In a recent conversation with a friend, I mentioned “the false self.” I’m not sure the context of our conversation or why I used the phrase, but my friend quickly responded back, “yeah – that’s it! I’ve heard that phrase before. In fact, my counselor just mentioned it. What does that mean? What is ‘the false self’?”
That’s a good question. What, exactly, do we mean when we talk about “the false self”? How does the false self manifest itself in our lives and how do we allow God to replace it with our true self?
In his book, The Deeper Journey, Mulholland answers these questions by directing us to Paul and to Colossians 2:20-3:17. There Paul calls us to “put off the old self with its practices” in order that we might “put on the new self.” This “old self” with its idolatrous practices is our “false self” (in other places in the New Testament referred to as “the flesh”) which God desires to replace with our “true self” – our “Christ-self” – which is Christ-in-us.
As Christians who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we know that Christ dwells within us. However, for Christ to dwell more fully, we must daily “put to death” that which is not-of-God in order to “put on” our new nature in Christ. As this language implies, this is an active process that requires our participation. It is the “work” of daily saying “no” to the practices, thoughts, relationships and ways-of-being that characterize our false selves.
But how do we discern what is false within us? This is where Mulholland proves especially helpful. In The Deeper Journey, he lists the essential characteristics of the false self: it is fearful, protective, possessive, manipulative, destructive, self-promoting, indulgent and distinction-making. These attributes are the essence – the aroma, if you will – of the false self; and by examining where we display these characteristics, we can begin to identify the nature of our particular false self. In order to die to something, we have to know if first.
So take a moment and ask yourself: where in my life am I fearful, self-protective, or possessive? When do I become manipulative, destructive (to myself or to others), or self-promoting? How am I indulgent and where do I make distinctions or judge others? Become aware of the patterns and practices that generate these characteristics in you, and when you notice yourself acting in these ways, stop. Ask the Spirit to reveal why you’re fearful or indulgent, self-promoting or manipulative. Reflect on what prompted you to respond in one of these ways and listen to what God has to say. Take note. This is an area in your life where your false self reigns. To use an illustration from Mulholland, this is soil in which you have sunk your roots – the roots of your identity – and God wants those roots. They were made for Him; and in order for you to become your true self – the Christ-self God intended you to be – you must rip them out.
There’s an English word for this process of root-ripping and it’s called extirpating. It’s from the Latin extirpare which literally means to remove (ex-) the roots (stirp). When you extirpate something, you eliminate it. You exterminate it. You rip out all of its roots so that it can never come back to life. It’s what we do with weeds here at Corhaven. We rip them out – making sure we get every last inch of the roots. We cut-off their life-source in order to eliminate them for good.
If we want to become more like Christ and have Christ dwell more fully within us, than we need to get down to business and start ripping-out roots. Thankfully, God is a great gardener (as Bill recently reminded me) and He longs to help us with our own “spiritual weeding.” Indeed, “the One who calls us is faithful and He will surely do it.” So invite Him into this process. Ask God to show you what you love more than Him – those areas in your life where your false self has grown strong – and listen for what He wants you to do about it. He is gracious, and loving, and longs to see you grow. And if you allow Him, He will help you every step of the way.