An Interesting and “Edgy” Understanding of “Ego”
|By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2010|
|The “ego” experiences the world through the senses, rationally processes the data and governs the actions of the individual. The “ego” is the CEO, the conscious mind. We are accustomed to hearing many hyphenated words that includes “ego” such as: “ego trips,” “egomaniacs” or “bruised egos.” It is also possible to use this term as an acrostic to help us to understand a major heart issue: Here are two simple definitions of ego: EGO = 1) Edging God Out or 2) Exalting God Only.|
The Unholy Trinity: Foolish Pride, Cowardly Fear and Selfish Anger: Those who are familiar with Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory understand his basic elements of the personality (id, ego, superego, defense mechanisms, etc.). The theory is designed to offer insight into the human psyche. One of the more popular terms in his theory is the “ego.”
The “ego” experiences the world through the senses (interprets external reality), rationally processes the data (controls thought) and governs the actions (controls behavior) of the individual. The “ego” is the CEO, the conscious mind. It is the self-aware executor of our personality. This theory has caught on in pop culture. We are accustomed to hearing many hyphenated words that includes “ego” such as: “ego trips,” “egomaniacs” or “bruised egos.” It is also possible to use this term as an acrostic to help us to understand a major heart issue: Here are two simple definitions of ego: EGO = 1) Edging God Out or 2) Exalting God Only.
I. Our Old Nature – Our Carnal Ego = Edging God Out
Why and how are we tempted to edge God out of our lives? We edge God out of our lives when we give into or yield to the basic temptations of life. What are some of the most basic temptations of life? They are: foolish pride, cowardly fear and selfish anger. Why do we edge God out of our lives? We edge God out of our lives when we substitute an idol or false god for the one true God. Calvin was right when he said that “The human heart is an idol factory.”
We all have an ultimate object of love and loyalty, and if it is not the one true God, then it is a false god. It can be said that whatever you love the most is “god” to you. This is true, even if your ultimate object of love and loyalty is yourself – your own ego. “God” is always the focus of our worship, whatever that “god” may be. If we substitute a false god for the true and living God then whether we know it or not, we are engaging in false or idolatrous worship.
Furthermore, whatever “god” we worship becomes the source of our identity, meaning, purpose, significance, security and worth as well as our primary audience and judge or standard of evaluation. When we edge God out of our lives we lose our personal integrity. Since God is the only true source of morality and integrity involves “moral soundness,” we cannot be “morally sound” if we edge the true source of morality right out of our lives.
Foolish pride involves having an unrealistically high view of ourselves and blinds us to our need to give the one true God His rightful place in our lives. It results in us enthroning ourselves in the “Kingdom of Self.” When we are hypnotized by foolish pride, we shamelessly promote ourselves, are boastful, typically take too much credit and too little blame for what we do, demand attention from others and talk too much about ourselves rather than be concerned for the needs and interests of others (cf., Rom. 12:3 and Phil. 2:3, 4).
When we are enslaved by cowardly fear we are excessively defensive, we constantly use ego defense mechanisms which distort reality in the process of trying to protect the ego and we tend to become withdrawn, disconnected, separated and socially isolated from others. Fearful people lack transparency and vulnerability, they frequently with hold information, may become control freaks as well as discourage honest feedback. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety.”
What about selfish anger, as opposed to righteous indignation? While anger per se is not necessarily sinful, selfish anger is always sinful. Many people use anger to threaten or manipulate in order to get their way. Uncontrolled anger is not only injurious to our own personal health and wellbeing, but it also takes its toll in our relationships with others.
The basic effects or results of foolish pride, cowardly fear and selfish anger are predictable. They separate, disconnect and isolate us from God, ourselves and others. They also result in confused or unrealistic thinking and irrational or irresponsible actions or behaviors. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1 that when we fail to give the one true God His rightful place in our lives, we become confused in our thinking and our foolish hearts are darkened.
Furthermore, foolish pride, cowardly fear and selfish anger always generate unhealthy or unrealistic judgments of our own condition based on the successes or failures of others. Again Paul says if we compare ourselves with others we’re unwise and lack understanding.
