Does My Ego Get In The Way?
People have often said to me something like this: "I know my ego gets in the way some time." (Or some equivalent word or concept to "ego.")
We have all thought we have been trapped by who we are or have been, and hearing that we are free to be ourselves in Christ seems like a fairy-tale. Those who ask the question, "What about me?" are asking the right question. Here is what has been to me the answer to the "me" problem.
It really has to do with four basic things. First, having an understanding of who "I" am when I say "I" (applying to you and me and to all who are Christ's). Second, understanding the difference between soul and spirit, or inner and outer. Third, the liberating realization of the difference between temptation and sin. And finally, catching the ease of faith which by grace as a gift cements our participation into the things of God.
Perhaps the most difficult, and the most vital for our understanding, is coming to the realization of who "I" am. All our lives we've been somewhat observers of ourselves, in a way apart from our own true identity, which is evidenced by a common-to-all basic inner restlessness that says something isn't quite right, up to par, and that we are not ever home. We wander further and further from our true selves and our home, because everything outside of us screams at us to become something, to be something, to "morph" ourselves somehow into some representation of something we find and observe "out there." Everything out there is "something" to be desired, wanted, grasped -- including other people -- and we try to mold ourselves any way we can to get whatever it is we want.
Of course this all comes out of a "me orientation," ours from birth, in that all we see, hear, experience, feel, and do, has "me" at the center -- how I look, how I feel, what I accomplish, how does "that" affect me, etc. This is what Paul means when he says in Ephesians 2:2,3 that we "walk according to the prince of the power of the air ..." and so on. This is a description of life with a total "me orientation." It doesn't necessarily have to do with whatever specific deeds that I may do or not do, but by what inner spiritual orientation I do them -- whether I'm being for "me" or for "you." In Bible terms, in a "me orientation" I am under the dominion of the "god of this world," called in other places Satan or the devil, and it is out of his reality and ultimate selfishness (though I may look like the greatest saint the world has ever seen), that I live and do all the things that I do.
Prior to my conversion to Christ I recognized in a small way this "demon" that hung tight to me (though I didn't know its source was outside myself), and thought for some time that my dabbling in eastern disciplines through meditations, mantras, affirmations, diets, right thoughts, right attitudes and other things, could somehow overcome and transcend that "me orientation" and I would come into what I believed was a greater consciousness of self and reality, in which I would be able to see and know all things. And more than anything, I thought I wanted to become a loving and kind person, concerned about the good of others more than my own (certainly a romantic dream on my part, since I had no clue whatsoever that such a life required giving up my own life for no return). But I was certainly in line with the expressed goals of my counterculture environment (some of it anyway) and I patted myself on the back for that.
One day, though, my roommate's girlfriend, Mary, lit into me, letting me know with vehement certainty that I might look like some sort of super-spiritual holy person (a persona I really attempted to project in those days) but she knew I was just the same guy I always had been and just as selfish and for myself as everybody else. I knew she was right, but what was I to do, since I thought I was giving it all I had?
The other thing I realized somewhere in there, was that "I" wanted all that enlightenment and love -- for ME! What a catch-22! It seemed there was no escape. I could not find the end of my selfish self, because even in the desire to become enlightened and loving I knew the motive was to make ME something -- someone for everybody else to look at and say, "Oh, he's really a spiritual guy!" There were some folks who actually did say something like that to me, but I began to realize that the recognition and praise of others was a shallow reward -- because I knew the truth and that truth was that my supposed spirituality was a sham.
But after having had a living encounter with Jesus, for some time I didn't think about the "me" problem I had encountered during my previous days. As many do, I had an initial euphoria of being loved and approved by God through Jesus, experiencing God's peace and mercy in every part and fiber of my being, and I basked in my newfound gift of love for God for a long time. I can't say that I completely "forgot myself," but for some time grace operated by making "Jesus" and what He had done for me to be uppermost in my mind. He became the central focus of my mind and heart, and for a while life was rosy.
