Know Thyself (Institutes II.I.1-11)

We live in a world where everyone is desperate to stand out.  We live in a world where everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame.  And it is getting easier to achieve that superstar status with the phenomenon of “going viral.”  We live in a world where people want to know themselves as independent, creative, one of a kind people, or at least as people belonging to a particular ethnic group.

I am amazed at the proliferation of tribal identies in our world.  In a global world, the rise of ethnic identification is ever on the rise.  “I am Irish.  I am Creole.  I am First Nations.  I am…”  But are these the things we must know about ourselves first and foremost?  Are these the really important things to know in order to live a life worth living?

Maybe it is time we reflected upon Calvin’s words,

But knowledge of ourselves lies first in considering what we were given at creation and how generously God continues his favor toward us, in order to know how great our natural excellence would be if only it had remained unblemished; yet at the same time to bear in mind that there is in us nothing of our own, but that we hold on sufferance whatever God has bestowed upon us.  Hence we are ever dependent on him. (Institutes II.I.1)

Truly knowing oneself does not begin is being the guy who went viral or the girl who is Russian or the person who can do such and such.  Truly knowing oneself begins in knowing what we were created to be and how far we have fallen from that intended state. We were created to be truly righteous and holy in order that we might know God, love him and live with him (Heidelberg Catechism Q6).

In Ephesians 4:24, Paul urges every believer to

“put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

This is what it means to be truly human.  Humanity begins in righteousness and holiness towards God and neighbor.  And yet we have fallen a long way from God’s intentions.  Unfortunately the more we run away from these foundational truths and the hide from our true history as people created in the image of God, we miss the opportunity to truly become all we were intended.  True potential always begins in recognizing one’s past and present circumstances, then and only then can relief and a future be found.

Why do we refuse to know ourselves as people who have fallen?  In the second section of Book 2, Chapter 1 Calvin introduces us to the great costs that such a knowledge will bring:

Here, then, is what God’s truth requires us to seek in examining ourselves: it requires the kind of knowledge that will strip us of all confidence in our own ability, deprive us of all occasion for boasting, and lead us to submission.(Institutes II.I.2)

To know oneself will cost dearly in three areas that humanity exalts.  We pride ourselves on self-confidence, prideful boasting and control, but truly knowing oneself as a creature created by God and fallen from grace leads one in exactly the opposite direction.  It was humanity’s pride that brought the fall.  It was their desire to live alone and by their own rules that ushered in unrighteousness and unholiness and it was their self-confidence that was the undoing of the human line.  Truly knowing oneself can only lead one to declare, “I am my own worst enemy and I need to be ruled by a Gracious Savior.”   Then and only then is one opened up to receive the gospel promises of trusting in God for all our hopes and desires and allowing his Son to be our only ground of boasting, confidence and teaching.  This and this alone restores one to the point of righteousness and holiness so that the Kingdom of God will once again be in the midst of the humanity.

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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