Almost all the advice we’re given today starts with some version of being true to ourselves. We should know our personality types, our strengths, and our gifts. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, of course. In fact, it’s quite helpful. But if it’s where we start, aside from subscribing to a self-help methodology, we’re missing out on the bigger picture.
One of the reformers described that bigger picture this way: “Man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.”1
Where Knowing Yourself Begins
This is the right starting point. If we really want to know ourselves, it starts by knowing God. When our attention is focused on ourselves, we can easily become puffed up or vain. We might see our strengths, but we struggle to see our weaknesses. We only get half a picture, and a distorted one at that.
Instead, we need to start with God, with his goodness, with his character, and his glory, because this helps us to get a better picture of ourselves. We need to know the One in whose image we have been made. To know God so we can know our need for him. To know God to know the character of the One who sacrificed all to meet our need.
Focus on Knowing God First
This is what protects us from pride and folly. From continuing the patterns of sin that have plagued us all our lives, and threaten to derail us in our faith. And while it might sound simplistic or even trite to some, it really is what helps us to live as we were meant to. To flourish as much as we are able this side of the new creation. If you really want to know yourself, start with knowing God.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.