The seed of the serpent can be recognised by one primary motive: it convinces the individual that his or her primary calling is to become somebody.
“Self Made Man,” Bobbie Carlyle, bobbiecarlylesculpture.com
This creation of an imagined being is the essence of idolatry. Those who are under the power of Satan is characterised by a supreme trait: the pursuit of becoming, what we usually refer to when we speak of self-actualisation or self-authentication.
This should not be difficult to understand. Once we assume the position of creator, we are instinctively driven to create a self.
We were never called to do this. To be created by God is to be called towards the acceptance of an identity, not an effort to construe it. This dream of becoming is a demonic deception and prohibits us from being. To be a son* does not happen as a result of the effort of the will, having been taught the characteristics of a son, striving to live up to the identity of a son, or any such thing. It is a reality that can only be attained to through a process of birth that is initiated by another.
This is where we go wrong. Our lack of a sense of self forces us to compensate by creating an ideal self in our imagination. This we do by borrowing from those who seem to have succeeded in their construction of a self. Our neighbour seems more concrete than ourselves, more actualised, more authenticated, and so we imitate our neighbour in the hope of becoming the self that we perceive the neighbour to be. This is where the prohibited motivation to desire the possessions, indeed the very life of the neighbour, arises.
The creation of a self is not a responsibility given to a son. The son’s responsibility is to obey the father, and to do so according to the sovereign timing of the father. The son should not try and improve on the father’s wishes and resist the father’s will by trying to construe a will that seems better for him. Neither should the son resist the will of the father because the father’s will seems too hard, too difficult or too unattainable. The son’s responsibility is to trust the father’s wisdom and initiative, and to yield to it on an ongoing basis. The son is not called to suppose or imagine what the ideal son looks like, and then separate himself from the father’s instruction in order to be free to pursue the goal of ideal sonship. The moment he does so he is acting contrary to his very identity as a son.
The deception in the garden took place because the serpent convinced the first son and the first daughter of God to pursue an identity independent from that of the one birthed from their father. The serpent succeeded in providing an image that was different to the one that God the Father had in mind. Surely Adam and Eve thought that the attainment of the image-ideal would be of such a nature that it would be acceptable even to God. In this sense the desire for self-authentication was so strong, and the anticipation thereof so clear, that it proved a greater reality than the prospect of death.
The greatest hindrance to effective Christian living is the demonic idea of creating a self. Unwittingly, multitudes of professed believers have borrowed this pagan ideal of those who do not know God as a father. We have adopted their idolatrous practices. We have followed in their footsteps. This we have done, not in a carnal sense but a religious one.
We have assumed, mistakenly, that conversion means to no longer pursue the creation of a carnal self but rather the creation of a spiritual self.
And so, we have juxtaposed carnality and spirituality at the wrong side of the equation. What we should have done is to draw a contrast, not between carnality and spirituality as the goal of our self-authentication, but rather between the acts of creating a self and accepting a self as it was originally created.
How does this work in practice?
The Christian begins his life confronted with the image of the ideal Christian. This image is proclaimed in books, from pulpits, by his spiritual peers and virtually everywhere that one goes in the Christian world. Unwittingly, the Christian is drawn into that place of comparison that happens when you view the ideal proclaimed by Christendom in the light of your own progress or lack thereof. The contrast between the ideal and the present self is undeniable, and the emotions evoked as a result of the inevitable comparison is compensated for by a virtuous and solemn dedication to commit oneself to whatever process is necessary to become like the image.
This is where Satan is more like an angel of light than anywhere else. Because the projected image of spirituality is so glorious and radiant in its appearance, and so unlike anything that comes from the realm of darkness, the Christian does not think for one moment that he/she is in fact beholding the image of Satan himself.
What we learn from this is that the devil’s primary objective in the life of an individual is not to dissuade that individual from pursuing a Christian ideal, as we are often taught to think. Rather, it is to convince the Christian that he or she is responsible for the crafting and sculpting of their own Christian identity.
Satan has little interest in what you create. His only interest is to turn you into a creator.
The fallacy that God has called us to change springs from this demonic deception. Nowhere in Scripture are we called to try and change ourselves, as though this is the great aim and goal of Christianity. What Scripture teaches is that we should live by faith in the work of God that no man can emulate. This is clearly depicted in the example of Abraham who understood that he did not have the ability to create life as a result of his body being as good as dead. Abraham had to look away from himself and to God. He had to trust God. He had to understand that God could call those things that are not as though they were. And, very importantly, he had to understand that he himself could do none of that.
This is what faith is all about. It is to look away from the self and to look towards God, the Creator. The object of faith is God himself, not some or other object created by the imagination, invisible to the naked eye, waiting for us to call it into existence in the way that God called the earth into existence. The error of modern-day faith is that it turns us into co-creators with God, instead of children believing on the finished, completed and perfect work of the Father.
Where does that leave the Christian, then? If I am not allowed to entertain an image of an idealised Christian self, then what am I left with?
The answer is simple: the glorious image of Jesus Christ, the perfect son of the Father who has accomplished everything necessary for sonship.
I am to behold Christ, not an imagined self created by my own desires.
The book of Hebrews depicts the Christian walk as a wilderness pilgrimage with the eyes focused on Jesus Christ, and reveals this as the substance of faith. Herein we are joined by all the faith heroes of the past. These men and women were looking for a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Their vision was in Christ and a future, heavenly inheritance. Their vision was never on some or other improved version of the self, not even a godly self.
The Bible makes it clear that we are given provision only for the day during our wilderness wanderings. This excludes any focus on a long-term project of self-improvement, no matter how sanctimonious such a project may be. Our calling is one of obedience for the day, nothing more.
The moment we envisage more than a mere day, we shall intuitively become aware of the fact that our provisions are not sufficient for our intended journey.
This explains the prevalence of spiritual anxiety amongst God’s children in our age. Inundated with sermons on self-improvement and adaptation to some or other Christian ideal, we are constantly reminded that our rations are insufficient for our pilgrimage.
*It goes without saying that the term sonship includes sons and daughters, and is used because it appears so in Scripture.