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The Rise of the “Sovereign Self”

Before you get all riled up over the millennial generation’s drift to moral self-governing, let’s first understand the problem and then we’ll look in the mirror.

The sovereign self is a worldview that very few Christians would ever say they espouse, but for all intents and purposes many do. It can be summarized in this statement by Caitlyn (Bruce Jenner) to Diane Sawyer, “I need to be true to myself.” The question this statement raises is “who defines what is true for me?” The answer of course is “I do.” In that statement, the sovereign self has supplanted any other external authority.

How did it come to this and is this philosophy reversible? In my opinion, there were three massive cultural shifts in the 60’s and 70’s that laid the foundation for the sovereign self-creation.

  1. The Sexual Revolution Not only were many moral sexual barriers broken down, but there has become no shame in doing so. Your body is yours to do what you wanted with it and what two consenting adults did behind closed doors was no one else’s business. (Ironically, the genesis of the same argument used to justify same-sex marriages and abortion on demand).

  2. Vietnam and Watergate Until these events, younger people still recognized the authority of government and generally trusted those who governed them. With the war in Vietnam and Watergate, that trust evaporated. The failure of confidence in those in authority came to include adults, like parents and even in God. A very popular bumper sticker in the late 60’s was, “Trust no one over 30!”

  3. No fault divorce Californian Governor Regan was the first to introduce “no fault divorce.” No longer did couples have to prove their marriage was completely unsalvageable. Now anytime one person wanted out, they could leave. What was best for the children, became secondary to the “right to be happy” by either parent.Kids also observed that even though their parents went to a church that preached certain divorces were sins, the church did very little to stop the carnage to families, except to shame them.Note: Each of these events took place 40-50 years ago in the “Boomer generation.” Our generation (I’m 68) birthed the sovereign self

What are Christians to do?

  1. Sit down with your children or grandchildren and confess any part you played in “buying into” those unbiblical worldviews. “Yes,” that means confessing there was a time you professed to being a Christian and where, but privately were influenced by many of these ideas. Admit it! It will give you greater authority to speak truth to them.

  2. Share the top three (or whatever) things you’ve learned that you wished you had done differently when you were younger, and why. Like;

  3. Read the Bible regularly

  4. Hang out with different friends

  5. Made some “pre-decisions” on what you would and wouldn’t do on dates or hanging out with friends.

  6. Pray for a godly spouse

  7. Get a Spiritual mentor

  8. Urge them to make some pre-decisions of their own. This excerpt is from my book, The 10 Second Rule.

Years ago, I heard a guest on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast suggest this pre-decision idea for your teenagers: Rather than going to church today (Sunday morning), take some personal time for this one assignment: Spend an hour or two alone with God, seek his guidance, and then make a mental list, strictly between God and yourself, of the things you’ll never do, or never do again.

The power of a pre-decision like that is obvious. Now is the time for them to think through the temptations they’re going to face someday, not when they’re out with friends, or on a hot date with my new love. Hopefully, at some point, when they know they’re getting close to violating the boundary they’ve pre-decided not to cross, the Holy Spirit will cause them to remember a decision made months or even years before.

A pre-decision won’t stop them (or us) if we’re flat-out determined to give ourselves over to passion or pressure. But it still serves a purpose–it’s a speed bump to warn us that we’re about to go over the cliff.

This exercise works as well for adults as it does for teenagers. Take an hour or two–this week–and make a list of your own “nevers.”

How following Jesus works in real life.

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