4-3 Self-perception

The Greek word translated “conscience”, sun-eidesis, means literally a co-perception. It implies that there are two types of perception within the believer- human perception, and spiritual self perception. The conscience that is cleansed in Christ, that is at peace, will be a conscience that keeps those two perceptions, of the real self and of the persona, in harmony. What we know and perceive humanly, is in harmony with we spiritually perceive. Our conscience, our co-perception, our real self, makes sense of the human perceptions and interprets them in a spiritual way. So, a young man sees an attractive girl. His human perception signals certain things to his brain- to lust, covet, etc. But his co-perception, his conscience, his real self, handles all that, and sees the girl’s beauty for just simply what it is- beauty. Job before his ‘conversion’ paralleled his eye and his ear: “Mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it” (Job 13:1). He was so sure that what he heard was what he saw; he was sure that his perceptions were operating correctly. But later, he comes to see a difference between his eye and his ear. He says that he had only heard of God by the ear; but only now, he says, “mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5). He had heard words, but, he realized, he’d not properly ‘seen’ or perceived. Finally, he had a properly functioning ‘conscience’, a co-perception. What he saw, was what he really heard.

We have probably all realized that mere introspection isn’t necessarily the same as fruitful self-perception / self-examination. In 1 Cor. 11:29,31 we are exhorted to both judge / diakrinoourselves and also diakrino / discern [s.w.] the body and person of Jesus in His time of dying. This is because our essential person is Him, crucified, covered in blood and spittle. This is why the records of His crucifixion are written so uniquely; supreme above all literature, the inevitable gap between the reader and the person being described [Christ crucified] is miraculously reduced- for the sensitive reader who really makes the effort to believe his or her ‘first principle doctrine’, that their the Son of God was truly the representative of every one of us in Him. We are to thereby “reckon ourselves” to be dead to sin (Rom. 6:11). The Greek word for “reckon” is that normally translated “impute”, in the context of imputing righteousness (Rom. 4:3,4,5,6,8,9- indeed, the word occurs in almost every verse of Romans 4). Strictly the Greek word means “to take an inventory” (Strong). We are to search through our lives and perceive ourselves as in Christ, as men and women who don’t sin because we are in Christ. We are to impute [AV “conclude”] that we are justified by faith (Rom. 3:28). The Lord died to justify us (Rom. 4:25); yet we justify ourselves by our attitude to ourselves, in that we allow His death to so influence our self-perception.

We cannot look passively at the cross. It must change how we see ourselves. It must radically affect our self-perception and self understanding. For we are in Him. It was us who hung with Him there, and who hang with Him still in the tribulations of life. For we are to account / impute ourselves as the sheep for the slaughter, i.e. the Lord Jesus, for whose sake we are killed all the day long in the sharing of His sufferings (Rom. 8:36); with Paul, we “die daily”, because we are in Christ. And if we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). To see ourselves as in Christ, to have such a positive view of ourselves, that the essential ‘me’ is actually the sinless Son of God, is almost asking too much of men and women living with all the dysfunction and low self-worth that seems part of the human condition.

And so this wonderful word for “impute” occurs again in a wonderful, truly wonderful passage of assurance: “Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ…not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think [s.w. “impute”] any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency [s.w. “worthiness”] is of God” because our face / image is being changed into His image, “even as by the spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:3,5,18). We look in the mirror, and see Christ in us. This looking in the mirror is used by James as a figure for self-examination (James 1:18,22-25). By doing the word of truth, we find we will live lives of looking in the mirror, of self-perception. This is the essence of self-examination; to perceive the Christ-man within us, and that all other behaviour is our being unfaithful to our true self, living out a persona. We are to see ourselves as being Christ; we are to have a high view of ourselves in this sense, whilst despising and seeking to dismantle the personas we so often act out which are unfaithful to Him. Thus Paul could say that although he was not worthy to be called an apostle, felt himself unworthy to be in Christ even, yet he ‘supposed’ [s.w. “impute”] that he was one of the “chiefest apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5). No longer would we be victims of jealousies or striving for a higher place in a hierarchy, be it in the ecclesia or in society- for we impute ourselves to be Christ Himself, the highest of all. Now of course there are times when we need to have a persona- the high school teacher needs to come over to his pupils in a certain way in order to have a disciplined classroom. So it’s not so much a case of casting off the personage we adopt but rather bringing it into conformity with our true person, Christ in us.

