Narcissism is inordinate fascination with oneself, excessive self-love, and/or vanity. Narcissists have an inflated view of self, and go to whatever lengths necessary to improve or promote their appearance, success, and image. Our culture has an obsession with “loving ourself” more than anyone else. But is that really a good thing?
Several weeks ago (while we were still living in Austin), I heard a sermon by JR Vassar on this very topic. It’s one that never ceases to grab my attention, because, in all honesty, I find that I fight a daily fight against my own vanity. So, today, I want to share the notes I took during the sermon…just in case any of you find yourself fighting that same fight.
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NARCISSISM IS EVERYWHERE
We live in a vain culture, where good looks are how we gain attention and affirmation from others. We are obsessed with having approval and getting glances and compliments from others. Many in our culture will spend whatever it takes to maintain the affection of others for their appearance, which includes, but is not limited to:
- Plastic surgery
- Hair removal
- Teeth whitening
Obsession with celebrities makes celebrity status the holy grail. Every child’s dream is to be famous, known, and recognized. We constantly broadcast ourselves to the world (think YouTube)—people come up with the craziest videos just to be seen! Social media allows us to present a digitally edited (and often perfect) version of ourselves to the world.
WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT IT?
For as long as humans have been around, we have been tempted toward narcissism. We de-god God, and deify ourselves (think Adam & Eve eating fruit in order to be like God). Narcissism leads to a path of doom. If we are going to truly flourish as human beings, we cannot create our own little world and expect for it to turn out alright. We cannot live as slaves to our ego and also worship God.
Unfortunately, reality is what actually matters—not how we see ourselves (no matter how awesome we think we are, there is a certain reality about who we are that cannot be ignored). We need to glorify most what is most glorious. We need to love most what is most lovely. We need to value most what is most valuable. There is something much more enduring than our own reflections. A glory that frees us from bondage to our ego and vanity.
OBSESS OVER SOMETHING WORTHWHILE.
Psalm 145 helps us to “un-self” our lives. It gives us a vision of the great and gracious God who is worthy of our adoration and worship:
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. (Psalm 145:2, 3 ESV)
God has infinitely more in the tank than what he has exerted. We must lose ourselves and fix our gaze on something that is infinitely greater than us. The bible is rich with praise for what God is capable of:
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds. (Psalm 145:5, 6 ESV)
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promisesand faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you,and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your handand satisfy the desires of every living thing. (Psalm 145:8-16 ESV)
We want to be close to those who we perceive to be superior to us. We are all name droppers, and are obsessed with being near people who our culture has deemed important. There is an incomparably great One, who also happens to be gracious.
The point: forget about ourselves and get obsessed with God—his beauty, his glory, his power, his success, his love, his compassion his grace:
The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever. (Psalm 145:20, 21 ESV)
The psalms orient us away from ourselves and turn us toward the everlasting beauty and glory of God. Unlike popular music today—which celebrates self more than any other time—the psalms celebrate what is worthy of praise and glory. In addition to the Psalms, we can learn a lot from the Book of Luke about how we are to act when we decide to follow Jesus. From Luke 14:25-27, we learn that we should:
- Renounce ourselves as the greatest value
- Deny ourselves and, in turn, gain Christ
- Repent of our self-absorption
- Let Christ save us from our narcissism
HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE’RE NARCISSISTS? AND HOW DO WE OVERCOME IT?
If we are indeed narcissistic or vain, our greatest and most cherished hopes will revolve around ourselves rather than around God’s will. The only way to overcome it is to meditate on God every single day, because the tendency of our hearts is to worship ourselves.
It’s also important to worship God together in community, as to help one another focus on who he is, what he’s done, and who we really are when we discover our true identity. As we rejoice in the greatness of God (rather than in the perceived greatness of ourselves), we help one another do the same. By inviting our neighbors and friends into community where they can worship and know something greater than themselves, we give them the opportunity to find true freedom in God.
Do you battle against vanity or Narcissism? How do you fight against it?