Pride, fear and anger can distort the truth in one of two ways, depending on whether we compare ourselves with others favorably or unfavorably, leading to an unrealistically high view of ourselves and false sense of security or a feeling of diminished self-worth. Romans 12:3 says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Frequently, we are blind to the problems of foolish pride, cowardly fear and selfish anger. We can see it easily enough in others, but have difficulty seeing it in ourselves; and even if we see it we are reluctant to admit it to others, let alone God. The first step in solving a problem is admitting that we have one.
The second step is clearly defining the nature of the problem. It’s been said that “A problem clearly defined is half solved.” We need to identify the sources or causes of our foolish pride, cowardly fear and selfish anger if we are going to remove their negative impact on our lives and our relationships with others.
How have we edged God out of our lives?
Consider the following: We Edge God out…
- 1. When we substitute something else in His place (a false god) as our object of worship:
- Such as power, recognition, appreciation, money and the things money can buy, etc. We are all incurably religious and we will worship something. The only question is who or what? Paul says in Philippians 3:3 (MSG), “The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts and we know it.”
- 2. When we are relying on other sources for our security, identity and sufficiency:
- When we place our faith and put our security in things we are trusting in the temporal. When our faith is not in God’s great love we lack the only realistic basis for being secure. Paul says, “the confidence we have through Christ. We’re not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our sufficiency (or competence) comes from God” (2 Cor. 3:4-5).
- 3. When we substitute other people or objects as a source of our self-worth:
- What’s Satan’s formula for self-worth? Self worth = personal performance + the relative opinion of others. If we are looking to feeling good about ourselves based on our performance and the opinions of others, we are fighting a losing battle. What we need is a graced based self-concept rather than a works based self-concept. When our source of identity is not Christ, we have an inadequate and unrealistic self-concept (Rom. 12:3).
- 4. When we are not secure in God’s love for us, we fear intimacy with others:
- We can’t have healthy relationships with others without trust, and we can’t have trust without honesty, and we can’t have honestly unless we are first secure in the love of God. We love God because He first loved us and He enables us to love others. Paul said in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For the Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them.”
II. Our New Nature – Our Spiritual Self = Exalting God Only
The Mirror Image of: 1) Edging God Out, is 2) Exalting God Only
Fortunately, God has a better alternative to edging God out and that is exalting God only.
- Instead of foolish pride, cowardly fear, selfish anger, there’s humility, boldness and love.
- Instead of attack or withdrawal there’s agape community and grace-based self-acceptance.
- Instead of dysfunctional relationships with others, there is trust, honest and love.
How do we move from 1) Edging God Out to 2) Exalting God Only?
- First we need the proper, full-orbed perspective: We learn to live in the present, in light of future (eternity) and mindful of the value life lessons we learned in the past. We need to learn to think biblically so we can develop and embrace a biblical worldview.
- We must be willing to leave the Kingdom of Self before we can enter the Kingdom of God. It’s no wonder that Jesus instructed His followers in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
- We need to understand that we have been transferred from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). We need to know who we are. We are new creatures in Christ. We have a new nature as well as a new identity in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
- We need to develop a new motivation – a biblical motivation – doing all for the glory of God. Specifically, we need to learn to do God’s will, God’s way, for God’s glory. In order to do this we need to learn, as Paul said, to please God more and more.
- We need to understand the first four of the Ten Commandments in order to grasp what it means to love God and in order to give God His rightful place in our lives – first place. We need to realize that God wants us to have a supreme and incomparable love for Him.
- We need to make sure that no person or thing comes between us and God. God can and will, by His Word and Spirit, transform our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions.
- We need to dedicate or rededicate ourselves to a life of submission, sacrifice and service. In Luke 9:23-24: Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
- We need to assess our progress in the process of (sanctification) conforming to the character and conduct of Jesus Christ. We need to evaluate our level of surrender to, trust in, and commitment to Jesus Christ, His Kingdom and His rightful claim on all our lives.
Some Personal Application Questions for Reflection
Have we allowed our carnal ego needs to keep us from consistently following Christ?
Have you made a commitment to be an apprentice to Jesus – to learn and apply His teaching?
Have you made a searching, fearless inventory of your life, motives, thoughts and behaviors?
Have you admitted to God and another person, your problems with pride, anger and fear?
Are you willing to allow the Spirit of God to remove the defects which need to be changed?
Are you seeking to replace pride, anger and fear with humility, love and boldness?
Are you willing to practice the spiritual disciples in order to draw closer to Christ?