All this is the immense challenge behind Paul’s word choice in 1 Cor. 11- that in the light of His cross, in the light of our connection with His life and His death through baptism, we are to use every gram of faith within us to conclude that really and truly, we are Him. And this of course plugs in to the large body of Bible teaching that applies verses which clearly refer to the Lord Jesus personally to us personally. Yet, we do sin. Seriously and grievously. It’s not good enough to say that this is merely our personas sinning. We need to change. We are held culpable for those sins. To put it simply, we all want to stop sinning. And how are we to do this? One way is to realize that we are not merely a housewife, a computer programmer, a quiet pensioner hacking and coughing our way through... We are Christ personified to this world. Therefore to be ourselves as God intends is to be Christ, to let the Christ-man within us show forth; the life that He lived and the death that He died becomes ours (Rom. 6:10,11). Paul could say, with reference to this, that he died daily (1 Cor. 15:31); and out of each death, there comes forth new life. For His resurrection life, the type of life that He lived and lives, becomes manifest in our mortal flesh right now (2 Cor. 4:11).

How far we are now in touch with our real selves is crucial to our standing with God. One of the many Proverbs which comment upon this is Prov. 27:21: “As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold, so is a man to his praise”. I take this to mean that who we really are is revealed by how we respond to receiving praise. If we know it’s valid or reject it as misplaced is the real test of human character. Self knowledge, the ability to self-examine, is indicative of so much.

Relations With Others

Having a true, accurate self-perception and appreciating the tremendous significance of the true person as opposed to our mere personas... this affects our relation to others. We will seek to decode the images presented to us by our brethren, and relate to the Christ-man within them, to the real and true person rather than the persona they act out. Because we see the Christ within them, the real Duncan or Dmitry or Ludmila or Sue or Jorge… we will realize that relationships are worth fighting for. The world of unbelievers then becomes perceived as a mass of persons waiting to be born, to become born again after the image of Christ through their conversion and baptism. The healing of the blind man as recorded in Mk. 8:22-26 is unusual in that the healing was in two stages. Initially the man only “beheld men as trees, walking”. As a blind man, he would have had very limited experience of people. He initially saw them merely as part of the landscape, as important to him as trees. But the aim of the miracle was to convict him of this, and lead him to understand people as more than trees, more than just part of the natural creation with as much meaning as trees. That man represented us all; part of coming to the light, of receiving spiritual sight, is to perceive the value and meaning of persons; to see the world of persons rather than a world of things. No longer will we divide people as the world does into winners and losers, successes and failures; rather will we see in each one we meet a potential brother or sister. For they have all been invited into God’s family, insofar as we pass them the invitation.

The sheer complexity of human persons means that we cannot ultimately judge them. We see our brother’s various personas, sometimes his true, reborn self coming out; and our images of others derive as much from ourselves as from them. It amazes me that we humans succeed in accurately communicating with each other as much as we do. The more one perceives the complexity of the person and the personas whom we meet, the more apparent it is that we cannot claim to be their judge. And the more evident it is that the judgments which human beings constantly make about each other are so superficial and often inevitably false. Further, if we truly believe that we ourselves are in Christ and “impute” His person as being the essence of our real self, then we must likewise impute His righteousness to our brethren. Thus Peter could say that he ‘imputed’ Silvanus to be a “faithful brother” (1 Pet. 5:12). If only we could consistently live out this truth, then all friction between brethren would be a thing of the past.

The real person isn’t a result of automatisms, mere habits; these are the stuff of the persona. Our real self is involved in making radical personal choices in response to God’s leading. Thus reading / hearing and believing the Gospel results in our submitting to baptism. We did something concrete; we got wet, we went under water. We made a free and responsible commitment of ourselves. Yet in terms of our relations with others, we must respect their person in the sense that we respect their right for self-determination. What their conscience impels them to do must be accepted by us as a genuine, sincere articulation of their person, even if it isn’t what our person impels us to do. Thus I must be patient and eagerly acceptant of those whose consciences tell them to, say, clean up their neighbourhood rather than support a Bible preaching campaign. Just as we struggle to break away from mere social conformity, and so often fail, so we must recognize that our brethren likewise face an enormous struggle to be themselves. For example, we may be frustrated at them making what we clearly see to be ‘political’ decisions, following a certain party line to impress their brethren…but realize that their real, inner self is being submerged in those moments, just as you too so tragically often fail to be true to yourself, and refuse to assume responsibility for your own convictions and talents. Your own example of making clear choices, doing what is right before God rather than what is wise and smart in human eyes, will reveal a sense of clarity about you which will become inspirational to your brethren. Yours will not be one of those many lives that is paralyzed by constantly postponing the choices, by indecision, like Israel on Carmel, hopping backwards and forwards between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21), between your persona and your true person, which is Christ in you. Ultimately, the choice is not one of principles or doctrines or interpretations; it is between Christ and all the other things which would lead us away from Him. The essential choice is always between “Christ in you” and… her mother, your instincts, their self-perception imposed upon you, your self-interest. And in those choices there is no third road; we are at a T-junction, hour after hour. We chose either life or death (Dt. 30:19); we cannot serve two masters (Mt. 6:24). Insofar as you at least live a life that reflects this recognition, you will be a challenge to those around you.

