Message 11, It's All about Me:

Narcissism and egotism take our eyes off of the Lord and put them on us, but in so doing, they actually lower our understanding of ourselves, because we are made in the image of God. Without an understanding of God’s image in humanity—without a right focus on the Lord as our highest end—human beings are degraded, and all manner of destruction ensues. Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. explains how a right view of the self, enlightened by God’s Word, leads to blessedness, and he will direct us away from wrong views of ourselves to a right view—as creatures made in His image.

Note: R.C. Sproul Jr. resigned from Ligonier Ministries in 2016. This conference session is made available for historical archival purposes only.

Message Transcript

Grateful for that introduction, Chris. Anytime we can mention my grandson and my children, I’m happy. Next month, I’m actually going to meet my grandson. I went to his induction which he failed. I flew to my next engagement and that day he was born. So, all the ways that my dad told me, “Your grandchildren will pay you back,” have already started.

Our text today is found in Genesis 3. I’ll be reading verses 1-15. Genesis 3:1-15. Now, hear the Word of God. “Now, the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field the Lord God had made, and he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said you shall not eat of every tree in the garden?’

And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it nor shall you touch it lest you die.”’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil.’

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed the fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

Then they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’

So he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.’

Then the Lord said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me and I ate.’ So the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field. On your belly, you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.’”

Beloved, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of God endures forever. Would you pray with me, please?

Our good and gracious Father, we do, indeed, thank You for Your Word. We thank You that You always and everywhere speak truth. We ask, Father, that you will be pleased this morning to work through the foolishness of preaching, that by it, your Word might change us. Remake us into the image of Your Son, the express image of Your glory, for we ask it in His precious and powerful name, amen.

Our text begins with these foreboding words, “The devil was more crafty than any of the beasts of the field,” which would be particularly foreboding to the other beasts of the field. That is, his craftiness is at this level that is beyond the level of the craftiness of all of the beasts of the field.

So if they were going to have a craftiness battle, he would win. But he doesn’t go after the beasts, does he? He goes after Adam and Eve, and more specifically, Eve who, granted, she was born yesterday, but remember that she was born perfect. She was born without a fallen mind and so one would expect that, you know, being able to beat all the beasts of the field doesn’t get you a really high score in intellect. You would think that Eve would be able to fend off his temptations, that she would be able to act with sufficient wisdom to not be as she described herself, deceived.

Well, I think it’s because she wasn’t a beast, but she was a person, that he was actually a little bit more careful, a little more subtle, a little given to not over-promising. He didn’t say to Eve, ‘If you eat of the fruit of the tree, you won’t die, but you will become God.’

If he had said that, if he had overreached at that point, I’m sure she would have laughed in his face, ‘Become God? You understand, Devil, that all of this was not here six days ago. And you think if I take a bite of that fruit, I’m going to be able to do things like make whole universes out of nothing?” She wouldn’t have bought that.

Instead he says, “You’ll be like God. You’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.” And so she succumbed to the temptation. But, you know, the Devil isn’t dealing anymore with perfect people. Now, when he comes with his craftiness to tempt us, he’s dealing with fallen people, with fallen minds, with cloudy minds, and so he does get ,rather significantly, more bold in what he offers us.

Then the promise was smaller, but now, now he tells us, hisses to us, that we may not only be like God, knowing good and evil, but that we might be God, determining good and evil.

You see, when Adam and Eve fell into sin, what happened there is a profoundly significant transfer of their identity and their allegiance. We have this perspective, I’m not sure why, that when God comes in the garden after this fall, that there’s this shame and this knowledge of what they’ve done, and when God comes in the garden and Adam and Eve run to their Father and throw their arms around His legs, and they look at their tormentor and they say, “You need to do something about him. You need to protect us. We need your help” — which is very much what happened.

The problem is, the father they ran to was the serpent. They had gone from being the very children of God to now identifying with the serpent, asking him to protect them from the one who made them, which is why God’s promise here is so significant.

You understand that with the fall, Adam and Eve and all of their progeny (which includes us), all of us became at that moment the children of the Devil. That is what we are by nature. It’s not just the Pharisees who are of their father, the Devil. All of us are.

