Romans 4:2-5:1 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about… We have been justified by faith.
It was in medical school, that I first learned of the various Personality Disorders. Like any good medical student, I thought I had every disease. The narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, thus, concerned me. The narcissist is so focused on self, success and grandiosity that he puts his own concerns above all.
One of the most maddening traits of being afflicted with narcissism is that one is blind to it. The narcissist cannot see his defect. He does not have a problem, everyone else does. So, I started worrying. What if I am narcissistic and do not realize it? Fortunately, there were diagnostic criteria which assured me that I did not make the diagnosis, but the concern remained. I can still see some narcissistic tendencies in me. The fact that my self-obsession is as normal as the rest of the population does not mean it is harmless.
Paul echoed this thought, in today’s passage, insisting that we all have a tendency to turn everything towards self. Though we were created to follow God, we all have the predisposition to pursue our own interests above all. We can turn anything, even justification and faith into self-promotion. It’s all about me…
In Romans four, Paul used Abraham to illustrate how we are saved by faith alone, not by what we do (works). He insisted that if Abraham (or anyone) were saved by what he did, then he would have become prideful in his behavior. If Abraham earned his relationship with God, he was narcissistic enough to make salvation about himself. Look at me! I earned God with my good behavior… I must be amazing…
Paul went on to insist that we can do absolutely nothing to earn God. We receive the free gift of justification, absolution and restoration to God, only through faith. We believe and we receive it. Reliance on self leads not to salvation, but to self-destruction.
The greatest enemy to my faith then, is not disbelief, but independence, pride and trust in my own identity. If I believe I am fine just the way I am, then I do not need to change and I certainly do not need to be saved. If I cannot see my need for God, if I think I am fine on my own, then I will never come to know God. Why would I? I am fine the way I am…
This self-reliance and self-focus is the antithesis of faith. Faith is purposefully turning my focus from me to God. I am not capable, so I will not follow me. I will follow God, putting my faith in him as I can do nothing to earn him.
The mistake that I have made then, is to sit back and do nothing. If I am saved only by believing and not by doing, then I do not have to do anything. If faith though, is turning my focus from self to God, then faith does require significant effort. Like Peter, walking on the water, I must continually do whatever it takes to turn my gaze from self to God.