I. THE FALLACY OF SELF FULFILLMENT
We hear from many sources, "I've gotta be me." Even some Christians believe that our dispositions and character traits are inherited or are the product of our environment... that we are sort of "locked" by fate into being what we are, and that it is unreasonable to believe we could be different.
But as Christians we don't have to ... and we shouldn't... settle for "being me." None of us should settle for what we are. The whole process of sanctification is the changing of the "self' we were, into the "self' we are predestined to be. "Whom He did foreknow, He did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. "To paraphrase Galatians 2:20 ... "Self is crucified with Christ... nevertheless self lives ... yet not self but Christ liveth in me." Christ in me or me in me ... that is the question. "Him" self or "my" self. Christlike or me-like ... it boils down to that.
So, in speaking of "self fulfillment, we need to start by defining which "self' we mean. The psychologist problem is right here. They are forever trying to find fulfillment for the selfish, self-seeking, self-serving, unrepentant "self' and, in so doing, come up with some pretty ridiculous humanistic statements that all stem from the erroneous concept of "the right to be me." The right to be me is basic to humanism. It assumes that every man has the right to determine the ethic he will live by. Man is his own god. Man is the center of his own private universe ... and all things and everybody are "good" or "bad" to the degree that they serve "self' ... the center of man's universe.
To illustrate: I heard a lesbian soldier out of West Point, who was being dismissed from the army for her "private" activities, say she is going to sue the army because her "integrity" has been violated! And she will win her case, I'm sure, because we live in a world where the "right to set our own standards of behavior" is assumed, and the only condition put upon that "right" is that each human being respect another human being's "right" to do the same. Now look at how insane this assumption is.
If I were the only human being in the world, "good" could be measured by whether things around my "self-center" serve and satisfy me. I would be the judge of "good" and "bad." A thing would be "good" if it was good for me. Conversely, if it wasn't good for me, it would be "bad." There would be no one else to challenge my judgment. "Good" and 'bad" would be completely relative ... relative to me and me alone.
What makes the "right to be me" doctrine so dangerous is that I am not the only human being in this world. There are billions of us ... and no two of us are alike. In a world of four billion private domains, each being invaded and infringed upon by hundreds of other domains every day ... the "right to do my own thing" does not exist. And if I cling to the assumption that I can exercise my "rights" if I allow others to exercise their "rights," I face a life of frustration and misery. Every move I make will be an infringement of someone else's right, and I will be constantly challenged or will be challenging someone else. In a world of four billion private domains, happiness and self-fulfillment are obviously not "the right to do my own thing."
So what is the answer? Is there no such thing as "self-fulfillment"? I believe there is. But we must start by eliminating the human ego as something that has to be fulfilled.
You don't "gotta be me." It's the quickest and surest road to misery.
Number two ... you don't "gotta be somebody else." God never intended that we all be "peas in a pod." God never intended that we measure ourselves among ourselves.
Peer pressure only leads to envy and self-depreciation. This is what the counselor and the psychologist struggle with. But instead of finding God's answer to self-fulfillment, they revert to the impossible "I gotta be me" approach to self-fulfillment. They try to build the human ego. They use words like "self-worth" ... "self-realization" ... "self-esteem" ... and "self-confidence." You hear their doctrine echoed in words, "I'm a human being," or in a child who says, "I'm people, too!" The struggle for self-fulfillment becomes a struggle against the rights of others ... a defiance of authority ... a resentment of a world of law and order that restricts and restrains personal rights. Talk about unhappiness! Observe five small children in front of a television set trying to decide which picture to watch and you will get an idea of the dilemma "the right to do my own thing" develops.
The recognition of the rights of others is basic to coexistence. Yet the right of the individual is also basic to human dignity. Can the two "rights" be reconciled? In a world of four billion private domains, is there any hope for self-fulfillment? Thank God, there is ... and Jesus has not only taught us the way to self-fulfillment, but has traveled the way himself. Jesus was a self-fulfilled person. He offers self-fulfillment to every one of us. Here's how.
II. THE FORMULA FOR SELF-FULFILLMENT
The reconciliation of rights starts with the death of our own rights. The formula is found in 2 Corinthians 5:14,15.
"For the love of Christ constraineth us (makes self-fulfillment possible); because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live (that's us) should not henceforth live unto themselves (there goes our rights!) but unto him which died for them and rose again."
Having stated the formula, Paul says, "Wherefore henceforth." That means that what follows is the result of the use of the formula.
What follows? A completely new world view. "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh. "We don't see four billion private domains.
To us, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! To us, His is the only domain that counts.
The world's way of classifying human beings by race, nationality, tribes, education, wealth, and social status is passed away for us. We are new creatures. We see things in a new dimension. "All things (all those four billion private domains) are of God." My domain has become His domain.
My "self' has been reconciled to His "self ... through Jesus Christ. As for the other four billion private domains ... I see them as no longer "private" but "of God" and subject to His will and purpose.
