The Purpose of Self-Awareness

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Photo by Maci Elise // Source: Instagram

It’s commonly said that for personal growth, we simply need to be aware of our flaws and the things we struggle with. However, just as “with great power comes great responsibility,” there are a few ways in which we’re called to respond to our self-awareness.

If we’re in the mindset that just acknowledging our sin is enough, we’ll use our awareness as a justification for complacency. We’ll address our flaws while excusing them by saying things like, “I know it’s bad, but I didn’t hurt anybody,” or “I know it’s wrong, but I’ve been forgiven so it’s not a big deal.”

Being knowledgable of why we do the things we do is also not a valid reason to continue to do them. It doesn’t make our sin less wrong and more acceptable before God when we attribute our behavior to how we were raised or an internal struggle we’re going through.

Eventually, we believe our excuses and become disabled by them. In trying to escape ourselves and the awareness we have, we become trapped to ourselves and lost in denial.

It might be an absence of spiritual self-awareness that causes us to underestimate the seriousness of sin and our need for change. In my last entry, I wrote on how the secular idea of what it means to know oneself can only be fruitful when informed by a spiritual self-awareness in which we see ourselves through the lens of scripture.

“A vision of God secures humility. Seeing God for who He is enables us to see ourselves for what we are.”

-Dallas Willard, Living in the Vision of God

When we’re spiritually self-aware, we recognize that we can’t truly change on our own, nor can we be fully aware of ourselves. It’s only by looking to God and relying on the work of the Holy Spirit that we can be transformed and made new in Christ.

It’s important to keep in mind that God’s purpose for self-awareness is the same as His purpose for everything else. We are made self-aware so that we can pursue holiness, and that in our pursuit, Christ would be glorified. When we deny our awareness or the call that comes with it, we deny Him and what He wants for us.

Called to Face Ourselves

When we’re aware that we’ve sinned against God, we’re called to confront ourselves with truth and look to the example we have in Jesus. If we try to justify something we’ve done to get out of a situation or to relieve guilt, we lie to God and decide to believe that lie ourselves.

He wants us to see our sinfulness. Not just through the eyes of someone we’ve wronged, but through the eyes of the One we are ultimately sinning against.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”

Psalm 51:4

Called to Repentance

Although it’s important to be aware of the wrongs we commit, it can’t end there or our knowledge is in vain. Self-awareness isn’t a destination, but the beginning on a path to repentance.

Genuine repentance involves regretting what we’ve done against God, asking Him for forgiveness, and diligently pursuing holiness. By admitting wrong and asking the Spirit to work in us, we give up any notion of self-reliance and become Christ-dependent.

Called to Empathy

If we know our need for God’s grace and recognize that everyone else needs it just as much as we do, then we have a responsibility to empathize with others rather than judge them.

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.”

1 Corinthians 4:3

Humbled by the realization that we don’t have the authority to be judgmental, we need to practice the opposite behavior and care for those around us. This call to empathy is not simply to feel for someone, but to feel with someone. If a friend is depressed, we can use the awareness we have of ourselves to discern what might help us if we felt how they feel. That’s not necessarily going to be accurate, but self-awareness also contributes to what we view as appropriate.

As cliche as it is, the best example of someone who was responsibly self-aware and knew which ways were wisest to respond to others is found in our Savior.

“The gospels describe Jesus as exceptionally self-aware. He knew his role. He knew his purpose. He knew when it was time to keep his identity secret and when it was time to share it.”

-Michael Johnson, Theology of Self-Awareness

Praying for Awareness

For a long time, I thought I was more self-aware than anyone else and I took pride in it. However, I didn’t see my faults. I couldn’t tell what sins I struggled with. I knew the small offenses, like swearing on occasion or being inconsiderate of someone, but I couldn’t see the bigger picture. Since I didn’t think I had anything major that needed to change, I started to believe in a false perception of myself. I became prideful, and this pride blinded me. It prevented me from seeing the things I needed to see.

The first small group I was a part of had a time for prayer requests where we would pray for one another. Requests typically related to different sins we were dealing with, and when it came to me, I had no idea what to say. I was going through an apathetic season so there wasn’t a specific area I felt tempted in that would cause me to sin against God. The sin I was aware of in my life didn’t seem as bad as everyone else’s. My request ended up being to see the areas that needed change, even though I wasn’t convinced there were any.

At some point, I read the Book of James and this verse convicted me:

“Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

James 4:17

I had heard something like this before. It reminded me of how people say that not speaking up when you know something that should be said is selfish. My struggle was similar. The apathy I felt might have kept me from temptation, but it also kept me from serving God.

As self-aware as I was, I didn’t use my awareness for the good of anyone. I wasn’t actively empathetic, and I wasn’t allowing myself to be humbled by the things I knew. This is because I wasn’t innocently self-aware, but self-focused. Like I mentioned in my previous entry, I wanted self-awareness for myself. I didn’t want it as a way to bring glory to God, but to be my own god. I disregarded His purpose for it and used it for my own means. By knowing who I was, I felt control over my life.

His Glory, Our Good

Even though I misused the self-awareness I had, there was an aspect of its purpose I recognized: it was supposed to help me.

It’s true that when we act on the things we know, our lives as well as others’ lives can improve.

“The Holy Spirit uses growing self-awareness in His sanctifying work in our lives. Self-awareness causes a husband to know why certain actions that may not hurt others, hurt his wife and children, and thus be able to avoid those behaviors.”

-Michael Johnson, Theology of Self-Awareness

Our awareness is for His glory at the same time as our good.

When we accept our place before God, we’re humbled. When we understand ourselves in a more honest and sincere way, we have deeper intimacy in our relationships. When we see who we are to who He is, we grow in our reliance on Him.

Self-awareness matures us into faithful disciples of Jesus.

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