Saturday, August 13, 2005

True self-knowledge

What is true self-knowledge?
Self-knowledge is discerning how things ought to be with us in true spiritual obedience to God and how they actually are.

Why is it so necessary to know ourselves?
If we are strangers to ourselves and our true condition, we will be strangers also to God and to what we ought to be before Him. We are therefore also strangers to true wisdom and happiness.

How does true self-knowledge help us to know God?
When we recognise our ignorance, vanity, weakness, depravity and corruption, we come to see that there is none good but God and that in the Lord, and none but He, dwells the true light of wisdom, holiness and goodness.

How can we seek true self-knowledge?
We must seek it in the Scriptures alone. The perfect law of liberty shows us how things ought to be with us spiritually and how far we fall short of that (James 1:22-25).

What examples are there of self-knowledge in Scripture?
Isaiah discovered this in crying out: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). Peter also discovered this knowledge when he had to say to Christ, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8). The apostle Paul, seeing the face of the holiness of God in the law as the transcript of God's character had to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24).

Which passages of Scripture are most helpful for self-examination?
The Ten Commandments (using the exposition in the Westminster Larger Catechism), the Sermon on the Mount, Rev. 2-3, 1 Cor. 13 and Gal. 5:13-26 are all especially helpful in discerning how things ought to be with us and how they really stand at present.

Why do so few seek true knowledge of themselves?
The world, the flesh and the devil present many pleasurable temptations and distractions in order to keep us from truly knowing ourselves. A heart immersed in sin and the world will have no desire for true self-knowledge.

What is the danger of avoiding true self-knowledge?
Our heart is deceitful above all things by nature. If we do not truly know ourselves we will be deceiving ourselves (Gal. 6:3; 1 Jn. 1:8).

What is the greatest hindrance to knowing ourselves?
Self-love keeps us back from knowing the truth about ourselves: "Who can understand his errors?" (Ps. 19:12) Our pride does not want a true sight of our sinfulness.

Why else do we shrink from true self-knowledge?
Because it is painful to learn the truth about our sinful state from a smiting conscience.

What encouragement can we have despite this painfulness?
True self-knowledge is the only way to repent of sin and to seek to put it to death in our hearts.
When our hearts find less pleasure in sin we will find more pleasure in a true knowledge of the state of our heart. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1, 7).

What else makes self-knowledge difficult?
It is difficult because we are so familiar with our dispositions and attitudes that we do not recognise them as sins of envy, resentment and discontent etc. but see them as natural reactions.

How can we solemnise ourselves so as to engage in this duty?
We should think of the full and open examination of our hearts and lives that will be conducted on the day of judgment and the eternal consequences of sin. In true self-examination 'we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world' ( 1 Cor. 11:32).

What is the diligence required of us in self-examination?
The natural proud tendency of our supremely deceitful heart will be to be overly lenient. We should seek therefore to be thorough and sincere in this duty.
It must be a daily and continual exercise to know how we have or have not obeyed God in thought, word and action during the course of a day. We are responsible for keeping our heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.

How can we avoid hypocrisy in this duty?
True self-knowledge should never lead us to pride but only to humility. We are taught by true self-knowledge that we are nothing but what we are in secret before God. It will never lead us to despise us others but provoke us to be more diligent in the knowledge of our own faults than those of others (Gal. 6:5-6).

What are the benefits of truly knowing ourselves?
True self-knowledge teaches us what is most important and that spiritual treasures are the most valuable and the most durable.

What are the practical outcomes of true self-knowledge?
When we know ourselves truly, we will be seeking to die more and more unto sin and to live unto righteousness. Our desire will be for a Christ-like character because we see him
as the altogether lovely One in contrast to our own vileness. True self-knowledge should turn our thoughts to rest in the contemplation of the glorious holiness and gracious majesty of God.