In regards to religion in general it’s obvious the average person’s attitude towards it continues to deteriorate. For most of this country’s history folks more or less maintained a negative position when it came to wrongdoing. Some readily acknowledged being excuseless sinners. Some defended their sinful ways, claiming “nobody’s perfect.” Some didn’t even try to curb their iniquitous ways because, having been baptized, they figured their sins were automatically forgiven on the spot. The more liberal of thinkers opined breaking God’s laws an unavoidable byproduct of exploring their inquisitive intellect. But what they all had in common was the admission of sin. Whether they wanted it to or not, their conscience convicted them of doing what they knew the Bible taught was undeniably wrong. If a person thought they were sinless they were branded a conceited jerk and shunned by the overwhelming majority of the populace. Sin was something one should be ashamed of committing, no matter the circumstance.
It’s the opposite nowadays. Self-expression has staged a coup. Rather than resisting the charges lodged against it by religion, it accuses religion of being the enemy of freedom. Self-expression no longer tries to earn legitimacy but blatantly declares itself to be the only path to finding lasting happiness and fulfillment. Its proponents regard the whole concept of sin a dastardly ploy of the Church; that it’s not only false but downright tyrannical because it smothers personal growth. The secular world would rejoice if anyone who dared call someone a “sinner” could be charged with a hate crime. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls this era “the age of self-authenticity” wherein “…we have moved away from finding our identity in God, the church, the state, or even our nuclear family to seeking meaning and personal value in our own individual self-expression.” In other words, the atheists and agnostics have turned the tables on Christians. Believers who try to live according to the Holy Word’s instructions are now the “bad guys” whose central aim is to stifle humankind’s uniqueness and creativity. Honored traditions and sound doctrine mean little to the 21st century “cosmopolitan” man or woman.
There’s no room for Jesus in their worldview because His restrictive teachings only get in the way of their “being themselves.” And they’re right about that. Our Savior was consistently outspoken against sin. He didn’t beat around the bush or try to water down His warnings about it. Christ said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into fiery hell” (Matthew 18:8-9). While our Lord was speaking figuratively about removing body parts the spiritual implications couldn’t be clearer. Sins have severe and potentially eternal consequences and we humans must be willing to take drastic measures to avoid committing them. To remain doggedly unrepentant is as foolish as spitting in the face of the judge who, solely out of the goodness of his heart, has just offered to pardon you.
As the title indicates, self-expression is empty of substance if one fails to first realize who their self is. When a person’s conception of self is off kilter from the get-go they can express till the cows come home and it won’t amount to a hill of beans. Even worse, they can waste a lot of hours, days and years they’ll never get back. (Trust me, I know.) Now, self-expression in and of itself is not sinful. But if it causes a person’s lifestyle to run counter to God’s will nothing worthwhile can come of it. Notice that in Christ’s arresting statement He emphasizes the word “you.” “If your eye causes you to sin… it is better for you…” That’s important because the modern secular view doesn’t see any difference between the self and the miscellaneous factors that undoubtedly influence the self – the very same external factors the self employs to express itself! Jesus, in directing His stern message to you (and me), made it plain as the nose on our mugs there’s a distinct difference to stay aware of, indeed. The theory of evolution, taught in schools and universities as if it’s been proven as true as 1+1=2 (it hasn’t), stands in defiance of Christ’s statement because it insists human beings are no more than a conglomerate of innumerable forces and powers interacting in unpredictable ways. That what we call “self” is really a mysterious blend of an array of all sorts of influences. These may include such things as one’s physical characteristics or the efficiency of one’s internal organs and glands that control the body. Therefore if one particular glandular secretion tends to dominate, it can have a profound effect on one’s personality/demeanor. Lloyd-Jones wrote, “According to this view, man is nothing but a biological mechanism, and his self, his personality, is purely the resultant of the interplay of biological forces.” As far as the Darwinism hoax goes, I like what Jeffrey D. Johnson said about it in his excellent book, The Absurdity of Unbelief. “It’s not as if Darwin observed any instance where there was a creative process or development of new entities where those entities were not in existence in the first place. The survival of the fittest is one thing; the arrival of the fittest is quite another. Let’s not get these two things confused.” In Psalms we’re told God formed us inside our mother’s womb. Here Jesus confirms that what makes you you is entirely separate from your internal/external influences.
Some non-believers think the self is merely a casserole of a host of instincts (herd, protective, fear, sex, hunger, etc.). Others think it’s all about one’s ancestry, genetic code, upbringing and environmental surroundings, both geographic and climatic. This is where race, bloodlines and nationality come into play. The sad result of all these man-made hypotheses is that the true definition of self has been left by the wayside. Kids are taught they’re not a one-of-a-kind spiritual entity at all but a result of random material factors coming together coincidentally. Thus, in order to discover their “inner child” they must allow their animal instincts to govern their conduct and outlook. To repress any impulse will cause them to become frustrated, incomplete adults. In contrast to what Christ preached, they’re told that to consider one’s hands, feet or eyes offensive (the King James translation says “…if thy hand or thy foot offend thee…”) is nonsense because they constitute part of one’s self. The Son of God said they don’t. He taught they’re simply appendages which the self is to manipulate and exert its will over. That one’s self is infinitely greater than the sum of all the factors previously mentioned for there’s been planted in each of us an element that transcends everything else – our eternal soul. If God were to obliterate all subatomic particles in the universe your self would still be here. You’d still be you.
