Beware of the Self-Elevating Gospel

by Bethany Mathis January 10, 2018

I have worked in women’s ministry in the context of my local church for some time now. Because I am leading, teaching, and ministering to women I try and stay attuned to what they’re reading, what’s popular, to whom they are listening, and what messages they are believing. What I’ve noticed, while it doesn’t shock me, does deeply concern me. The message is not specific to women but, for whatever reason, I see it most presently among my gender. The message I’m referring to is that of a self-elevating gospel of personal identity that leaves Jesus on the sidelines or nowhere to be found at all.

A social media post a few days ago has stuck in my mind. It read “God’s solution for the world is you.” While this isn’t a new message, I had never seen it spelled out so directly. You are the solution. Not Jesus, you. Social media is overrun with Christian-like messages that implore us to know who we are, do what we love, be empowered, and have victory in this life. While I do affirm the notion that we have victory over sin because of Jesus shedding His own blood, that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, that God knows our name, that He desires to use us for His glory, and that we have an identity in Christ - none of this has much to do with me. The problem with these self-actualizing messages is that I can’t find them anywhere in Scripture.

Nowhere can I find an apostle that boasted in his own strength, gifts, intelligence, or role. Nowhere do I see that God’s solution for the world was me. In fact, the more I dig into the Word, the more I see with glaring clarity that the Bible is like a collection of big neon signs pointing to the cross. In the New Testament I see men who poured themselves out for the sake of another. When Paul boasted, it was in His weakness and suffering. When I read I see verses like these:

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:17

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

It is a beautiful truth that God has created us as set apart beings, that He has chosen us by name, that He knows every hair on our heads, and that He knit us together in the womb. But these truths were never meant to make us look inward. They were never meant to just make us feel better about ourselves. Our response to being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139) is to stand in awe of a fearful and wonderful God - not to marvel over how special we are. Our response to these truths is to praise His name - not seek to make ours known. In fact, knowing that I am seen and loved in this way causes me to let go of the desire to be known by the world. It’s okay if the world doesn’t know my name. In the Scriptures, we are given a picture that seems backward to our worldly minds. A picture of becoming lower to be lifted and becoming last to be first. We are shown that through our weaknesses and trials we become more sure and steadfast. In my own experiences, I’ve seen this to be true. Through my weakest moments I have tasted God’s sweetness and been able to share His goodness with others in a way I believe wouldn’t have been possible by any other means.

My hope for us serving in the local church is that we would challenge this message of self-elevation. I pray that we would fight the narrative that is being proclaimed that magnifies who we are and minimizes who God is. Our people are being discipled by online entities who have the name of Jesus on their lips, but yet their theology leaves him as a footnote.

May we faithfully point to the Scriptures that, by nature, elevate Christ.