One of the qualities of the spiritual life is unselfishness. It is defined as “the quality of not putting yourself first but being willing to give your time or money or effort, etc., for others; generous or altruistic.” That definition is not bad, but it focusses on behavior.
Behavior comes from something deeper. We act out of who we are, or at least who we understand ourselves to be. We tend to see ourselves in terms of individual personality. Our personal sense of self is nurtured and groomed from childhood. The individualized self is the unquestioned assumption behind all we think and do.
The problem is that it isn’t true. That is not who we really are. It is who we have made ourselves to be. We have made ourselves in our own image. We are “self-made” men and women. Our true nature is called in Latin, imago dei. According to Scripture we are made in the image of God.
This concept of the “image of God” has been the subject of much theological debate. But it is really quite simple. We are the reflection of God. We are earthen mirrors designed to reflect God back to Himself and to others. We are a looking glass into eternity.
The gospel of Christ is meant to remove all that clouds the mirror (our “selfishness”) so that God’s image may shine forth. We die to self so God may be seen through us. That is what Jesus meant when he said that we have to lose our selves to gain eternal life.
Jesus told us to deny our selves, pick up our cross, and follow him. That is what the apostle Paul meant by being “crucified with Christ.” The Cross of Christ crucifies us. We die with Christ to be raised with Christ in new life. This is unselfishness.
When someone asks me what my favorite scripture verse is, I quote Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” This is my “life verse.”
Christ is my life. I am not my self. Neither are you. We are not who we think we are. When we give up who we aren’t and embrace who we are, we become who we were meant to be. (That’s a tongueful!) We are created in the image of God to be conformed to the image of Christ. When we are not ourselves, we are revealed to be who God made us to be.
Art is “Self-Portrait in the Mirror” by Konstantin Somov, 1934