The real travesty of the secular viewpoint, though, is that self-expression tends to be highly selective and biased when it comes to choosing which of these many factors are to be granted precedence. In other words, it attempts to justify and rationalize sin by discounting the factors that don’t jibe with one’s interests and pleasures. Self-expression may try to subdue (or even murder) the irritating conscience that won’t stop reminding them of what’s wrong and what’s right. Modern man deems conscience to be an insidious guilt trip foisted upon people consisting of primitive religious tenets and worn-out dogma. But if that’s all the conscience is wouldn’t it have been exorcised by science and logic by now? The truth is, whether a person heeds it or ignores it, they have one. Conscience, like the ability to reason, is exclusively human. No animal pauses to ponder ethics or metaphysics. But the modernistic way of thinking urges folks to cease all this silly gibberish about an invisible kingdom of God and let our base nature and instincts take over because in order to fully express one’s self one must turn the animal in them loose to run free. This leads to some individuals becoming led only by their yearning to satisfy their sex instinct and/or to pacify their hunger and survival instincts. We see on the evening news every night what those particularly heinous “self-expressions” end up producing and it ain’t fine art.
The secular world’s analysis of what constitutes self is depressing. By identifying the self with only elemental forces it robs men and women of their greatest blessing – their God-bestowed soul and spirit. Those folks gag the inner voice that tells them they’re not only independent of their body with all its weaknesses and frailties but immensely greater than it. To be informed one’s self is basically on a par with a rodent’s is insulting because it disregards all that’s noble and special in us. Self is not a jumble of impulses and instincts. We each have an immortal soul endowed with a will that can, with God’s help, overpower those sinful impulses and instincts and put them to healthy, productive use. The “you” Christ referred to doesn’t have to be a slave to your hands, feet, eyes or emotions. By drawing on the power invested in you by the Holy Spirit you can control what you do with your hands, where you go with your feet, what you ogle with your eyes and the attitude you project.
So what makes this modern cult of self-expression so attractive? It turns selfishness into a virtue. One can’t be offended by what their hands do, where their feet go or eyes see if their self isn’t held accountable to the holy God who gave them their self. If they consider themselves a free agent who answers to no one they’ll refuse to deem anything they enjoy taboo because they’re so infatuated with their faux freedom. What they’ll call truly offensive is Jesus’ insistence they amputate and discard any part of what they’ve determined is their “perfect” self. In their mind being true to “who they are” can’t possibly be a sin. And therein lays the epitome of pride-fueled foolishness. They don’t want to recognize sin for what it is and how it corrupts the soul. The irony is, if not for sin, self-expression wouldn’t have a downside. If we were still the untainted men and women God intended us to be all our impulses and instincts would continually glorify the great I AM by default. But that’s not how things are. Sin entered the world and wrecked the joint. Lloyd-Jones said, “The very faculties and powers which were designed to be the servants of man have become his masters. But for sin, it would be legitimate for him to allow his impulses to guide him. Because of sin there’s nothing so dangerous as to allow them to do so.”
There are many reasons why our beloved country is headed for disaster but the main reason is the only recognized moral standard is whether or not something feels good and/or exciting. Doing something simply for the wholesomeness, truthfulness or beauty involved is out the window. Like spoiled toddlers, people insist on doing what they prefer and they justify their actions using that criterion alone. Any criticism of their behavior is met with how-dare-you indignation and accusations that you’re trying to deny them their constitutional right to express their self. Yet they don’t consider themselves selfish at all. Sin’s blinded them to the fact that in silencing their conscience and killing their ability to reason (so they can wallow in their animalistic lusts and cravings) they’re snuffing out the desire to attain holiness and righteousness sown in their soul by God. They don’t pay attention to history because they never like what it reveals. Every person who dedicated their lives solely to the pursuit and gratification of their own self-centered wants and yens died without ever attaining total fulfillment.
It’s not easy being a Christian, striving to live by the standards set forth in God’s Holy Word. We’re labeled intolerant, out-of-touch party poopers who stupidly believe there’s a hell (snicker, snicker). If one’s existence ended at the moment of physical death I guess none of what I’ve been going on about matters. But my Lord and Savior said our souls will live on forever and the Holy Spirit who resides in me assures me He was being truthful. In Matthew 18:8-9 Jesus wasn’t trying to frighten or shackle us; He was trying to save us from ourselves. God didn’t mold us out of the dust of the earth to be just another species of mammal; He set us apart by creating each one of us in His image. Unlike the animals, He entrusted each of us with a gift to treasure – a soul. He also provided us with the ideal model of what self-expression looks like in the divine personage of Christ who lived His life in flawless obedience to the will of His Heavenly Father. So we must all ask ourselves what we’ve made of our self and if we’ve efficiently expressed our identity as an adopted child of God. Have we kept our candle of truth secreted away inside the safe confines of our home or have we risked bringing it out into the open and allowing it to light up the world around us? Have we used our God-given talents to glorify the King of Kings and spread the Good News of the Gospel or have we hoarded our portion like the paranoid servant in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) who “…went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it.” God will hold us accountable for what we did with the gifts He gave us.
Do you know who your self is? Have you invested yourself wisely or have you lost track of Jesus’ great commission somewhere along the way? Is your soul ensnared in the trappings of this world or has it been emancipated by the grace of God to experience a joy that’s truly inexpressible? Perhaps you think your sins are so egregious you’re beyond redemption. Don’t believe that horrible lie. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). You need not hide in fear from Jesus. If you’ll take His hand He’ll not only forgive you but give you a whole new identity. What the modern cult of self-expression doesn’t understand is that a human being can’t express what they have yet to find. Men and women can only discover their true selves in Christ. Our Savior encourages us to “cut off” and “throw away” the things that prevent us from becoming more like Him, not to gleefully parade them around like flags and banners of pride-bloated self-expression.