When things took a non-rosy turn after some time, the "me" thing came up again. And the same catch-22. Only this time as someone born of the Spirit of God. My focus left God and fell back on "me," and let me tell you, it was not a pretty sight! I felt almost like I did when Mary told me off years before, because after years of following Jesus, and increasingly desiring to live for God and keep His commandments, it seemed that exactly the opposite was happening and "I" was no better an "I" than I had ever been. Here I was, after years of study, seeking, desiring, praying, believing, in and for the things of God, by all appearances the same old selfish "me" I had always been. I had prayed for God to make "me" spiritual, to give me love, power, wisdom, etc., as fervently and sincerely as anybody ever mustered up, but one day came to exactly the same self-realization, that all that "desire" to be those things, even to love God and others and to be close to God, was all for ME!
What had happened, though it took a while longer for me to come to understand, is that in coming to the Father through Jesus, God had come into my life and filled my self with Himself, joining Himself with my self as one person or one spirit within me. But because God is growing us up into Him as expressions of Him in the world, i.e. His identity, His Person, manifest and expressed in my identity, my person, He is raising our consciousness (understanding and knowledge) into He and I as one person, i.e. always living in a union of two (Creator and created) which becomes in essence a unity of one in identity and function, one as Father and Son are One in the Spirit.
In order to do that, almost all of us go through a second emptying (the first when we give up some measure of self-pride to go out of ourselves to receive Jesus into our lives), in which the "me" problem is dealt with through our realization that this "me" (also called "ego") that we thought we were all the years of our lives, this "me" that has to protect itself, live for itself, seek for itself, which builds a wall around itself to keep out all the other "me's" who would take from it, is a LIE from the beginning. It isn't that "I" don't exist as a distinct created person, because God sees us from eternity in His heart of love, knowing us, loving us, and calling our true selves forth from within Himself, from eternity calling us to be persons with self-consciousness and distinctiveness, but able only to discover our true selves by finding and knowing only Him and rejecting the vanity to which we have been purposely subjected. The lie has always been that this "me" is just itself alone, an entity entirely alone within itself and sustained by nothing but itself, able to function as it wills in either good or evil, able to be responsible or not responsible, able to become or not become, able ultimately in ourselves -- to be God.
This is the heart of idolatry and the deception by which the whole world is deceived, all of us thinking and believing all our lives we are ourselves alone, independent in heart, will, function and identity, running our own lives, initiating or originating our own good or evil. That is the fruit of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which has made us "wise as gods," but unfortunately has also brought separation from the Source of all things through which all our existence comes. Instead there comes a false wisdom and false knowledge, emanating out of a monster imaginary self, a self deceived into believing it is alone unto itself, but which has no real existence except only in the way a lie has an existence -- in the imagination -- but power enough and reality enough in that untruth to become a pseudo truth and to create a bondage out of which it is impossible by any human means to escape. Only one greater than ourselves can rescue us from it, since the Liar and the lie he has perpetrated deceives and imprisons the whole world. And thus, even though it is true for all of us that "in Him we live and move and have our being," we find ourselves alienated from our own true selves which are eternally hid in Christ in God, blinded and in prison both in our hearts, minds and bodies, and we wander around the world trying to find ourselves.
It is vital to know that this lie and false reality isn't something merely psychological, just some wrong way of thinking, nor is it simply ignorance. Without realizing there is an accusing spiritual source, the devil, behind it which gives it its reality and power to deceive and hold, it might seem it's just a simple matter again of education, counseling or behavior modification, onto which we might weakly attach the Cross so to make it "christian," which in the end is nothing except another dead end. This lie is the devil's binding and blinding in all of us and cannot be removed or escaped from except by the Cross of the Lord Jesus, which not only means the death of Jesus for us and as us, but also means by Him our own death out of darkness and resurrection to light.
But likewise in all of us, it is the veil of the old testament that was ripped in two in the Cross. It is entirely -- ENTIRELY -- done away in the Cross, because One greater than ourselves, the One greater than all, not only cleansed us within, to come and take up dwelling in us, whereby we cry from then on, "Abba Father," but also that we might progressively come to know, only by the Spirit's revelation, how completely "one" He is with us in all things, so that we realize that to "know" God means to be a participant of a union reality. And when we see Christ arise in our very selves, having known the Cross, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in ourselves as participants of it and in some way enacted in us, we see and begin to know a new self as ourselves (yet always He) who has put out the old man -- the ego man -- and now only lives in us as the new man. The ego man was the man we once were, but no longer are, since it is an undeniable fact that we are completely new creatures (creations) through Christ Jesus and the Cross. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 -- pretty strong stuff!).
