There was a jerk in our home the other day. He came out of nowhere. He started making snide comments to members of my family. Sarcasm dripped from his attitude of superiority. He then followed us to church. Although I kept him from making a scene, I could tell that all he had in his thoughts were criticisms about the music, about the sermon, about the people, about everything. He hid the scowl behind a fake smile, but I knew he was just posing. He acted nice toward people, but it was all an act. It seemed that everything and everybody was a nuisance and a bother to him.
Eventually, I couldn’t hold him back any more. Later when one of his grandkids was goofing off and not eating his meal, this jerk burst out in anger and said some words that were blaming and shaming – certainly, not deserving for a nine year old kid who was just being a kid.
That jarred me enough to notice the “Mr. Hyde” in me.
But it wasn’t me. This was some other dude who was occupying my body and taking over my thoughts, attitudes and actions. The real me loves my grandson, my family and my church. This was someone else. This was someone who was being played by Satan like a Stradivarius violin. Only the music coming out of me was not sweet, beautiful and uplifting. It was sour, ugly, and destructive. This can’t be me. But, at the same time, it can and it was.
The Apostle Paul uses the Greek word, sarx, to define this alter ego. In English, we struggle with translation. Some translate it as “the flesh.” But that rendition causes some confusion because it connotes that our physicality and our connection to the physical world is what makes us sinful – which is not entirely true. However, the other translation, “sinful nature,” is also lacking in that it tends make the problem more ethereal; placing it outside the realm of the real and concrete.
And believe me, my version of Mr. Hyde (or “the evil Mr. Lee”) was more concrete than I care to admit!
The most helpful description I’ve heard for sarx is the “false self.” Robert Mulholland describes the false self as the “me” we create out of our brokenness as a way to compensate and, in many ways, to survive in this fallen world. It is the “me” that we create as a result of the Fall. Whether we realize it or not, at the center of our Fallen-ness, we have pushed God off the throne of our lives. And the first order of business, is to create another “me” (the sarx) that protects our ego’s rulership.
“Let there be ME!” Ergo, ego. False self. The wonderful imago dei replaced by the meager “i am.”
It is insidious because the false self is inexorably bonded and “super glued” to our souls – that part of us that is true and genuine. No matter what we do, we can’t shake it off or rip it off. Paul’s discourse in Romans 7 is a profound description of the futility of trying rid the false self in our own power.
It is also smarter and craftier than we are. Every time we try to live in truth, authenticity and goodness, it somehow twists it into something self-centered and self-serving.
Over the next several weeks, I want to devote a few blogs to exploring various aspects of false self and the true self (the restored Image of God in us through Christ) as it relates to the Whole Life Worship journey.
What broke me out of the evil Mr. Lee were the spiritual practices of welcoming prayer and confession. After my outburst with my grandson, I filled with shame and guilt. While no one likes feeling ashamed or guilty, I welcomed these emotions and the presence of the Holy Spirit – which is harder than you think in times like these! I began to notice what was underneath: a soul that was tired, worn, restless and weak. I surrendered my need to control and be affirmed. I then confessed my sin and my brokenness to the Lord, asked Jesus for mercy, and made amends to my grandson.
That cleared enough space to hear the Holy Spirit say to me: “You are forgiven. Play with your grandkids! Be free to love them the way you truly desire! Be the Doug Lee I created and redeemed you to be – and sin no more!”
In what ways does the sarx/false-self rear its ugly head in your life?
What helps you to get re-calibrated to Christ when that happens?