So God comes into the garden, the Devil having successfully brought to pass this sneak attack, and God sees the fruit of what’s happened. He tries to get to the bottom and then says to Adam, “What, what did you do?” And Adam shows his true colors, “Uh, it was the woman.” Brave, brave Adam. “Look, Eve, there’s a bus.” And that’s not bad enough. Not only does he throw Eve under the bus, he tries to throw God under the bus, because, “It’s the woman You gave me.”

You know, God, I have such sweet memories of the old days. I was in the garden. You would come and walk with me and naming all of the animals. Everything is going along great. I take one little nap, and now look what’s happened.’ God speaks to the serpent. This promise of judgment which is to us a promise of grace. “Because you’ve done this, you’re cursed more than all cattle and more than every beast of the field. On your belly, you shall go and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.”

And here’s the promise. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed.” You understand, there’s not enmity now. Right now, the children of Adam, the children of Eve, they are at peace with their father, the Devil. They love their father, the Devil.

But God’s promise is, “I will change that.” I love this. This is, those of you who are out trying to help Armenians, I hope that’s all of you. As you’re out there trying to help Armenians and you’re having your theological debates and you’re giving them your favorite Reformed verses and they’re giving you what they think are their favorite Armenian verses. Remember, they’re all ours.

But you also know that we have an answer for what they think are their verses, and they tend to have an answer for what we think are our verses.

Give them this verse because it’s not in their field guide on how to answer Calvinists. But it is a Calvinist verse. God does not say to the serpent, “Cursed are you, and there’s still an island of righteousness left in these people. And out of their free will, they’re going to be able to come and they’re going to start hating you, some of them. I hope it’s a lot, and we’ll find out soon enough.”

No, God’s promise is, “I will put enmity.” God will do this. God is the one who changes us, rather than we who ask him to come and rescue us. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed.” And what happens here is the beginning of the great divide. This text, we call the proto-gospel. It’s the gospel in its least developed form.

We have this beautiful but nevertheless vague description of the battle between Jesus and the serpent, where Jesus’ heel is bruised but Satan’s head is crushed. I’m going to take a minute to give you just a little speculation, but we’re going to call it speculation. We’re going to know it’s speculation. We’re not going to treat it like anything other than speculation, even though it’s really cool. It’s not in the Bible — beyond the end of the story. And by the way, the end of the story is in the Bible even if it’s not in VeggieTales.

When David slings that rock and it hits Goliath in the forehead and he falls down, the curtain doesn’t close at that point. That’s the end for children because that’s where it starts to get really violent, right? But the truth of the matter is David goes up to Goliath.

David takes Goliath’s own sword. He raises it up over the air and he lops the head clean off Goliath. And that’s not the end of the story. He picks up the head and he shows it to the Philistines and says, “Thus is what happens to those who defy the living God.” And the Philistines go and retreat and the children of God go and chase after them, and it’s all great, and that’s where the curtain closes and where the speculation begins.

The legend is that David kept the head of Goliath as a trophy. And given the fact that this head was now a dead head, everything that was a part of it that was alive eventually began to go the way of all flesh and disappear, and eventually all that David had left was the skull of Goliath, and he kept it with him until David and his men conquered the city of Jerusalem and made it the capital of this young nation.

And when he did that, the legend has it that David took the skull of Goliath outside the city and he buried it into the ground, and he named the place, “The Place of the Skull,” also called Golgotha which may come from the name of the man whose skull it was, Goliath of Gath. And so when that cross went into the ground in that place, the head of the serpent was crushed by the bleeding heel of Jesus Christ. It’s just speculation.

That’s the promise here, though. The gospel promise — again, it’s not, it doesn’t talk about substitutionary atonement. It doesn’t talk about amputation. It doesn’t tell us much about who the seed of the woman is. It doesn’t say he’ll be born in Bethlehem. It’s just the first hint but it is the promise, and not only is it the promise of our redemption, but it’s the promise of the fullness of the victory of the seed of the woman. Jesus changes everything, including us. You see, at the beginning of the story, having been fallen with Adam and Eve, and we begin as the seed of the serpent, and because we’re the seed of the serpent, we believe the lies of our father, the Devil, just like Eve did, only now instead of believing we can be like God, we not only think we can be like God, but we can become God. In fact, worse still, we think that we can create God.

You think about the American idol — not the singer — but the idol of the American people, he’s got lots of different descriptions. His attributes are fairly varied. But he has one name. In America, we call our god, “God to me.” Right? You’ve been introduced to this god, right?

