Immediately prior to the new millennium, American rock band Lit released “My Own Worst Enemy.” A teenager at the time, I found the song to be catchy and meaningful, because I was regularly engaging in new experiences and too often learning the hard way—by screwing up.
The driving element of the song’s chorus is:
It’s no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy
The band isn’t the first to coin some variant of the “my own worst enemy” phrase, with many individuals throughout the ages being quoted as saying something similar. For instance, Marcus Tullius Ciccero, a Roman politician and lawyer, is acknowledged as having stated that “Man is his own worst enemy” more than 2,000 years ago! And while no longer a teenager, I still agree with the adage. We’re all our own worst enemies. We all—to greater or lesser degrees—exhibit the tendency to project ourselves onto others, and into their circumstances and situations. This tendency can be observed in:
- our moments of inspiration or consternation that are promulgated by others
- our expectations—both those stated and unsaid—that are placed upon others
- our decisions, when considering our assumptions for addressing uncertainties
In short, our responses (and implied rationale) towards such things, particularly in our relationships, give us away.
Moreover, our normative behaviors—the cumulative outcomes of our responses—serve for others as indicators of our limitations. And many of these limitations are self-imposed.
Now, I’m not referring to certain physical or mental limitations. For instance, I’m a 5′ 10″, 200lb man. I’ve had four knee surgeries, three of which have occurred in the past five years. I’ll soon be thirty-eight years old. While I was once a decent basketball player, I’m not about to start rocking the rim as a key, mid-season acquisition for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nor is it likely that I’ll ever receive a Nobel prize in mathematics. The limitations to which I’m mainly referring are those aspects of our chosen identities that hinder—or worse, prohibit—our growth in moral character and integrity, with emphasis on growth.
To clarify, growth shouldn’t be confused with change. Individuals who don’t believe in a universal morality, such as postmodernists, cannot grow in their character and integrity. They can only change. They don’t have a destination or a path for them to progress along, for they fail to recognize a definitive, moral continuum that possesses an inherent (i.e. concrete) good and evil. Christians, possessing a spiritual and moral foundation in Christ, do. From a Christian lens, this progression towards being morally good in character is called sanctification.
As a Christian, I believe that the further we progress along the path of sanctification, the more we resemble our Lord, Jesus Christ. This requires Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirt, from whose guidance we can exhibit Christ-like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:21-23). However, therein lies the rub…
Our identities provide us meaning and purpose. Consequently, when our identity isn’t found in our Lord, Jesus Christ (and only Christ), we’re limiting ourselves. For those who fail to profess Christ as Lord, this (oblivious) self-limiting is understandable. They haven’t, as of yet, received the Holy Spirit; being unable to do anything that adheres to a biblical definition of good (Psalm 53:1; Isaiah 64:6; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19; Romans 3:10). Yet, many—and I would argue, all—of us who claim Christ as Lord are also guilty of placing self-imposed limits on ourselves, which significantly affects our abilities to both love God and others (Matthew 22:36-40; 1 John 4:7-21).
Again, these self-imposed limits are related to our identities and we may wrongly, among other things:
- acknowledge God’s sovereignty, but fail to fully live in that Truth (Matthew 26:31-35; Matthew 26:69-75)
- prioritize a personal relationship with another person or group above our relationship with Jesus (1 Kings 11:1-8)
- prioritize possessions above a relationship with Jesus (Matthew 19:16-26)
- create our own “a la carte” Jesus, rather than come to know our Lord, Jesus (Mark 8:27-38); listening to our sinful self, rather than the Holy Spirit (John 3:26-36)
The genesis of this post is my own personal struggle with a stagnant faith recently. Substantive time investment into personal reflection has come from this self-acknowledgment; leading to the realization that the individual who limits my growth the most—more than any of my associations or circumstances—is me. I’m most responsible for limiting my growth both spiritually and morally. While I’m still in the self-examination phase of personal reflection, I already realize that I’m holding onto some things within my existing self-concept that are either impeding or prohibiting further growth into Christ’s likeness (even if I’m not yet sure who or what those things are). There is, however, something or some things that definitely need to be surrendered. Regardless, it’s essential that I trust God in all things (Proverbs 3:5-7). As we reflect on our current identities and our levels of sanctification, I encourage everyone to ask themselves two questions:
- What are my self-imposed limits?
- What must I surrender to God to be further sanctified?
In concluding, if anything is garnered from this post, I hope it acknowledges that:
To fully surrender our lives to Christ (Galatians 2:20; Matthew 16:24-25) allows us to become like Christ (1 John 3:2-3; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18), pleasing to God (Matthew 3:17; Colossians 1:10; Romans 12:1). When fully surrendered, we can fully serve. When fully allowing the Spirit to lead us in our service as Christ’s ambassadors, our ability to produce spiritual fruit is limitless (Philippians 4:13).
Let’s not limit ourselves.