What is "self"? Here I speak of "self" as an individual, sentient being. Each self has value, an identity, needs and desires, among other things. It is also know as "ego".
As a Christian, I had been taught that the Christian believer is "selfless", ego-less. I find the notion among believers that the self is nothing – the highest goal is to totally empty ones self and to sacrifice all. Generally, this selflessness is expressed in terms of the distribution of ones physical resources, first to revered personalities and then revered institutions and organizations. The value of ones self and their identity is in terms of the group, not the individual; the individual is considered to be nothing. Thus the identity and self worth of the individual is sacrificed.
The irony is that those viewed as "leaders" are required to be anything but selfless! In order to become a leader in this realm of life, one must be an ambitious, charismatic, self-promoter! In order to promote one's leadership and the supporting organization, that leader must convince the followers to part with their hard earned resources and sense of self. Thus the doctrine of selflessness is used to motivate people to sacrifice "self" for the good of the many and for God.
However, the error of selflessness is not scriptural, it is a twisting of scripture, it is a deception. Truly, there is another option, there is truth that is not taught.
God calls us as individuals; even Jesus taught that God knows the number of hairs we have on our heads. He knows each one of us, individually, in detail.
Romans 6 teaches us that we are enabled to walk in newness of life, that our "old self" has been crucified with Christ. This implies that there is a "new self" that is available in the newness of life. 2 Corinthians 4 mentions these two as the "outer" self and the "inner" self. There is the old, outer self of the flesh and the new, inner self of the spirit.
Ephesians 4 is even clearer, instructing each of us to "put off" the old self. The old self is further described as that which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt (dead, rotten, decayed). You, as an individual, are to "put on" the new self in place of the old self. This new self is created after the likeness of God. It is alive and uncorrupt! The new self, like the old, is a sentient individual, with value, identity, needs and desires.
What is it to "put off" and to "put on"? Well, practically speaking, what would you do if you changed your current, worldly identity? The first thing you would have to change is your thinking – how you think about yourself, how you regard yourself. For example, what about the deeds, good and bad, that you had performed before you changed your identity? After you changed your identity, then logically, those deeds were all done by someone else. Whatever was done in the past belongs to the old, former identity.
From God's point of view, that is exactly true; those deeds in the past were done by someone else. This change of self is not a deception. Romans 6 states that the old self of the flesh was (past tense) crucified with Christ. In response, you are to change your thinking, you are to consider yourself dead to sin, dead to the past, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Your new identity, your new self, God created alive in Christ Jesus.
Further, as you put on the new self, you present this "new you" to God as an instrument for righteousness. This is NOT the ego-less, selflessness we previously discussed. God created the "new you" to be alive and to function for him; that is the purpose of the new you, it is how this new you is to be expressed. The action of "putting on" is to be completely aware of, to value, to know and to function as the "new you"! The new you is IMPORTANT!
The scriptures do not say that you are to present the new you to some leader or to some organization. Truth that the scriptures (1 Corinthians 3) instruct, is that the leaders among you are to express their leadership by SERVING YOU. YOU do not serve THEM. They are to empty themselves in service to YOU!
So, what is the result of this service to be? Ephesians 4 answers this question. Their service is to result in equipping you (the new you) for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. It is you, the individual saint (believer) who is to carry out the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry is NOT the work of those who function as leaders; they do not own or have a "ministry", as the term is commonly used. It is the individual believers, those walking in newness of life who are to carry out the work of the ministry.
Note that your call is not to build up some corporate church organization, it is not to build up someone's so-called ministry. Your call is to build up the body of Christ. This body can only be known or discerned as you walk in newness of life, as you put off your old self and you put on your new self, your new identity, the new you.
So, as you answer the call of God to put on the new you, realize that you are under no obligation to follow some religious personality or some religious organization. You have no obligation to give of your hard earned resources to support that person or organization; this is NOT how you serve God! See Acts 17:24 and 25. Start your service to God by changing how you think about yourself. Discover the New You in Romans and Ephesians.
(C)2013 Keith S. Radcliffe