You’ve been evangelized for this god. You’re in conversations with your unbelieving friends, and you tell them about the true and living God, and they respond with, “Well, God to me.” Do you ever break that down, that little expression, “God to me,” do you understand what that’s saying?

And we like to think that we’ve matured and we’ve become more sophisticated. Even our heathens are not like the heathens of yesteryear who would take a piece of stone or gold or wood and they would mold it and shape it and turn it into this object of their worship. But you know when they did that, they understood that they didn’t actually make god. These idols that they worshiped, these were actually tools, worship aids, if you will, that connected them to a god that was outside of them.

We haven’t gotten more sophisticated. We’ve gotten worse. We not only construct our own gods. We act as though that’s normal. “Oh, God to me, the god that I have invented.” One thing we know about “God to me” is He didn’t make me, I made him.

But I mentioned, you know, there’s some variety in His attributes but not much variety. When you’ve had your friends talk to you about “God to me,” have you ever heard anybody say this? “God to me is like a consuming fire. God to me is like an insanely jealous husband. God to me is like a strict moral puritan.” They never say that. They all have their own god, but wouldn’t you know it, every single time they begin with “God to me,” he’s always willing to wink at our sins. He always wants us to be happy, to be ourselves, to do our own thing.

Robert Bella, in his great sociological bestseller, ‘Habits of the Heart,’ introduces us to this woman that he and his team had interviewed. Her name is Sheila, and Sheila has a particular religion, and if you ask her about it, she’ll tell you about it. She says, “I believe in Sheila-ism. I believe in Sheila-ism.”

And the interviewer said, “Well, you know, what can you tell us about this religion of yours? What is Sheila-ism? What are its tenets?” And Sheila responded, “It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.” So they asked a more apologetic question or an epistomological question. “How do you know this? Where did this wisdom come from for Sheila-ism? Did God speak from a mountain and give you ten commandments for Sheila-ism?” She said, “No, it’s just my own little voice.”

Do you understand how crazy this is? She’s now confessing, “This isn’t real. I’ve made this up. And the source of the authority, for this god that I’m claiming exists, is me.” You see, it’s true of all of our god-to-mes. Every idol, if you scratch it, becomes a mirror. What we worship is ourselves, because we are of our father, the Devil.

Sometimes, however, people are a little lazy. They don’t want to go to the trouble of fashioning their own statue, so they go to the idol store and pick one out that’s ready-made. But it’s the same principle. There was, once upon a time — it may be having some difficult PR problems right now — but five or 10 years ago, there was a significant uptick in the numbers of adherents to the religion, the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

If you ask the folks who begin to worship Isis, “Where did this come from,” I can guarantee you, not one of them ever said, “Well, I looked at all the religions in the history of the world, and I applied some rigorous apologetic tests to determine which one was most likely to be true. I had to reject all the Greek gods, I had to reject Christianity, I had to reject Islam and Buddhism. And lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, Isis won.

Here are some compelling arguments for the existence of Isis.” That’s not what they say. They confess from day one, “I didn’t like all these male gods. I wanted to feel empowered so I was looking for a female god. So I went to the female section of the off-the-rack-god store, and there was a lot of Isises. They were on sale.” That’s where it comes from.

But this is what we are. This is what we do. This is the fruit of rebellion against our true maker, indeed against our true Father. See, the devil begins, “You shall be as God.” But the Bible begins, “In the beginning, God.” Genesis 1:1a settles the question once and for all, who made whom?

If it begins with, “In the beginning, God,” then that means there was a time when God was and we were not, and if that was the case, then it’s certainly true that we didn’t make Him and it’s certainly true that He made us. “In the beginning, God,” doesn’t say, “You shall be as gods.” In the beginning, God says, “Only God is God.”

It tells us that we are the clay, that He is the potter. It tells us that God has all power and God has all authority, and it tells us that our duty is to submit to Him no matter what the cost. It tells us we should stop apologizing for Him and trying to smooth over what we perceive to be His rough edges. And it tells us the pure folly of trying to get Him to submit to us. See, “God to me” begins in arrogance and ends in damnation. But in the beginning, God begins in humility and ends in deliverance.

You see, because we are the children of God, because we were made the children of God, the fact that we became the children of the devil is the deepest possible tragedy there could be. But the promise of God shows up in those two words that my father loves so much and I with him, where the Bible tells, “But God.” This is deeply and profoundly personal to me.