The "True I" of God we see by revelation has joined with my emptied inward human "I", so that God has now taken me into His subjectivity, so that I look out of me as out of the seeing of God into the world.
By the Spirit's revelation through grace we realize the old me has died a real death, because the source of that old me, the devil, has been put out of me forever, and his building can no longer stand once he is removed. His building in us is the "old man" -- a false consciousness with a me-orientation, needy, for itself, etc., and gradually we come to the place where we see that this old man truly has gone away and we owe it no further debt. None.
We are able then to answer the first question: "Who am I?" "I'm He and I living as one person!"
However, often when we come to that place of knowing our union with God, we are immediately confronted with the opposite. The opposite seems true, and the fact the we are living in a constant union of "He and I as one person" seems a ridiculous absurdity -- since the same stuff comes up. The same pulls, the same temptations, the same reactions. Here is where we learn the difference between soul & spirit, or inner and outer, in conjunction with a finer tuning regarding those bugaboos, sin and temptation.
I don't want to get too technical here, since sometimes these definitions bog us down, so that really the simplicity of His truth operating in us as us is obscured by trying to define things and be too technical about them. It is the Spirit in us who is the Teacher for all of us. We can trust Him to open our understanding in His perfect timing for us, and He is the one who causes us to move into this rest of God as we move from faith to faith.
Going on then, we see that spirit, eternal, invisible, and inner, are words which belong together; soul, body, flesh, temporal, and "things," are likewise words which belong together. Spirit has to do with the inward, eternal, invisible reality, and soul has to do with temporal, visible, outer reality. BOTH are necessary in this world and in the restoration that occurs within ourselves our inner invisible union permeates our outer visible soul and body so that we operate in a unity of self through faith. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Because we start out with conflict between these two realms. In a sense the conflict continues, but when we understand and move into the purpose of the conflicts in us, as part of our lives in Christ, then everything occurs out of rest no matter the turmoil of the conflicts.
Spirit is where our God-knowing occurs. We might say it is the deepest part of us, and it is the residence of what drives our lives -- whether light or darkness. Outside of Christ or being drawn to Him, we have little comprehension of spirit reality in the world. Almost everything we know we know only outwardly, in its appearance, and few of us know little deeper than that. The reality we are born into is like seeing an iceberg coming our way and not realizing we are only seeing the 10% of it above the water -- we, to our hurt, mistakenly think we're seeing the whole thing. The reality we see is like our assumption about the iceberg a billion times a billion times over. It is real, but not even in the same universe as seeing whole picture. But that's what we grow up with as our "total real." (A trillionth of a trillionth of the picture, and with that we pontificate and think we see and therefore know "something.")
But we were meant to have had a more comprehensive view of reality in our beginning.
In order that the man God had made could comprehend the world God had made, God had to have some means for the man to experience and know the world in his mind and understanding, and also a means that the man that God made could speak the things of God into the world. The man "knew God" as he would later "know" his wife, since God had breathed Himself into the man and was His inner Life. But he must also know and traffic in the visible world, as well as live in God in the invisible world. Therefore, we are also soul and physical body.
In this soul and body then we have our part in this temporal world, as well as in the eternal through the spirit. By the soul we relate to the world through the emotions, intellect and psychology. And this is how God would have it, because in His creation of the man (all of us) He made us in His eyes "good" and therefore the creation He formed is "very good." It is just simply that in the old life, the enemy of our souls beat us down and battered us in this aspect of our lives, deceiving us into thinking that what we see out there is all there is, that this life is all there is, and whatever other deceits he has beat us over the head with all our days. The insidiousness of these deceits he perpetrated on us is that we have all our lives believed they were our own, and its hard to die to something which is one's "own."
