Replacing the God in the Mirror

Palms sweating and cheeks reddening, I knew that I could not hide my embarrassment. I dropped the proverbial ball. Not only could I not calm the squirming, fussy baby on my lap, but I had forgotten the student’s name visiting in our youth group. She looked at me with disappointment and corrected me. That same morning her mother retrieved her from our Bible study with disapproval as the lesson had gone a few minutes over.

I was failing at being a youth pastor’s wife. Not to mention I was further away from being like So-and-So than ever before. I much preferred being noticed for my abilities of motherly multi-tasking and engaging students.

I deserve honor — and I’ll lose it if I keep this up.

Our Inward Bent Towards Self-Glory

We are glory-seekers through and through. We feel the influence of our peers advancing in the faith and we desire to be as they are — we must make ourselves count for something in this Christian life. This pressing temptation is the plight in our local churches, and our strivings birth anti-gospel affections.

The sin in seeking our own glory is that we’ve seen the glory of Christ and decided he is not enough for us.

Who we are mentoring, the disciplines we are visibly practicing, and the words of deep theological encouragement we share with all of our friends in small group — there’s something hiding beneath it for some of us. Our hearts, capable of churning out idols at rapid rates, taste the slightest recognition or hear the accolades of our church family and give way to self-savoring.

With bashfulness and sorrow, I often find myself before the Lord repenting of the unholy desire to receive from those around me what was never intended for me. The heinousness of self-glory is that we have received that which is of first importance — “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared” (1 Corinthians 15:3–5) — and we declare it to be insufficient for our joy. The draft of self-glory, once tasted, shifts our affections away from Christ, the very light that has shown our darkened hearts the knowledge of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Indicators of Self-Glory

The issue is our misplacement of who we are intending to behold. Even in our small groups and worship services we can turn our hearts upon ourselves, seeking to project our own worth in sacred arenas. However, the gospel of Christ ought to be for us a place of personal dethroning — and ultimately, this is for our joy.

If we are not satisfied unless our good works are noticed, we’re being good for the wrong reasons.

But in order to step down from our usurped thrones, we need to see all the ways that we are tempted to sit up there in the first place. There are many ways this sin can bleed out into our lives, but here are a few common ways that should make us pause if we begin to notice them.

1. Failing in front of fellow Christians makes us cringe — for all the wrong reasons. “I must not fail,” we tell ourselves. Yet when we do, the failure cripples our hearts. This fear of man can even lead to reluctance in confessing our sins to one another (James 5:16) — we don’t want to broadcast our failures.

2. If we aren’t measuring up to (or surpassing) so and so, we feel inadequate. We have reached the false conclusion that this person is the epitome of Christlikeness. When we cannot attain a life matching or bettering theirs, our hearts faint.

3. Our service to the Lord cannot be done in secret anymore. We must have the recognition of our studies, pursuits, and encounters, or else they are less authentic for us. It may be helpful to ask whether we would be as pleased with our service if someone else was God’s means of accomplishing it. In either case, the question is whether we love our work, ministry, or service or merely our own part in it.

4. Our time on and pleasure of social media far surpasses our communion with and enjoyment of the Lord. In a culture of immediate virtual gratification, we may be tempted to the transient glory of “friends” and “followers.” If influence on social media pulls on our hearts with such strength that our enjoyment of Christ begins to lay at the wayside, we ought to check our hearts for self-idolatry.

Hope for the Self-Exalter

So what do we do if we find our hearts bending back in on ourselves instead of inclining to God?

First, we must make it our daily business to reorient our affections around Christ. We must behold him for who he is as our emptying Savior, God-man servant, obedient to death Lamb, cross-bearing Lord, and highly exalted one who, through his selflessness, has been given the name above all names (Philippians 2:6–9). If our highest delight is the God-man who himself confessed that his own self-glorification was worthless (John 8:54), what sort of delight could we take in self-exaltation?

Too many of us trade the Maker of heaven and earth for the god in the mirror.

As the temptation to seek praise for ourselves in our local churches wells up, count it as good to be hidden in Christ. All of our works of obedience which might merit favor before men are nothing more (and nothing less) than a testament of God’s consistently flowing, sufficient grace (Ephesians 1:5–6). Found in Jesus with no righteousness of our own (Philippians 3:9) — that is enough. Be there with gladness.

Driven by Another’s Fame

The desire to be set apart is good and right only when it is found under the umbrella of grace, when we recognize that we are right before God only through the righteousness of his Son, and we are now set apart to bring praise to the glory of his grace in this world.

It is not wrong to desire to be influential with the glorious gospel of grace that has been entrusted to us. Gospel-loving hearts love sharing in the gracious privilege of being used in its advancement. But as we share, we must sift our hearts’ motives with the reality that we have been grafted into the household of God for this very purpose: to behold Christ the Son, not hoping to receive a measure of that glory for ourselves.

To that end, we should often put this question to our hearts: Are my thoughts and actions suggesting that Christ is matchlessly glorious? Am I enjoying influence, ministry, or service because I am known or because Christ is known through me? Feeding on the praise of man cannot sustain us. It was never intended to. However, when we behold Christ in all of his humble glory, we taste what we were made to savor.

(@MelissaJDennis) is the wife of a student pastor and mother of three wee ones. She’s a graduate from Dallas Baptist University and a content editor.