The Insidious Lie of Self-Fulfillment

Let’s begin with three perspectives that might sound familiar to you:

Perspective 1: I know that I’ve been in this marriage for a long time. And we have tried hard to make it work. But the truth is that I just don’t fit here any more. I need space to pursue my own dreams. And though once upon a time I might have thought I could be fulfilled in this kind of life, I now see that I must be true to myself and move on.

Perspective 2: I no longer experience God the way I need to in this church, so I have to venture out. I need to explore other avenues of faith, because I know God might speak to you through those traditional means, but I need the freedom to pursue Him on my own terms. To find the way He speaks specifically to me and the way I experience Him.

Perspective 3: I can no longer stay in this job. My heart tells me I was made for much more than this, and that surely God would want me to find a line of work where I can be more fulfilled. It’s true that the job I have is a good one, but I need something more than that. 

The problem here is two-fold, I believe.

The first problem requires us to ask a very simple, but very fundamental question: Can we really trust ourselves? Because that’s what each of these three perspectives is doing.

Implicit in the leaving of this marriage, or this church, or this role, is that I am actually capable of determining what is best for myself. And having determined that, that I am actually capable of knowing myself well enough to know what that is. Both of these assumptions are wrong, as any person who is actually self-aware will tell you. For a person who does possess a degree of self-awareness knows, paramount to most anything else, is that they are not to be trusted. Not with something as important as our own hearts.

We lie to ourselves on a near daily basis, for we are weak and frail creatures who are pulled from the truth by anything from a passing fling to a juicy hamburger. We are, as Paul lamented, those who know the good we ought to do and yet convince ourselves to do something else. Constantly. That’s why it’s such good news to know that we don’t have to trust ourselves. We can trust in God, and His willingness and ability to tell us the truth, far and above trusting in our own ability to do so.

The second problem is that in each of these cases, the person in question is pursuing at the cost of everything else their own self-interest. Self-actualization. The terms that most favor themselves. And that fundamentally violates what it means to be a Christian – namely, that following Christ is a life of self-denial. True enough, the other side of that self-denial is indeed self-actualization, but it’s a different kind of cut from what we find masquerading as true fulfillment in many spiritual circles.

True fulfillment actually embraces self-denial, and finds great joy in making much of Jesus as we do. The kind of self-actualization described in the perspectives above is not true fulfillment, but instead self-gratification. And there’s a big difference between the two.

Fulfillment is when we are aware of and are working toward our deeper desires while gratification is simply concerned with the feeling of the moment. It’s the difference between being fed with a hearty, 3-course meal, filled with healthy protein and vegetables, and eating 3 bean burritos from Taco Bell just because you’re hungry. In both cases you might end up full for a time; but only in the first you are truly fulfilled.

When you boil away the over-spiritualized language and mantra, I fear at the bottom you find the same old thing which tempts us every day and in every way – and that is the lure of self-lordship. It is our outright refusal to accept what comes from God’s hand as being for our good and for His glory, and instead picking up our own self-determined way of doing or thinking or feeling.

Lord help us.

Help us to see that in Jesus, not in ourselves, do we find the truest Truth. And help us to see the great beauty of self-denial for the sake of Christ.

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  • Marjorie Bennett says:

    OH! this is good! Oh my this is good! Thanks for addressing this idea. This is striking a chord with me, and something I have seen all my life. Oh I love this! Perhaps I didn’t have it wrong all along……..thankyou! But for sure…….God doesn’t have it wrong. I believe that to God, and according to His word, that Commitment is commitment, and Covenant is covenant, and Comfort is good at times, but in the right perspective. Sometimes the reason we don’t, or didn’t grow the right way, is because we didn’t stay and seek the Lord further, through intense and uneasy times. I am learning that “staying the course” brings incredible blessings that can come no other way!!!!! Thankyou so much for this Post!!! Glory Hallalujah!!!!!

  • Angel 1212 says:

    Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking article. It raises important questions about self-trust and self-interest in relation to one’s personal journey, whether it’s in a marriage, faith, or career. While we need to rely on God’s guidance rather than our own limited understanding, I believe it’s essential to strike a balance. AMEN!

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