In our new life, the enemy's barrage of accusations often never stops. But here is where the Spirit is teaching us, which is WHY the enemy's barrages never stop. He has a job to do, and he does it well! His job is to pull us here and there to by hook or by crook make us believe the temporal is the permanent and that his lies about us are true, to dredge up resentment, self-focus, self-effort, hatred of self and others, protection and fear, and a whole host of other good stuff, SO THAT the Spirit might continually speak the eternal unseen truth of Christ in us, that the "old me" is dead in the Cross -- that old ego, me-for-me guy -- and that the new me has arisen and that is Christ in me as He and I together as one person. All this pulling and thinking and considering is going on in the soul, but we learn through time that the soul is ALWAYS up and down, in and out, afraid when the waves get rough, jumping up and down when the big raise comes through, and we learn through the Spirit's letting us know inside ourselves that our eternal reality -- who we are in Him and He in us -- never changes with the waves of the soul. Little by little we learn to live in the rest of the Spirit even while the storms are blowing in the soul.
And that's where the subject of sin and temptation comes up. I don't want to spend too much effort with this because it is no longer our place to be sin-minded anymore. We have been delivered from sin, and owe it no more debt. But so that we might grow in our consciousness and know the major pitfall, it is simply this. Having been translated out of darkness into the Son, it is no longer our nature to participate in sin. He is now our nature. But we are also still in the world and subject to its pulls and possibilities. Before we could not help ourselves, regarding the things of sin. Our chief sin was unbelief in God, but we were ignorant of it. We just lived in unbelief and all our sins just flowed naturally out of that.
But when we are born again, our natural state changes, from one of darkness, sin and unbelief, to one of light, righteousness and faith. Simply put, sin only occurs now in us when we step out of faith. We may be tempted -- which means we really feel it and really feel like we want to, whatever it is -- but it does violence to us to participate in sin now, since we must in a sense leave who we truly are, and experience has taught us we need go that way no more. This is KEY, however, to remember, because many many believe that because they "feel" like they want to do this or that, they have sinned. Jesus certainly felt like He wanted to escape the Cross, but in agreeing in Himself through faith that His will was God's will, and that He recognized no separation, grace came and brought Him through to the end, of which we are the result -- the "joy that was set before Him."
So feeling like my ego rises up, or wants to, or that I need more attention, or I'm not getting my due share, or whatever way the tempter uses to drag us into self-consciousness instead of Christ-consciousness, are just that, temptations, diversions, from outside ourselves, but which no longer have any power over us. Whatever I was before, I am new in Christ. Even if by all appearances I am the same. Because I see in the inner, in the Spirit, the change has occurred, and the change isn't some good things added onto the same old me, but an entirely new me, new in all ways every morning, and seen with certainty by the eyes of the Spirit. Not by the flesh, or the outer seeing.
And here finally is the ease of faith that I mentioned in the beginning of this. I have taught these things now over 25 years. But like many, believing that "I am He living in my form" has been a constant practice of believing something I could not see with the natural eyes, and the struggle of many years was the constant temptation -- or maybe it was my faith -- to believe when I saw the results. I could feel jealousy rising up in me, or hurt-look-at-me self, or whatever, and the tempter would say, "See, if you were really Christ living, that wouldn't be rising up in you," and it's kind of a delicious idea to hold onto, because it can be like a security blankie, and we can feel sorry for ourselves because of it, maybe hold onto a little self-loathing.
I think I went back and forth like that a long time. Until one day the Spirit asked me, "When are you going to believe?"
"Believe what?" I asked.
"That I've done all you've asked and what I have promised and you confessed I have done."
"Oh, Lord, I'm undone again. It is as you say. You have truly done it all, and I can only thank you for it."
So then, bottom line on this ego thing. In a sense, to me, that is the "accursed thing," i.e. the "sin of Achan" in the book of Joshua. The "me-for-me-self" sucks life into it faster than an unripe persimmon puckers your mouth. It makes me shudder every time I get a whiff of it. But it isn't me anymore. Long ago it was bound with cords to the altar and burned up forever and a new me arose, Christ in me, and what other confession can I make except to believe the Living God in this current moment?
I [the old me, egocentric dude] am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I (a new me) live; yet not I (as myself alone), but Christ liveth in me (two as one): and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Only right self now, that's who we are, and the greatest good news, since it frees us not only to KNOW, but now to BE and to DO out of the rest and power of this right self, He in us, living His life out as us, not we but He, but looks like we. Great mystery, ineffable joy!