Have you ever told a friend something that happened to you, only to have them respond with, “Oh, let me tell you what happened to me!”? Kinda rude, right? But you have probably done it to others as well. How self-important we often are. How in love we are with our own story. We are all narcissists by nature. Sure, we know that the world does not revolve around us, but we sure would like it to.
A narcissist is a person who is excessively preoccupied with herself. Every one of us tends to look out for “number one.” The fact that we know “number one” refers to ourself sort of proves the point. Narcissism produces anger, annoyance and frustrations when life is not going the way we would like, when people are not behaving the way we think they should. Our negative response comes from the inconvenience that we experience. And this is not just a sin that happens out there in the world. It is alive and well in the church, in the Christian.
Christian narcissism is when we believe, talk and act as though the Christian life is all about one’s self: It’s about my progress, my failures, my growth in holiness, my sins, my quiet time, my walk with Jesus.
But the Christian life actually is not all about me or about you, for that matter. The life that God has given us is all about Jesus: what he has done for sinners, like me. Jesus had to do it (live, die and raise from the dead) because I cannot forgive my own sins, grant life to myself, exchange a heart of stone for a heart of flesh or muster up love for God. Jesus has to do this for me.
Our inability to change ourselves doesn’t stop with salvation but also connects to our growth in holiness. God uses his word to change our hearts, to convict of sin and to restore the image of his Son in us. He is the one who heals hurts, grants wisdom and blesses with joy. Our narcissistic tendencies lead us to to think it all relies on us.
It is easy for us to become preoccupied with how we are doing. But here is what happens when we get wrapped up in spiritual navel-gazing: We become proud when we think we are doing well, and we are devastated when we fail. We will look at how others are doing and measure them against our own performance—and then we begin to judge.
The key to end self-obsession is to embrace the gospel in full: to see that Christ alone saves us even from our narcissism. We must see the futility of meriting God’s love, and of meeting his standards on our own, so that we can rest entirely in what Jesus has done for his people.
“It is finished” were Christ’s dying words that brought us life and released us from the bondage of sin. We must study, know and love this beautifully freeing truth from all angles.
But even after Jesus has done it all, it’s still not about me. Jesus didn’t just die for me, but for us. For his church. And just as Jesus laid down his life for others, so we must also.
We are told to consider others as better than ourselves, to lay down our lives for those around us, to love our neighbors with a sacrificial love, and to serve those whom God has placed in our lives. We are called to pour ourselves out for the blessing of others and the sanctifying growth of ourselves.
Navel-gazing wastes our time and energy to the detriment of our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. Preoccupation with self means we are unoccupied with others, and therefore missing the mission Jesus gave us.
We talk about magnifying God and edifying others, but in order to do this we must decrease so that Christ may increase. We must learn to kill narcissism through the cross of Jesus.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25