I am a devout follower of the cult of the Enneagram. It’s almost troubling (key word, almost) how often I am thinking about it’s implications for personality. For months and months and months, I did the thing every Enneagram teacher pleads for others not to do; I typed EVERYONE I know. Thankfully I learned early on to not tell people which number I suspected was theirs. Not only was it likely confusing to someone less knowledgeable on the topic, but it also was presumptuous of me to assume anything about anybody without first asking them.
While the tool has greatly assisted my own journey and millions of other people, I am starting to notice how simplistic of an understanding many have about it and its connection to spiritual growth. There is a distinct trend, one I fall into as much as anyone else, to excuse old patterns of behavior due to a person’s number and associated tendencies. In self awareness of one’s type and ticks, we opt to short circuit the spiritual implications of our motivations by instead focusing on our external quirks and patterns which confirm our number on the Enneagram without seeking an understanding of who we really are in the eyes of God.
This, however, is not what the Enneagram, or MBTI, or Strengths finder or any other personality system is attempting to explain. And it is not how God wants His people to use tools in order to better love and follow Him.
The concept of the True Self and False Self is a little “woo woo” for many Christians. With even a slightly traditional bent, a lot of folks assume the idea is too Eastern, too mystical, too connected to other religions.
To be fair, it is more traditionally used within Buddhism, wherein attaining nirvana and detachment are primary goals worth striving for. Yet even then, the apostle Paul uses very similar language in describing spiritual growth. Toward the end of Ephesians, after giving credibility to a particular kind of spiritual maturity, he finishes the fourth chapter by informing the Christians in Ephesus that they must “put off [their] old [selves], which belongs to [their] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of [their] minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
It stands to reason, then, that something in our old self hinders us from putting on this new self. The first culprit we point to is our sin. While it is true that sin blocks us from putting on the new self God calls us to, this undercuts the previous paragraph of Paul’s writing. He contends in it that the Ephesians’ loss of sensitivity, a hardening of their hearts, that causes ignorance and cuts them off from God’s grace to change them into their new selves. In other words, while rooting out sin issues in our lives is helpful in becoming who we really are in Christ, it does not address the underlying darkened view we have of ourselves, first spoken over us by the Enemy and then confirmed when we do, in fact, sin.
How often do we fall into these patterns of sin, only to dive deeper and deeper into them due to a numbed desire to repent? How quick are we to reject invitations of character growth because our hardened hearts don’t believe in the power of transformation?
Yes, our bent hearts and sinful propensity absolutely inhibit our growth in wholeheartedness. Particularly, unrepentant, repeated sinful behavior which compartmentalizes our souls and drastically diminishes our ability to love.
But what if God’s desire is to redeem us to His original design self Paul alludes to in Ephesians? What if it is a better self-conception, coinciding with patterns of righteousness, that must be adopted in order to become who we really are?
What if all we need to do is be ourselves, in Christ?
I’m a 4w5 on the Enneagram. An INFP on Myers-Briggs. Also, an HSP (highly sensitive person). What overlaps between the three typing systems of personality is my fixation on idealism. Not quite moral perfection but more in artistic, ascetic purity.
I crave depth in life. Wholehearted attempts to gain meaning, purpose, and fresh perspective is my version of “putting on my new self.” It could be writing posts like this, or it could be asking specific soul-searching questions to those I love to help them become more true to themselves.
On the flip side, that same desire for depth can lead to wallowing if I’m not careful. I can indulge in torturous self-pity akin to Edgar Allen Poe. I can gripe and complain with the best of them, similar to Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
And yet, this idea of putting on the new self, or becoming your True Self, is not about meeting some idealistic moral barometer no one could ever attain. Alternatively, putting off the old self, or rejecting the False Self, is not about destroying faulty parts of your wiring to become acceptable and loved.
A little more on the latter point; I think one bigger slip up in church culture has been an overemphasis on the faulty, broken and sinful nature of man. Only recently have we put greater focus on the delight God has toward us, and how that delight is what fuels our growth into our new self. In my church upbringing, I knew “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” better than “for God did not send His Son to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.” I was taught “be perfect, as Your Father in Heaven is perfect” more than “the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
I had a deficit. Something was faulty about me, and after Jesus stopped the Father from being wrathful toward me by dying for my moral depravity, I then had to work really hard to not get on the bad side of the Father by praying earnestly that Jesus would keep getting rid of my sin.
This theology was based on fear. My identity was rooted in shame.
This isn’t the Gospel I believe in anymore. My identity is no longer rooted in shame.
Thank God for Jesus. The way He redeemed was more than teaching people to hide their shame or to think better thoughts about God.
His was an incarnate redemption. His death tore the veil, ushering access to the Father, the real Father and not the monster so many have been taught. Abba was unleashed to a desperately fatherless world.
Prostitutes found purity, lepers received touch, tax collectors gained friendship. Wherever there was brokenness, Jesus brought wholeness.
He was not afraid of the baggage of sinners nor enraged at the vulnerability of outcasts.
He gave people permission to be who they were. The caveat? That only in Him, like a branch clinging to its vine, could they become who they were always meant to be.
Therefore, who you can become is dependent on who you choose to follow. In our current moment, the trend is to follow… you. In other words, the catchy adage “you do you.”
I’d argue, however, that “you doing you” leads only to further confusion. While it is true that there are certain character traits God designed specific to us, this is wholly different from following one’s inner voice. Many times our inner voice lies and misleads us. In fact, this inner voice which often directs us to shameful spaces and shameful actions is the exact voice Jesus wishes to silence.
We can’t trust ourselves. Not fully. While intuitions, instincts and gut feelings can point out a need, they don’t point out the truth. In other words, as opposed to saying, “you do you” to others when we recognize them listening to their inner voice, we ought to, instead, say “you hear you.”
“You hear you” enables space for the inner voice to reveal what is going on within instead of being the guide for who we are. Our inner mantras of shame reveal where Christ must speak. Our inner remorseful guilt reveals our need for God’s grace to change our behavior. Our inner fear reveals where we need trust in God’s provision to care for us and our circumstances.
Denying our humanity in favor of attaining mechanical, moral perfection isn’t what Christ had in mind for His kingdom. Assuming we must clean up our act before becoming spiritual removes the potential both to get cleaned and also to become spiritual.
Alternatively, over identifying with “you doing you” leads us inevitably to perpetuate our faults and to never find redemption. We change our minds constantly. Our feelings are always in a state of flux (and not just type 4s on the Enneagram). We don’t find ourselves by only listening to what is within. In fact, often we find only variations of our False Self within if we aren’t rooted in Christ.
The only way to the True Self is a deep and abiding union with Christ.
By “hearing yourself,” rather than “doing yourself,” you can find where Christ needs more space in your heart.
If my young (ish) life is any evidence, you will always need to “hear yourself“ to attain more Christ. We are always in need of more Christ, particularly when we think we aren’t.
We are a bent people. And I’m not just talking about sin. We always search for wholeness from outside of ourselves because we know we are incomplete inside of ourselves (even and especially if we claim otherwise).
The question is, then, who or what will you follow on your quest for wholeness? With Christ, you will find a better version of yourself than with any other guide. Whether you are introvert, a type 7, an INTJ, a highly sensitive person, whatever you might be. Christ came to give clarity on how each human might flourish, and within His framework comes creative potential to advance His kingdom in your own specific way.
By being you in Christ, you are given freedom to live in the particular capacity God made you for.
It could be by teaching, by pastoring, by engineering, by managing, by coaching, by creating, by barista-ing, by cleaning, by designing, by selling. It could be through writing, through speaking, through listening, through singing, through dancing, through designing, through fixing.
It will always include loving, always include forgiving, always include repenting, always include trusting.
It will always include Christ if when “you hear you,” you give Him more and more of your heart.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. So then, let us freely be who we are, rooted, sustained, and guided through life by, for, and in Christ.
This piece originally ran on the blog To Build Again. It was reposted with permission.