The Christian and Self-Awareness

One of the “side benefits” (if I can use that term) of being a Christian is the awareness of self that it brings. John Calvin understood this. He begins his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” making the two-part point that, “in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves… On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” Our aim in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ should not be solely to know ourselves, but Calvin’s point is true: it naturally happens in the process.

The first thing we may learn about ourselves is that we are made—created, not evolved. Furthermore, we are made uniquely in the image of our Creator. Very soon after we learn that we were created perfect. Then we learn we are now a race of rebels against our good Creator-God. These are the initial stepping stones that teach us about ourselves as we come to the knowledge of God in Christ. In the proper context it is a very good thing to be self-aware.

John the Baptist was self-aware practically from the womb, where he lept for joy when pregnant Mary greeted Elizabeth. Years later, when asked pointedly who he was, he “confessed and did not deny, but confessed” both who he was not, and who he was, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”

Peter…not so much. Not initially. Peter’s own self-awareness was miscalibrated. He swore at the Last Supper that he was ready to go to prison and die with Jesus. Hours later he denied the Lord three times despite being told by Jesus that’s exactly what would happen. I think Peter’s self-knowledge was given a sudden, traumatic adjustment in an instant. Luke records the exact moment for us. “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord…” It wasn’t the rooster’s crowing that got Peter; it was the look of the arrested Lord Jesus. Like the blind man who was healed in two parts, first only seeing men as trees walking, Peter’s perspective wasn’t complete, but after Pentecost it was a thousand times clearer.

Paul’s self-awareness was always there, but underwent a radical transformation. He went from an arrogant, self-righteousness bent on justifying his hatred behind a façade of religious zeal to a humble single-minded boldness: “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19) knowing full well it would cost him everything. His self-awareness comes through over and over again. Whether he sees himself as the “least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:10), the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15), or a whole host of other descriptors, Paul knew himself best when he saw himself in Christ. All that he was before no longer mattered (Phi 3) and by Philippians 4 he says of himself “I know…I know…I have learned…”

All of this is a long introduction to a very short point: Take time to know yourself. In the Lord discover who he has made you. Dave Miller had an excellent post a few weeks ago about his own struggles with weight and appetite. He knows himself in those areas. I know of myself that I am an extrovert, my batteries get charged by being around others. Alone times are OK, but prolonged seasons of isolation are not healthy for me. You might be the opposite, eagerly waiting for another interlude of solitude. Discover your faults, your areas of greatest temptations, your compassion blind-spots, etc. and then think and pray through what you learn about yourself and how to incorporate those things into your life.

A healthy self-awareness is not an end goal in itself, but in the Lord it ultimately glorifies Him. David took stock of himself and used it as an opportunity to correct his inner spiritual unrest and draw closer to the Lord (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). A less inward example is that taking inventory of the activities you enjoy will likely hit at the very spiritual gifts that God has given you with which to bless and edify the Church. Then find a place to exercise them. Thirdly, and putting it all together really, discovering more about how the Lord has wired you–and doing so in conjunction with seeking to know Him more– naturally sweetens this life the Lord has blessed you to live that much more!


  1. says

    Great post, thank you. This is something I have been teaching and preaching for many years. True humility is understanding who you REALLY are, and most people don’t. It’s hard to take a realistic look at ourselves, but it’s no necessary. We don’t like to admit our short-comings. I am an introverted pastor. Know how hard that is? The reality that I know that about myself does two things. First, it reminds me that I have to get by myself often to recharge, and second, it proves that God has a sense of humor. It’s so important to do a deep, internal, personal inventory.

  2. Christiane says

    I read this post, and I think maybe both ANTHONY and DAN might understand the longing in the prayer of Aidan of Holy Island, Lindisfarne, a ‘tidal island’ attached to the mainland only when the tide receded to form a ‘land bridge’ twice a day.
    But when the tide came in and covered the land bridge, Lindisfarne was once more an ‘island’ isolated from the busy mainland, and the monks were left to pray in peace.

    Here is Aidan’s prayer, written long ago in northern Britain
    circa 635 A.D.

    “Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
    As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
    Make me an island, set apart, alone with You, God, holy to You.

    Then, with the turning of the tide
    prepare me to carry Your Presence to the busy world beyond,
    the world that rushes in on me till the waters come again
    and fold me back to you.”

      • Christiane says

        Hi ANTHONY,

        ‘all this stuff’ :)
        Well, I love the history of the Church in the British Isles, especially during the time of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and the Danelaw . . . and I love the history of how sacred Scripture was preserved and passed down, so I shared something from that time that I thought might have meaning for you and for DAN. I’m glad that you liked Aidan’s prayer.

        Anthony, if you trace the history of sacred Scripture in Britain from the King James Bible back into previous centuries, you will come to Tyndale, Wyclif, and before them, Alcuin.
        And before Alcuin, to Ceolfrith and to the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’ which were copied and illuminated beautifully (in the tradition of the Book of Kells) in the ‘scriptorium’ room at Lindisfarne Abbey (founded by Aiden).
        You see, the tradition of the ‘scriptoriums’ (rooms where Scripture was copied by hand) goes back even further to the time of the Septuagint scholars who were set to work on the island in the harbor of Alexandria and produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament, through Saint Jerome and his Vulgate tradition, through Cassiodorus and his reworking of Jerome’s Vulgate of the old Latin texts.

        The Lindisfarne Gospels represent the ancient tradition of ‘recieving what was handed down and preserving it to pass on intact’,
        and in the scriptorium on Lindisfarne, the hand-written sacred texts were copied with great care according to that tradition.
        The printing-press would not be invented for another eight centuries into the future, so these monastic scriptoriums were an important connection for the sacred writings to be preserved and passed on.

        It’s good to know something of the history of how sacred Scripture ended up in your hands . . . there was a long line of people who cared greatly that this should happen, and they too were members of the Body of Christ and a part of the heritage of all Christian people.

        BTW, the first Viking raid in the 900’s was an attack on Lindisfarne, where the monastery was plundered and where many were slaughtered. That also, is a famous part of British history and soon the Vikings made colonies in Britain and for a time a portion of Britain was ruled by them during the ‘Danelaw’. They were converted to Christianity . . . so their forbears came to rob and kill, and instead their descendents found a ‘pearl of great price’, the holy faith of Our Lord.
        Not a bad thing to know about, I think.

        P.S. The ancient Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell of that first Viking raid on ‘Holy Island’ ( Lindisfarne ).

  3. says

    Thanks, Dan! Good points. What I find interesting is that the Lord uses both your introvert tendencies and my extrovert ones to sanctify us both, just in different ways. You prefer solitude yet must move among groups of people; I prefer people yet oftentimes God prepares me for the often lonely life of ministry by pulling me back from opportunities to be around others, reminding me that true “re-charging” comes not from horizontal relationships, but my vertical one with Him.
    Thanks again!

  4. says

    “A healthy self-awareness is not an end goal in itself, but in the Lord it ultimately glorifies Him. ”

    Yep. Excellent article, my friend.