Horizontal reconciliation is made possible through vertical reconciliation. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself... and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." The formula calls for the relinquishing of our rights to God ... making way for the self-fulfillment that comes when we give ourselves to the reconciliation of the world to God.
But self-fulfillment calls for self-emptying. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Rest... peace of mind ... happiness ... fulfillment... that's what Jesus promises to those who struggle with territorial infringement... with a denial of their rights ... with living in a world of four billion private domains. "Turn your self-fulfillment problem over to me," Jesus says, "and I will give you rest from your struggle."
Then He offers a strange solution. His formula for self-fulfillment is amazing! To those who want rest, He offers a yoke! To those who want fulfillment, He talks of self-emptying! "Learn of me," He says, "I took the path of meekness ... I didn't demand my rights ... I sought to please others rather than myself... I actually took the blame that should have fallen on others ... and I found my self-fulfillment in giving hope to the hopeless." (Read Romans 15:3-5.)
Hebrews 12:2,3 expresses it aptly. "Who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross ..."
Are you weary? Are you faint in your mind? Are you unfulfilled? Are you chafing at the bit? Is the national church a drag? Does working with other missionaries inhibit you? Then "consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds." "Learn of me," Jesus said. Learn my secret of self-fulfillment. Take my yoke upon you ... the yoke of meekness ... the yoke of self-denial ... the yoke of suffering. You want to find rest for your souls? Then quit demanding your own rights. Think of others and not of yourself. Endure the cross ... bear the shame ... deny yourself for the sake of reconciling the world to God.
Jesus felt that the joy that was set before Him made His suffering worthwhile. He did not find fulfillment in suffering. He found fulfillment in knowing what His suffering would accomplish. He was willing to be emptied that His joy might be full!
So the formula for self-fulfillment is this:
III. SELF-FULFILLMENT IS FOUND THROUGH SELF-EMPTYING IN THE CAUSE OF RECONCILING THE WORLD TO GOD.
Can self-emptying be satisfying? Can self-emptying be fulfilling? Jesus says it can ... and I can point to scores of missionaries who are living proof that Jesus' formula for self-fulfillment works!
But be careful. If you go to the mission field with a desire to be fulfilled ... and the fulfillment you are thinking about is a self-serving fulfillment... then your yoke will indeed be heavy, and your burden will be anything but light. There will be fellow missionaries who will thwart you. There will be a national church that will frustrate you. There will be a DFM that will deny you. And there will be an endless series of events in which your "rights" are infringed upon. You will be miserable.
But if you will use Jesus' formula for self-fulfillment... if you will take His yoke upon you ... if you will find your fulfillment in bringing the gospel of reconciliation to others even if it means suffering for you ... then self-fulfillment will be yours. It is a formula of giving rather than of receiving with, in some instances, a marvelous twist to it. There are some things that, the more you give of them, the more you receive for yourself. They are the things that, if you seek them for yourself without regard for others, the less you have of them. For instance, love, joy, and peace are elusive if sought for self. But the more you give of love, joy, and peace, the more you receive for yourself. Talk about self-fulfillment!
Let's talk a bit more about this formula for self-fulfillment. Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself." Some have jumped on this and have said, "Aha ... this proves you must love yourself... because if you do not love yourself, you cannot possibly love your neighbor." Wrong! Wrong on two counts! Wrong that we must start by loving ourselves, and wrong that loving ourselves leads to loving our neighbor. Self-love does not make us love our neighbor more. It makes us love him less ... and we all know it.
Jesus was speaking from observation. Men love themselves. That is a well established fact. The fact that Jesus recognized it does not mean that He put His approval upon it. He merely used the fact as a measuring stick to show how much we ought to love our neighbors. Any careful study of the Scriptures, both from the teachings of Jesus and the teaching of Paul, will clearly show that we are to deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24)... are not to please ourselves (Romans 15:11)... and are to please our neighbor (Romans 15:2).
"But," you say, "what about self-esteem and self-worth? How can a man function in society who doesn't believe in himself? Aren't these things important?" Yes, they are important, but they don't come through self-love. Those who insist on respect from others ... who think more highly of themselves than they ought to think ... who measure themselves by others ... who trust their own judgment... are headed down a rocky road. The counseling chambers and the offices of psychiatrists are full of professionals who have an unending job of keeping ahead of their own frustrations, let alone those of their patients. Why? Because they seek the answer to self-fulfillment in "self' and not in Christ. Their ego-building balloon bursts at the slightest provocation!
Christ-centeredness is the only answer to self-fulfillment. Does this take away self-esteem? Does this take away self-worth? The answer is "yes" and the answer is "no." Christ-centeredness certainly takes away selfishness. But look what replaces self. "Awareness" of who we are in Christ. Confidence that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthened! me." Unselfishness in that I don't seek my own but my neighbor's good. Believers who replace self with Christ don't have an inferiority complex. It's the guy who tries to do it on his own that gets unraveled!