The Idol of Self

It’s almost overwhelming how much media, advertising, education, politics, and even the marketing of religion is trying to get you to believe or feel that “it’s all about you”.

The problem we face as Christians is that we are collectively one temple of the Holy Spirit and not narcissistic individualists. The world often scorns us as being like a herd of “lemmings” and lemmings are often portrayed as stupid little creatures leading one another into a pit. But we are not headed for any pit. Instead it can be compared to a flock of birds efficiently piercing through the sky by working together. When Paul teaches us this he uses the plural word for you. We are not merely individual temples of the Holy Spirit but we are together the temple of the Spirit of God. This presents us with huge stipulations and problems to face in a culture that is rife with individualism. Christ works his power through community and the togetherness of his body the most. This is why it is so essential for us to understand how it is that the hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you”, or vise versa.

Individualism is a big idol for us.
As the worship artist Jason Upton sings in one of his songs,

“the greatest idol is you and me,
we better get on the threshing floor”.

America’s individualistic flavor is so sharp and strong that it has been called radical. We have more people living alone than in any other country in the world. Magazines on the store shelves are all pointing at you as an individual and propagating to you that you should be your own, worry about your own affairs, and worry about your own future.
To be like Jesus on the other hand:

“Yet I do not seek my own glory” (John 8:50)
“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing.” (John 8:54)

But the purpose of God in his creation is that we be a team, one, united in the Spirit of God. This purpose reflects the very nature of God himself:

“Listen O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut. 6:4)

He said at the beginning, “It is not good for man to be alone.” A truth which goes much further and deeper than merely getting married or enjoying good company. It is a crucial need to be united with others that is inherent in our design as human beings.

God is still at work, creating “Adam”: He is busy creating millions and millions of children in wombs all across the world right now. He is not yet done with his creating. He was, and is, very serious about man not being alone!

Christ said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Matt. 18:20) He never gave any precedence for one person to do things alone. Indeed, who is anybody by themselves? They are no one. Nobodies. At the day of Christ, Christ will say to those who never partake of him just that: “Depart from me I never knew you”—a bold statement which is to say, you are not of us, you are nobody, and they will be cast into the outer darkness of aloneness (Which ironically, is what they wanted, right?).

C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect that to want to be disconnected and away from people (insofar as it is an overall desire in life) is to want hell.

Each of us has a great task ahead of us if we are to free ourselves of this radical individualism—being born and bred in it—and transformed into the culture of oneness in Christ. It is not an easy transition, for it goes to the deepest place in our being even beyond the culture we were raised in. Most other cultures of the world from the beginning have had a family system, be it a clan, a tribe, a dynasty, a kin, a brotherhood, etc., and these group identities always took preeminence over self identity. The Bible exhorts us in a “brotherhood“.

In fact, your personal identity would have been wrapped up in the groups identity, meaning apart from them, you would be a nobody. Today the Muslim world still values this family system and those who don’t put the family’s identity above an independent identity can be considered outcasts and even killed for bringing shame on the family.

For us in the Western cultures we think in reverse of this. To disband from family and oneness and unity toward independence, self, and singleness is the lifestyle of our day and is continually commended by the majority. It is one of the facets of postmodernism.

Little or nothing gets done in this way however. We need accountability. When one of the brotherhood is lifted up by the grace of God to prophetically speak out against certain circumstances in the church like Calvin, Wesely, Arminian, Fox, Ravenhill, Reidhead, or Luther for example, the last thing we need to do as a brotherhood is turn and become their followers, because as Paul said in Acts, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one…” (1 Corinthians 3:7-8) That is a statement which strips the worth of a person’s individual achievements and works and indeed his individuality all together and places it on the whole, one body of Christ. In other words, they are nothing apart from God who gives the growth. It is not for us to divide ourselves unto who we think has the best interpretations or studies of certain doctrines, but what we should do rather is work together as a team—where Christ is present! The immeasurable importance of this is revealed, I believe, in Jesus’ own words: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Matt. 18:20) This truth reflects God’s original plan of creating people in such a way that they must rely on, depend on, and need one another rather than the reverse of that. So it is that it is not good for man to be by himself.

The implications of this on us are huge since we are of one of the most broken nations on the planet where more than half of marriages end in divorce, and half of the population of children come from broken families, and where corporate marketing feeds off the idolatry of self. The power of Christ brings lost and broken nobodies into a real identity and oneness with God and his family, where they can actually be somebody, rather than being merely the possessions they own. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Well here’s some of the things we Americans love to feed on: fancy cars, big wheels, TVs, trendy watches and shoes, video games, porn, shopping malls, cute doggies and doggy toys, beanie babies collections, the most expensive sports gear to look good, mp3 players that play videos and let you order pizza at the same time, battery-powered ultra-super-effective 15-in-one toothbrushes. And a whole lot more not aformentioned.

“you must no longer walk as the Nations do, in the futility of their minds!” (Eph 4:17)