Yesterday, I was able to digest a 46-page book during an outing in the woods of Central PA. It was 4:30 AM. The “kayak krew” were all fast asleep, and so I quietly made my way to the front porch to read. It was just me and a singing whippoorwill waiting for the sun to rise.
The little book1 in my possession was The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy by Tim Keller. He’s the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, as well as VP of The Gospel Coalition.
Working from 1 Cor 3:21-4:7, Keller begins his book by describing the natural condition of the human ego. It is spiritual pride—the human heart attempting to build its identity around anything other than the one true God. And it is hard at work in the flesh of man. It is busy in a bad way. “It is always drawing attention to itself… competitiveness that is at the very heart of pride.”
The author seeks to help his readers understand this problem. He then offers the only solution available to mankind: the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. For it is the only change-agent that can truly transform the person’s “sense of self-worth, his sense of self-regard and his identity.” This overcomer is maturing to the point that his life will be marked by a “gospel-humility.”
It is enormously important to recognize that a true believer, one who displays gospel-humility, will have “reached the place where his ego draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body.” Keller rightly refuses to back down on this, committing a handful of pages to the heart of a Christian and his gospel-humility:
He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong [“woe is me!”] or something good [“look at me!”], he does not connect it to himself anymore.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person… we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person).
The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less… The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.
True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up. This is totally unique. Are we talking about high self-esteem? No. So is it low self-esteem? Certainly not. It is not about self-esteem… It does not draw attention to itself.
There’s much more to reflect on from this punchy little piece. Pick it up and pray as the psalmist did in Psa 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”
Are we looking for our self-worth and a sense of identity in wrong (and worldly) places? Or do our words and deeds demonstrate a transformed sense of gospel-humility? This read gives us much to consider. We need to strive towards the marks of a supernaturally changed heart. This person is a self-forgetful person.
1 Keller, Timothy. The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy (Leyland: 10Publishing, 2016).