I’ve recently been thinking about the critical place of self-awareness in emotional health and maturity. It’s a critical skill and personal trait that we continue to recognize as perhaps the most important in a leader. It’s also a trait that seems painfully lacking among some of the current celebrity pastors that have “fallen from grace” before the gaze of an onlooking world and a confused church. It’s interesting that it figures so largely in some very well known passages in just that way. James talks about a person who “looks in the mirror” and in short order, “forgets what he or she sees” (James 1:22-25). This person is described as “self-deceived,” a term synonymous with a lack of self-awareness. They are “hearers only” rather than “doers.” They “talk the talk” but fail to “walk the walk.” In our modern American evangelical version of the gospel, have we so emphasized faith alone (the utterance of one “sinner’s prayer”), that we have made passages such as this irrelevant? Is self-awareness, the opposite of self-deception, required as a precursor to true faith that justifies?
Jesus Himself weighed in on this subject, using a graphic and shocking parable depicting the way in which self-awareness factors into our being right with God, justified. It’s found in Luke 18:9-14 (ESV):
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayeda thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Notice the contrast as it relates to self-awareness. The Pharisee has none. He did not see himself as “needy” but successful or “victorious,” a term thrown around in many circles of Christendom today. His lack of self-awareness not only affected his relationship or lack of one with God but also factored largely into the way he treated others, “with contempt.” He failed to see himself as he was and that lack of healthy self-awareness had devastating effects. Contrast the tax collector who saw himself in the mirror of God’s law and felt the appropriate sense of need. He looked into the mirror and saw things as they were, not with the distortion of the Pharisee. That self-awareness produced in him a healthy dose of humility which was the precursor to being justified. Is our “faith” that does not flow from healthy self-awareness, saving or justifying faith at all? How critical is this accurate view of self to not only our emotional maturity and relationships with others now but also to our eternal destiny? Jesus and his half-brother James challenge our contemporary thinking around these subjects.
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matt. 5:3-7, ESV)