I have been shocked lately by my inclination to self-admiration. That phrase, “inclination to self-admiration,” comes from a section title in John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Here is a paragraph in the section which is well worth the wade through some impressive language:
Nothing pleases man more than the sort of alluring talk that tickles the pride that itches in his very marrow. Therefore, in nearly every age, when anyone publicly extolled human nature in most favorable terms, he was listened to with applause. But however great such commendation of human excellence is that teaches man to be satisfied with himself, it does nothing but delight in its own sweetness; indeed, it so deceives as to drive those who assent to it into utter ruin. For what do we accomplish when, relying upon every vain assurance, we consider, plan, try, and undertake what we think is fitting; then—while in our very first efforts we are actually forsaken by and destitute of sane understanding as well as true virtue—we nonetheless rashly press on until we hurtle to destruction?
John Calvin, Institutes, 2.1.2
Part of the reason why the contemplation of hell is so important (see the blog post from Ritch here on June 20) and part of the reason why we shrink from such a contemplation is that human nature is nearly everywhere publicly extolled. This teaches us to be satisfied with ourselves and satisfied in ourselves. Even when we know, deep within, that this self-satisfaction cannot be true, we keep embracing the lie. Calvin calls this hurtling to destruction.
For years, we have been taught in American culture that our basic problem is that we do not think of ourselves highly enough. I wonder if the real problem is that I think far too much of myself. (Note that I did not say that I think too “highly” of myself. “Highly” implies something in today’s self-image conscious society that gets everyone off track. And, perhaps, we shall see by the comments whether or not my subtle shift in language has helped or not.) I suggest that the answer to poor self-esteem is not a better look at oneself, but rather, to change where one is looking. It is only as we understand that a righteousness from God is revealed from heaven to us that we can comprehend a proper view of ourselves. This righteousness is completely by faith, not by anything that I can do, and it is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ—His death, His burial, His resurrection. That is power from God. (See Romans 1:16-17)
So, by pausing today to take my eyes off of myself, my work, my recreation, my, my, my!—and gazing upon my Savior, I am thunderstruck by my sin of self-admiration and repent of it. There is only one King, and I am not Him.
The Times of London once asked a number of authors to write on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton’s answer was the shortest of those submitted: