Narcissus is a character from Greek mythology. He was a stud, a real looker, who fell in love with his own reflection when he saw it in the water. A couple fun facts: the English word “narcissist“ is a variation of Narcissus’s name. We use it to describe people whose self-love is over-the-top. For some, self-love is pathological. These suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, a label also derived from the myth of Narcissus.
While most of us don’t suffer from clinical narcissism, we all suffer from spiritual narcissism. In high school, I saw a button with a big red X on it. Under the X it said, “You are here, and this is the highlight of your day.” At bottom, this describes each person’s state. We love ourselves too dearly, partly because we’re in denial about who we really are, partly because we have a distorted sense of value that causes us to value what we shouldn’t.
Christianity doesn’t mince words when it comes to our natural state. We aren’t 100% evil or broken, but we are past the point of improving or fixing. We must die. Scripture says when Jesus died, his blood covered our sins—those acts flowing from our extreme self-love. More than that, the Bible tells us that when Jesus died, He died as all humanity; each person that ever was or ever will be died when Jesus did (2 Cor. 5:14).
Scripture goes on to tell us we are raised from the dead in Christ. When we believe God’s message, Christ Himself comes into our souls and becomes our new life. The old life of self-love is replaced by Christ who loves others more than Himself.
This doesn’t mean I change the second I confess Christianity. In The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis observed that even when a person converts to Christianity, all their habits and ways of thinking still belong to the self-loving ways of darkness.
How do we change? In 2 Corinthians chapter three, Paul says that, although Christ is in a Christian, we have a veil or curtain over our hearts and minds that prevents us from seeing the reality of Christ within. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit needs to pull back that curtain so we can see Christ in us. Then he says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces, gaze on the Lord’s glory as if in a mirror, are changed into that same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).
This process is the opposite of what happened with Narcissus. He gazed on himself and his self-love destroyed him. This is our trajectory apart from Christ. In Christ, we gaze into a mirror that shows Jesus’s face, not our own. As we gaze on Jesus’s face, we fall in love with Him; we fall in love with someone who loved others more than Himself, to the point He gave up His life for everyone. As we gaze into this mirror, self-love is destroyed, and Christ’s love transforms us.
This isn’t an overnight process. Christians are as profoundly flawed as anyone. The difference is that Christians have an opportunity because Christ is in them; they have an opportunity to see Jesus—their new life—to shrink self-love and grow love for Him over time.