I once heard a friend say, “Becoming a mom is like breaking up with yourself.” The straightforward reality of that statement resonated in my heart for days. In like manner, I believe we can also say, “Becoming a Christian IS breaking up with yourself.” And yes…breaking up is hard to do. Because, as Aaron often reminds us, we love us some us. Sin always chooses self.
My middle son and his wife recently spent a weekend with me. We enjoyed looking through photos, essays, drawings, and report cards from my son’s elementary school years. The laughs and groans of reliving those far-away days led to a conversation in which we recounted various wrong-doings we had committed in elementary school but had never confessed. My contribution to the conversation was a memory of an act of deception I had perpetrated in the early days of my first year in school.
During that first week of first grade my teacher, Mrs. McLemore, assigned classroom tasks to each wide-eyed student. When she asked if any one of us knew how to tell time, I eagerly raised my hand and waved it around to gain her attention. (By the way, I was learning how to tell time, but I wasn’t yet aware that the big hand was not always on 12. That was as far as I had gotten in my time-telling education).
My teacher was duly impressed – which caused my heart to swell with pride – and I became the official classroom time-checker. There was a gigantic wall clock in the hallway outside our classroom door. All I had to do upon her request was to go out into the hall to check the time and report back to her.
Imagine my dismay on my first foray into that looming hallway when I looked up to discover that the big hand was not on 12, and the little hand was between numbers. I quickly realized I needed a Plan B. Obviously confessing the gap in my knowledge would have been the preferred choice, but instead I ran down the hallway into the secretary’s office and breathlessly asked her what time it was. I raced back to my classroom and blurted out the time hoping against hope that my guilty conscience and pounding heart were invisible to my teacher.
I don’t know if Mrs. McLemore ever discovered my deception (I feel sure the secretary must have mentioned it at some point since it happened periodically for several weeks until I progressed in my time-telling skills), but I became fully aware that my conscience would give me no rest while I persisted in my deceit. It was an early lesson in learning how to “break up with myself,” but “myself” didn’t want to confess. I was afraid I would be forever branded in the eyes of my beloved teacher.
Jeremiah 17:9 says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a 19th century Scottish pastor said it this way: “The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart.” That obviously doesn’t mean that we commit every sin known to man, but even my elementary school deception exposed a heart and a nature that was bent toward sin, pride, and self-love.
I love the “cardboard testimonies” that we’ve celebrated in past worship services. I have wondered what mine would say. In my elementary school years I came to hate the nagging of my conscience when I committed what some might think were harmless sins. I became a “good girl” who outwardly complied with rules and expectations. I didn’t like the trouble that accompanied wrong-doing. So…on the front of my cardboard testimony, it would probably say something like this: “I was a ‘good’ girl, but my heart was weighed down with guilt and turmoil.”
Colossians 1:13 says that when God saved us, He “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” That means my “good girl” self needed the same shed blood, the same depth of forgiveness, and the same salvation that has been granted to the most hardened of repentant criminals. Ephesians 2:3 says that I was by nature “a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Romans 5 says that apart from Christ, I was helpless, ungodly, and an enemy of God. It’s a bleak and desperate reality.
The point I want to make is that every salvation is a dramatic one. Being rescued from the domain of darkness is a mission impossible apart from the blood that was shed on the cross to pay the penalty for every white lie, every angry word, every petty jealousy, every prideful boast. Jesus didn’t just have to die for murder, rape, and adultery. We all had to be rescued in the same way from the same domain of darkness. Every salvation is dramatic.
In Aaron’s final message in the Jonah series, he asked this question: “How do we get untangled from self-love, pride, anger, misplaced priorities?” His answer was fourfold: 1) honesty – what’s really happening in my heart? 2) confession – I must say about my sin what God says about my sin; 3) repent – I must hate what God hates; 4) believe the gospel – I am a forgiven child of God.
It would be easy to dismiss my childish lying as harmless and innocent. My son, his wife, and I laughed at our childhood misdeeds and antics. But sin is deadly serious, and when we continue that pattern into adulthood – excusing our easily disguised sins – we forfeit the grace, forgiveness, and freedom that God provides so graciously and abundantly in Christ.
If you’re wondering why you are not experiencing the joy and nearness to God that you desire so desperately, failure to confess and repent may be the issue. Even an outward compliance with God’s commandments can mask a heart of discouragement and spiritual malaise that results from harboring anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, self-pity, or any other “invisible” sins which so easily steal our joy and other spiritual fruit.
Sins of the heart grieve the Holy Spirit, undermine our hope, blind our eyes to the beauty of Jesus, and harden our hearts to the truths of God, and all the while we walk around looking holy and feeling like a fraud. The din of our troubling emotions drowns out the voice of the Holy Spirit who whispers to our anxiety-ridden souls that the most urgent and deadly trouble is in our own hearts.
Breaking up with myself is hard to do. I want to blame others when my heart is filled with sin. But as Aaron said, the first step to freedom from self-love is an honest self-assessment. Ask God to help you in that endeavor. It pleases Him to do so. Psalm 51:17 emphasizes that: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” There’s no other path to a deeper love for Jesus and a more selfless love for others. It’s a lifelong pursuit, but we have an eternal and ever-merciful God.