We have spoken earlier of the adventure of life which is characteristic of the truly free person with an accurate self-perception. Special bonds are forged between those who share adventure together; old soldiers have endless reunions, students reunite to remember their years of intellectual adventure and discovery. Those who bravely live the true life of spiritual adventure, of struggling to show radical love and forgiveness, to even risk their lives and wealth and health for the Lord’s cause, likewise share a supreme fellowship and meeting of minds. The real basis of fellowship is the Lord Jesus Christ. But what does this mean in practice? Surely it is in the fact that the true Christ person within us connects with the true Christ person within our brother or sister. How often have I met with someone who has been open with me, and I have been open with them, and an amazingly close bond of fellowship is formed after only an hours’ dialogue. But then we have both slipped back behind our personas, fearful of being totally open, seeking to impress rather than simply ‘be’ as our Lord has created us- and so the relationship recedes, or even anger develops as we come to perceive elements of hypocrisy in the one we formerly trusted. When we are hurt, our personas often reappear more strongly to cover the hurt done to our person. And so the problem in our inter-personal relationships gets worse.

This is the challenge to us all; to be truly ourselves, with an honest self-perception, so that we can bond as we are intended to with our brethren. Humans so desperately thirst for this real contact, this real authentic fellowship; but they don’t let themselves receive it because they too aren’t transparent. Paradoxically, we often shy away from transparency in the interests of safeguarding harmony. How many marriages have run into the problem of not talking about something because the subject always causes friction and argument! And how many ecclesias have refused to allow open minded discussion of prophetic matters in the interests of unity… This harmony and unity is a fake. It’s as superficial as a couple having sex before they are married, or a marriage in which the real issues are never addressed, it’s the too easy road, which avoids the difficult encounter of persons which there must be to make any relationship authentic. But the real transparency is brave and unafraid, not for ever calculating what to reveal or not reveal. There will never be the authentic fellowship which God intends unless we can rise up to this transparency, with all the initial awkwardness of seeing both ourselves and our brethren standing naked, as it were, before each other.

And yet in another sense, we are never totally naked before each other, for we can never fully plumb the depths or complexities of the human person; we can never totally separate the personas from the person, neither in ourselves nor in our observation of others. And the person is dynamic, energized by the things of God’s Spirit, ever developing. When we first begin a relationship with another person, there is the fascination to explore and know them which often is related to the love we feel for them, in whatever form. Yet here is where many an ecclesia has become dead, many a marriage has grown stale; the partners consider that they know the others’ person. But how wrong they are! How little do they appreciate the wonderful complexities and hiddenness of the other! This is why the terms “soul” and “spirit” are so vaguely defined in Scripture; they refer to so many things, and they are the closest equivalent to the term “person” which I have been using in this study. The Son of God spoke of how He knew the Father and was being known by the Father using continuous tenses; He was growing to know the Father, as the Father was growing to know the Son. And so it is within our far more human relationships; fellowship is not something static, a dry theoretical state that exists because we profess allegiance to the same theological tenets. It is a meeting of persons, a coming together in the unity of Christ our Lord. The fellowship we are intended to share in Christ is not merely a sharing of ideas; we are not to view people as simply a pile of flesh and blood who claims to believe various ideas; but rather as real, live persons. To be interested in people as persons rather than as holders of ideas, bearers of party labels etc., means a complete revolution in the thinking of many people. Our Lord surely viewed the mob crying for His blood not as a mob but as people; those who listened to Him likewise were not just an impersonal crowd, or class of pupils, but a collection of persons. His teaching of them was therefore not so much lecturing as a dialogue. And immediately one reflects uncomfortably how our beloved community has focused so much on lecturing and platform speaking; and how we have chosen to combat false points of view rather than first seeking to understand why a person holds that false view.

We must be ourselves as God intended and plans us to be. The focus of Scripture and the Lord Jesus is upon individuals, not upon the building of a faceless and person-less social structure. Notice how often Paul talks of “you” or “ye”, and then focuses down to “thee” or “thou”- from the you plural to the you singular. Take Gal. 4:6,7: “Your [plural] hearts…thou [singular] art…”; or “Ye [plural] are all sons of God…thou art…a son” (Gal. 3:26; 4:7 RV). It all comes down to us personally…

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