I should, by the way, confess this about myself. I’m not really R. C. Sproul Jr. He’s much better looking than me. No, actually, my name is Robert Craig Sproul. But no one has and no one does call me Robert. No one calls me Rob or Robbie, or Bob or Bobby.

There are a precious few that call me Precious. And I spent my young life being called Craig Sproul. It was almost 50 years ago that my parents named me, just as it was 20 years ago that I, along with my wife, named my firstborn son Robert Campbell Sproul, though everyone calls him Campbell.

But after 15 years of being called Craig Sproul, I went to my parents with a request. My 16th birthday was coming up. I didn’t ask for a car. That would have been futile. I didn’t ask for Pong, which is, you know, Xbox for people of my age. I didn’t ask for cash or real estate like Lucy van Pelt.

Instead, I asked for something far greater. I came to my parents and I said, “Would you allow me to be called R. C. Sproul Jr.?” Now, I’d like to say that at that age I was wise enough to know how valuable a thing it was that I was asking. I can only tell you that I knew it was valuable. I didn’t know how valuable it was. But I can also confess that from that time to this day, I’ve been learning even more deeply not only how much I was asking, but how little I deserved it.

I was reaching when I asked, and I have been stumbling ever since. You see, when I made the request, I was trying to give honor to my father, and I was committing to seek the same for the rest of my life. But I was also putting myself and my father in great danger. Some of you know the story of one of the military campaigns of Alexander the Great, and during a quiet spell in the battle while Alexander was in his tent, one of his lieutenants came in and said, “Sir, we have caught a deserter.” And Alexander said, “Send him in.”

The young man was trembling and in chains and Alexander looked at him and he asked him first a very simple question, “Young man, what is your name?” And the deserting soldier with quivering voice said, “Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great had pity and compassion and said to the young man, “Young man, you must either change your name or change your behavior,” and dismissed him.

In asking for my father’s name, I did not want to become that young soldier. But I can tell you that since that time, it’s been an up and down story. From time to time, by the grace of God, I’ve been able to bring honor to my father’s name, but more often than not, I have failed my name and failed my father. He on the other hand has never failed me.

Now, one could argue, if one were a fool, that I didn’t need to ask, that I’m R. C. Sproul Jr. by birthright. I mean, R. C. Sproul is my father, my earthly father. I am his literal biological heir. That is, heir, not, — don’t let the echo confuse you. Despite being his biological heir, that doesn’t mean that I’m due or owed his name.

But, friends, how much less is this so in our relationship with our Heavenly Father? We could never make that claim. Despite the reality that because the story begins with, “In the beginning, God,” it means that He made us, but that doesn’t give us the right to be heirs, and certainly even less so since that time in the garden.

If we were to be given a name after the garden, a more fitting name than children of God would be rebel or traitor, regicide, evil. Our record isn’t one of ups and downs. It’s only downs. And though we bear His image, in bearing His image, we’ve brought Him only shame, and in bringing Him shame, we’ve had the audacity to hate Him for it. We’re not His children but we’re of our father, the Devil, and we despise His name. But God.

Friends, to understand who we are, we have to understand that God did not give us permission to take on His name, but instead He sent the one who rightly bears His name to take up our names. And then, not because we asked, but because He so determined, He gave us His name. It tells us who we are, but we have to be careful.

Because of the work of the Holy Spirit, because of the finished work of Christ, because of the electing love of our Heavenly Father, we who were once the children of the Devil have now been made the children of God, which we do not deserve. It’s not something for us to take pride in.

God didn’t say about me, “R. C., you are so valuable, you are so important, you mean so much in yourself that I’m going to make you Mine, because that’s where you belong. That’s what you deserve.” My son-ship is the exact opposite of being due to me, and the value that I have as His son is an imputed value. It’s because He determined to love me. He didn’t love me because I’m valuable but because He loved me, I became valuable. That’s God’s story, which because we’ve been made His children becomes our story.

I love how Peter describes this. First Peter chapter 2, beginning in verse 9, we read, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. We’ve been made into living stones.”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard about living stones, is it? Back in the gospels, Jesus, during His triumphal entry, all the people are shouting and praising, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” laying down their palm branches, and the Pharisees are freaking out, knowing the Romans are watching. “Jesus, Jesus!” “They’re going to make the Romans mad. They’re going to kill us all. Tell them to be quiet, please!”

