Author Sheryl Sandberg hit the nail on the head when she said, “We cannot change what we are not aware of.” It’s true: no self-awareness, no growth. John Calvin understood this and famously began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Calvin makes the claim that self-awareness is one of the two key variables necessary for Christian growth. But this pursuit must be balanced. Too much of an emphasis on self-awareness can make you big and everyone else (including God) small. Self-awareness should not make us self-absorbed, but more consumed with becoming the reflection of God’s image we were made to be. Self-awareness and tools that help raise it are not the end, but the means to cultivating a deeper union with God our Father.
The Enneagram first and foremost should point to the imago dei within, leading us to worship God for the ways each of our types reflect parts of His wholeness (Vancil, Marilyn. Self to Lose – Self to Find):
Type Ones: Goodness & Rightness
Type Twos: Love & Care
Type Threes: Hope & Radiance
Type Fours: Creativity & Depth
Type Fives: Wisdom & Truth
Type Sixes: Faithfulness & Courage
Type Sevens: Joy & Abundance
Type Eights: Power & Protection
Type Nines: Peace & Oneness
But the self-knowledge of the Enneagram should also lead to humility. We have all bought into the original lie that we can “be like God” because of our God-given gifts. We mistake the reflection for the reality. As a Type Three Achiever who displays God’s ability to get stuff done, this looks like refusing to slow down and rest, sacrificing others to get ahead, taking short cuts, and accepting the credit that God alone deserves when I do succeed. So the Enneagram is helpful in diagnosing the ways we try to hide our weaknesses.
Unlike other personality tests (like the Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder) that seek to describe only our characteristics, the Enneagram’s aim is to reveal our core needs—our weaknesses—driving our thinking, feeling, and behaving such as (Rohr, Richard. The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective):
Type Ones: The need to be perfect
Type Twos: The need to be needed
Type Threes: The need to succeed
Type Fours: The need to be special
Type Fives: The need to perceive
Type Sixes: The need to be secure
Type Sevens: The need to avoid pain
Type Eights: The need to be against
Type Nines: The need to avoid
Knowing our core need is very useful as it helps us to figure out what is motivating many of our life decisions. It reveals the God-substitutes we might be running toward to get our needs met and cover our failings. As Tim Keller points out, “The most profound kind of self-knowledge you can know is the particular strategies you have for running and hiding from God.”
As you’re beginning to see, the Enneagram is helpful because it makes general sins specific to us. I heard one pastor say that the Enneagram is useful for “sniper sanctification”: God can use the Enneagram to place the crosshairs on some of the root sins and strategies in our lives.
This all happens through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, not self-awareness, that fuels sanctification. As the Apostle Paul said, even the most self-aware person in the world has “the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Self-awareness is not enough; we need divine power.
The good news about being a Christ-follower is that we live our lives not by our willpower, but by God’s grace. Pastor John Fooshee, founder of Gospel Enneagram, teaches us that a Christian does not live for their perfection, acceptance, success, significance, wisdom, security, joy, strength, and peace but from Christ’s.
Lastly, the self-knowledge of the Enneagram is not meant to be reduced to a fun exercise, but to lead toward a healthy fear of the Lord. This is what led Franciscan Richard Rohr to write his ground-breaking Enneagram book over 30 years ago:
When I, Richard Rohr, first learned about the Enneagram in the early 1970s, it was one of the three great overwhelming spiritual experiences of my life. I could literally feel how something like scales fell from my eyes, and it became clear to me in a flash what I had previously been up to: I had always done the right thing (that’s a key concern for us ONEs)—but for false motives. It’s embarrassing to recognize and admit this. That is why the rule of thumb holds: If you don’t sense the whole thing as somehow humiliating, you haven’t yet found your number. The more humiliating it is, the more you are looking the matter right in the eye. Anyone who says, “It’s wonderful that I’m a THREE” is either not a THREE or hasn’t really understood how disastrous this pattern is.
Rohr’s use of the Enneagram is vastly different than many out there who use it for self-reinforcement only. The Enneagram should lead us to a fear of the Lord because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge.