Self-Help’s Missing Ingredient

Recently while flying home from Portland, I had my nose buried in a book, and the bright yellow dust jacket caught the flight attendant’s eye. She asked me what I was reading.

Looking up, I tried to formulate an answer that made sense. “So,” I said, “it’s this book about culture and … and um … trying to avoid the constant messages that get bombarded on us every day that … ah … define who we are.”

Eloquent, right? But all things considered—not bad!

The flight attendant looked at me happily. “Oh!” she chirped. “A self-help book!”

Without really thinking, I replied, “No, not self-help—because it says that the only way you can find who you really are is by losing yourself in Jesus.”

Her smile cracked. “OK,” she said. “Buh-bye.”

Absolutely all of us are into self-help. If I’d told her that it was a self-help book, she probably would have asked for a quick tip, a quick assurance that she could make her life better if she could just manage to get the right information.

Maybe I could have told her to mute the commercials whenever she’s watching television and to repeat a positive phrase to herself—instead of buy a new car, buy a new car she’d be getting the message I am unique and special, I am unique and special.

And she probably would have tried that. Not because she’s different or more gullible than the rest of us, but precisely because she’s just like the rest of us. We all want life to be better, and we’ve been trained to think that it can be better—if only we get the right tips for how to help ourselves.

Another tip, another rule, another goal that’s up to us to achieve. We try, try, try. And when we inevitably fail, we assume it’s because we didn’t try the right thing. We didn’t follow the procedure or stick with it long enough or use sufficient willpower.

However, there is one option we don’t like to consider: that we don’t have any options left.

As soon as we remove doing from the equation of life’s identity, we freak out. That message runs counter to everything we hear and everything we’ve been taught. As soon as we understand that it’s not what we do that primarily matters in our relationship with God, but who we already are in Christ, we can hardly believe it.

God is relentless, however, and He continues to call out to us. He continues to speak over our lives, just as He did for His Son, Jesus, at the Jordan River, telling us in no uncertain terms that we are His beloved children who bring Him pleasure simply by existing.

Before God tells us what to do, in other words, God tells us who we are.

There is a better way than trying to use our willpower to submit to external rules. This better way is actually the thrust of the whole New Testament, from Jesus onward.

If trying to rule ourselves with “don’t do this and don’t do that” doesn’t work to make us holier, what does?

Becoming who we are.

In Colossians, Paul made the stunning statement that rules “lack any value in restraining” our sin. However, there is a way that works, and it has everything to do with the truest thing about us—our identity in Christ.

What the believers in Colossae had failed to recognize was that they had already received everything needed to live as sanctified disciples of Jesus.

Does that problem sound familiar? You are loved by God, accepted by God and put in right relationship with God. It’s not by your own doing, or because you have the right family, or because you have the right education, or because you have the right desires or attractions, or because you have the right job. It’s because of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of that your life is hidden with Christ—and nothing can take you away. You belong to God. If you have placed your trust in Christ, that’s who you are.

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And our call, then, is to become who we are—to live out the truth of this truest thing about us. There are many true things about you—about what you do, and have, and desire—but only one thing is the truest.

Whatever you believe is the truest will be your functioning identity. And if you are a follower of Jesus, that identity is safely secured in the God who loves you. Learning to become who you are and live out of this identity is a process.

Trusting in Jesus means that you do have a new identity. You already have it, and you didn’t have to earn it. It can’t be taken from you. And living out of it is the secret to living toward Jesus. Christ is your life.

Henri Nouwen has never changed my life more profoundly than when he wrote this sentence: “From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are.”

Become who you are. That transformed my whole conception of identity and belonging. But the phrase also sounds tangled, troubled. What does it actually mean?

It means this: You belong to Christ. You are hidden with Christ. You are God’s beloved. That is the truest thing about you, and therefore you must become that preexisting truth if you are to avoid becoming a lie. These things are true about you—now become what is already true.

Drive this truth, this identity, so deep into your psyche, your personhood, your sense of self-worth, that this truth becomes your fountainhead, the source of your life.

Become who you are.

Adapted from The Truest Thing About You © 2014 Dave Lomas. Truest Thing About You is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved. 

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