And what does Jesus say? “If I silence them, even the stones will cry out.” Do you know who the stones are? That’s us. We are the stones. We were dead. We were lifeless. We were dust that had not had life breathed into. That’s what a stone is.

We were not a people, but He breathed by the Spirit life into us. And now, not only are we living stones, but we’re living stones being built up into a spiritual house.

Do you understand what Peter’s saying here? You know that temple that was so important, so significant, that you were cut off from? You’re now the temple. You’re a spiritual house. You’re that house where the Spirit of God dwells. It doesn’t dwell in the temple in Jerusalem. It dwells in you, together with God’s people, a spiritual house. That’s your identity. That’s who you are, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, because we’ve been given His name.

Friends, there is a deep and profound different between R. C. Sproul and being R. C. Sproul Jr. He is a brilliant theologian. I’m not. He’s always being asked the most perplexing, deep, theological quagmire kind of questions. “Oh, Dr. Sproul, would you please explain the Trinity to us?” “I’ve only got a few minutes, but OK.” “Dr. Sproul, where does evil come from?” I don’t get those questions. The question I always get is this. “What’s it like to have R. C. Sproul as your father?”

Friends, the answer is both simple and profound. In fact, the simple answer is that it has been a profound blessing, and the profound answer is simply this: that what makes my father a great man isn’t that he’s a brilliant theologian, but that he is a loving father to me, and to a lesser extent my sister.

And, now, decades after asking if I could take that name, I’m just beginning to learn what it means to carry that name, that it means that I’m called to love and to welcome my children into my family. That’s why I’m now able to tell my children, “No matter how hard I explain it to you, no matter how faithfully I try to show it to you, the only possible way for you to begin to understand how much your father loves you is for God to bless you with a child.”

Indeed, when my firstborn gave birth January 12th, my first tweet was, “Now, my daughter knows.” It’s because of that love that I named my firstborn son Robert Campbell Sproul because I wanted him to understand the weight that was upon him from the very beginning of his life.

In fact, when he was little, I used to stand behind him from time to time and I would put my hands on his shoulders, and I would lean into him and I would ask him, “Do you feel that? Feel that pressure on your back, son? Do you feel that weight?” “Oh, yeah, I feel that weight.” I say, “Good. You need to feel that weight. The weight, son, is not that you have to become a famous theologian because you’re R. C. Sproul one more generation later. The weight is that you should become a godly man, that you should learn to love the children God will bless you with in the future the way your grandfather has loved your father.”

That’s also why I named my second son Riley Justice Sproul. Riley, would you come up here, please? This is my son. Like me and my father, and all my children, my son Riley Justice is a Sproul by God’s design, and not by birthright. Like all of my children, he was brought into this family not by justice but by grace.

Like me and my father and all of my children, he was once not a people, but he’s now a people, a chosen generation. His mother and I, we named him Riley Justice — we named him Riley because that’s a rule, you’ve got to have a Scottish or an Irish name. But we named him Justice not because we didn’t want to forget grace, but because we wanted to remember grace.

You see, as we were in the process of filling out the paperwork and getting our home study done, I received a phone call from a very dear friend of mine. My friend explained that his wife and he had just lost a child to miscarriage. It was their first miscarriage. And they had a son — they had a large family, but they had a son who was maybe five or six years old, and was feeling the weight of the sorrow in his household.

And he came to his dad not really understanding how all of these things work. He came to his dad with his piggy bank and he broke it open, and he said, “Dad, can we take this money and go to the orphanage, because Mom’s so sad, take this money and go get a baby?”

And the dad politely and patiently explained, “That’s not how it goes, son. But I tell you what we’re going to do. The Sprouls are in the process of trying to grow their family. We’re going to send them a check to help with that process.”

That little boy’s name was Justice, and that’s why Riley Justice Sproul is Riley Justice. Ladies and gentlemen, you want to know who you are, you’re God’s child by adoption. He loves you as His own child. If we would learn to believe that, then we would become like our Father, and we would love those He’s placed under our care. Let’s pray that we would understand who we are by remembering whose we are.

Let’s pray. Oh Father, we thank You that You’ve made us Your children. We were so far off, fleeing from You, but You found us and You brought us in. Father, make us better bearers of Your name, that we might give honor to our elder brother who made it possible for us to become Your children, for we ask it in His name, amen.