God and the Ego (Part 2)
In part one of this series we examined the ego’s big question: “Who am I?” Another question that defines the ego is “What’s in it for me?” In the beginning the serpent tempted Eve with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It represented the flesh, separateness, or the independent ego. In this tree, we see the temptation of self-definition. It would make her like God, knowing good and evil. She would find her identity in self rather than in the Tree of Life (Christ). The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil also presented a second question the ego loves. “What’s in it for me?” The tree was a delight to the eyes and desirable to make one wise. It aroused her passion to live for self.
In the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil we see a philosophy, a way of living that was actually death. It presented ego expansion as the way to be complete. It said to be full you must become more and you must gain more. This is the essence of the flesh and the way of the world. If the world has commandments, one of the greatest is “Be yourself!” A second is “Get what you want out of life!” We are told that we find our destiny in our dreams and desires. We believe this so much that we make heroes out of those who get what they want and gain the world. Worldly wisdom teaches us fulfilled desires are the way to fulness. Yet, Jesus said quite the opposite.
The ego seeks to profit. Perhaps this is why Jesus said concerning the Kingdom of God, “…the flesh profits nothing (John 6:63).” The ego will not profit in relationship with God. In fact, it will suffer loss.
When we begin our relationship with God, we often suppose the ego’s profit is God’s will. The flesh follows God because of what is in it for self. Unfortunately, much teaching today is geared toward the ego rather than the Spirit. It comes from a “What’s in it for me?” perspective. The God who gives us what we want is a popular guy. When we tell people the Lord wants to give them the life they want, we gain an instant following. Yet, when we preach that we must decrease, the ego gets offended and walks away. To the ego, forsaking the question “What’s in it for me?” is unthinkable.
John chapter six takes place over two days. On the first day, Jesus gave the people what they wanted. They were hungry, and He fed 5000 of them with five loaves and two fish. The crowd went wild. “What a guy! Let’s make Him our King!” The ego is quite willing to follow God if He gives it what it wants. Yet, who is really King in such a relationship?
On the second day, they searched for Jesus, wanting more. Yet, He did not offer them the life they wanted but the bread of life. Most turned away. Many do the same when God will not give them what they want and offers Himself instead. If we follow Jesus far enough, we will reach the second day and gaze upon God’s divine offer, not just a good life, but Christ as our life.
God bids us to leave behind the finite for the infinite. The ego lives in the finite, finite measures of self and desire for finite things. To lose these measures is to die. This is why the ego finds the Sermon on the Mount offensive.
In Jesus’s day, most common people had at most two sets of clothing. Poor people might have only one. A typical outfit had two parts, the tunic and the cloak. The tunic was the undergarment, and the cloak was the outer. While the tunic was important, the cloak was indispensable. It not only covered a person, but it also served as a blanket at night. Therefore, Jesus was saying, if someone takes something important from you, give them something even more important as well.
This is a major insult to the ego. To the ego, it looks like you are not just cutting your losses but forfeiting even more. This is certainly the death of “What’s in it for me?” Yet, to walk such a path is to leave the finite behind for the infinite. The ego’s loss becomes the Spirit’s gain. We can never grasp the infinite Kingdom of God until our measure is no longer found in the finite kingdoms of the world.
It is the nature of the flesh to be in it for self, even in relationship with God. It is the divine nature to put God above the self. We see this nature in Christ. Consider the following passages.
Love was Jesus’s sustenance. Love empties itself to be full. It does not ask “What’s in it for me?” Rather, it puts the other above the self. We may begin our walk with God in self-interest. God will bless such a relationship, just as He did on the first day in John 6, but we can never stay there. The Lord wants us to move to the second day where we lose self-interest to gain Christ.
I believe the Lord sends many things into our lives to challenge the ego. He will expose the follies of self-definition and self-gratification. He does so not to reform the ego, but to make something new. Some teach that God breaks the ego until it finally gives in and obeys God, lowering itself to its rightful place. If the Lord can break our will, then He can have His way. This idea might lead us to surrender to God, but our brokenness is never enough. We will yield again and again, then slide back to the ego’s old ways. When we come to the end of our efforts, we realize God does not want the ego’s surrender. He wants us to live in the power of a surrender far greater than ours.
To put the other above self is divine. When we think of the divine nature, we usually think of perfect behavior, but its essence is really perfect love. We can walk this way because Christ walked this way before us. He chose to decrease that He might be the measure of our increase. He became unimportant to raise our worth to the heavens, and He lost His life that we might know Him as our life.
I don’t think we can comprehend what it meant for Christ to lay aside His glory and become one of us. How could finite beings grasp such a thing? Even so, He became one of us not to be served but to serve. He came to count us more important than Himself, for that is what a servant does.
His obedience led Him not to the approval of man or the riches of man but to the cross, a place where you are nothing and you have nothing. The Romans did not invent crucifixion, but they perfected it. When we imagine dying on a cross, we think of the pain. The Romans wanted it to be a most painful death, and it was, but it was also a shameful death. When the writers in that day wrote about the Roman cross, they did not write about the pain as much as the shame. Even Hebrews says Jesus endured the cross despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).
The Romans stripped you bare. There was no loin cloth to preserve human dignity. The victim died exposed. While you were defenseless, all your enemies hurled abuse upon you. If anything said you are worthless, it was the Roman cross.
God allowed human beings to humiliate Him. The thought of this offends the ego! Yet, Jesus also suffered far beyond what man could inflict. Paul says He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). We can debate what the means, but it at least means He identified with the human condition, taking our identity, the one the ego created, upon Himself. And the ego died with Him.
If we are to walk well with God, we must know where we are going. Our destination is the cross. Along the way the Lord will strip the ego bare, exposing its self-righteousness and lust. The flesh will try to escape, using the promise of reform or even faith to avoid the cross. Yet, the only way from flesh to Spirit is death and resurrection.
The ego cannot save itself. It is imperative that we know Christ’s sacrifice saves us from the flesh’s tyranny. His surrender saves us. We can surrender again and again, but we won’t find rest until we rest in His surrender. We have no boast but the cross. This is part of redemption. It is the end of the glory of self and the beginning of the glory of God. There is no glory left for the ego in the Kingdom, not even in its own surrender. It is the surrender of Christ that saves us. We live in His obedience, and it is participation His death that saves us. All glory is God’s.
Paul boasted in the cross, for it is not just the forgiveness of sins. It is the end of the ego’s rule.
We often think of our behavior when we quote Galatians 2:20, but its context is the Law. Paul is speaking of the death of self-definition that the measure of who we are might become Christ.
This is the death of “What’s in it for me?”
In Christ, the ego loses all boast.
Once we see God’s love, we love Him in return. This is the way most look at this passage, but I think it means something deeper. His love gave us a new heart, and that heart is really His. We can give ourselves to God because He gave Himself to His Father before us. As Paul said, God poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). This is not a work of the ego, but of His Spirit.
On the other side of the cross is togetherness. God has not taken us from evil to good. He has taken us to Himself. Our decrease was His doing, something only love could accomplish. Rewards and punishment under the Law only fed the ego and allowed it to live. Grace put an end to the ego’s reign.
There is no glory left for the ego under grace and all our finite desires become irrelevant in the face of love. All that is left is to glory in Him and put no confidence in the flesh (ego). “What’s in it for me?” dies when we come face to face with the God of Life.
The Lord calls us to the glory of Love, and love’s glory is in self-sacrifice. God invites us to take part in the love relationship between the Father and the Son. The Spirit lives there and not the flesh, for the flesh proclaims, “I am and I want.” The Spirit proclaims, “Not I but Christ.”