The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Self-Denial in a Self-Discovery World

One of the advantages of being a youth minister is that I have the opportunity to read and hear a lot of good teaching from a variety of different sources. Some of these are basically available to anyone (books, sermons, podcasts), while others I gain access to by traveling to different youth events and hearing gifted and thoughtful speakers.

A while back, I was blessed to listen to my friend Shannon Cooper, who made the point that we live in a society that is obsessed with self-discovery: for many, the central goal of life is to “find out who we are” so we can “be true to ourselves.” Self-help books constitute a lucrative industry. Discussions related to sexual and gender identity become issues of the utmost importance. We seek to define ourselves by our hobbies, or the music we listen to, or our peer groups.

There is a problem with this, though: self-discovery leaves us with no point of reference beyond ourselves. Fundamentally, it is limited, subjective, and, ultimately…selfish.

It is also not Christian. A more Christian way of thinking about identity is not based on self-discovery, but on self-denial and the imitation of Jesus.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

(Matthew 10.38-39)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

(Matthew 16.24)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 11.1)

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2.20)

As Christians, we cannot force our worldview on nonbelievers (nor should we try to), but we should certainly hold ourselves and one another to that worldview. And the way of Christ is not about finding purpose and meaning through discovering “who we really are,” which is another way of saying “doing what we want to do.” Rather, it is about denying the urge to do what we want to do and instead to prioritize what Jesus wants us to do in partnering in His work to reconcile the world to Himself. This is where purpose and meaning is found.

4 Comments

  1. Katie Doughty

    July 2, 2019 at 10:39 AM

    Hey Luke. Sure do miss you and your sweet family. Hope you’re doing well and starting to get settled in. I loved this article, it’s very thought provoking. I am not sure I agree with it, and I’m trying to get my thoughts lined out. I do think there is a case to be made that discovering certain things about yourself can be extremely unselfish and can lead to better serving and understanding others that we serve as well as cultivating and utilizing the talents with which we have been blessed. I do have a case on this, I just need to flesh it out a little more. Maybe we can have a discussion on it sometime. In the meantime, I hope you keep posting articles that will cause myself, and others, to learn more about our Lord and the examples Christ left us in the Bible. Love to all of you.

    • Luke

      July 2, 2019 at 11:50 AM

      Hey Katie!

      Good to hear from you; we miss you guys too. I would love to hear your thoughts when you get them all lined out. I suspect we largely agree.

      You said, I do think there is a case to be made that discovering certain things about yourself can be extremely unselfish and can lead to better serving and understanding others that we serve as well as cultivating and utilizing the talents with which we have been blessed.

      I would totally agree with that. I think I would just want to qualify it by saying that once we understand these things about ourselves, we also need to understand that Jesus’ call to discipleship may require us to grow beyond our natural inclinations.

      For example, a very simple form of “self-discovery” has helped me to see that I am pretty significantly introverted. Knowing this has helped me to adopt certain practices to make sure that I build up my energy reserves that can be quickly depleted when surrounded by lots of people (so, this practice can help me more effectively minister to other people). At the same time, sometimes following Jesus as an introvert means I have to suck it up, deny my own inclinations to be by myself, and reach out to someone who needs it even if every instinct is screaming at me to do the opposite. 🙂

      Does that make sense?

      Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  2. Barbara Smith

    July 2, 2019 at 10:58 AM

    This article is extremely thought provoking as always! I enjoy and appreciate your writing. Miss you all; hope you’re finding you’re beginning to feel at home in your new place.

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