Don't Be Yourself
One of those phrases that we don't think much about but hear all the time is "Be yourself." I remember in college struggling with the fact that I just didn't like people. I wanted to be by myself and found it hard to connect emotionally with pretty much anyone. Those four years had been tough personally and with my introverted personality, I just had no interest in other people. At one point during these years, I was talking to a professor at the school and explained the conflict that I had in myself. I didn't want other people in my life and I also didn't really care what other people thought about me. The professor said that he was the same way and told me to chalk it up to my personality and not worry about it. If other people didn't like who I was, then that's their problem not mine. He told me that I just needed to "be myself."
I liked this advice. It worked for me. I was able to be a complete jerk to people without the fear of what others thought of me. Thus, I embraced the attitude of being myself. I didn't make a lot of friends. In fact, I chased many people that could have been good friends away. I was just "being myself" and that was all that mattered.
It took some time, but after a while I realized I was profoundly unsatisfied with life. I wasn't satisfied with "being myself" not because I didn't have a lot of friends (I am at heart an introvert and I like the small group of close friends I have). I was unsatisfied with my life because I didn't see growth in a multitude of areas. I found that sins I struggled with for years were still there. I found that I was generally selfish and self-centered. I was not a nice person. This caused me to take a deep look at my life and my motto of "being myself."
As I have grown, what I have realized is that I don't want to "be myself." In fact, I am not sure that any Christian should give the advice "just be yourself." If I am going to be honest, "just being myself" is a scary proposition. I am not a good person. I will lie, cheat, and steal to get what I want. I will use people for my own purposes and then discard them. If I am going to "just be myself," I may get ahead, but I am going to destroy other people in the process.
We need an alternative to this cultural motto of "being myself." I think the Bible gives us that alternative. When we look at Scripture, we don't find a command from God telling us to "be ourselves." Instead what we find is the regular demand of the Law is "be holy as I am holy." We find "be conformed to the image of Christ." We hear Paul say, "imitate me, as I imitate Christ." In a nutshell we are told "Don't be yourself. Be like Christ." This is the Christian motto. We shouldn't be concerned with "being ourselves." We should be concerned with showing forth Christ. Displaying him to the world around us.
To be like Jesus is a work of the Spirit. We cannot imitate Christ if the Spirit of Christ does not first indwell us and unite us to Christ. However, my imitation doesn't stop with the Spirit indwelling me. At the stage of my personal deeds, imitating Christ always follows being united to him through the work of the Spirit. Thus, if we are united to Christ, we will imitate him. We will want to do what he did. How do we do that? I think Herman Bavinck can help us in this:
[A]ll other acts of God or of Jesus Christ do reveal the glorious perfections which we must take as example since they wholly conform to God's law. It is precisely all those virtues and obligations which conform to God's law that Christ in his words and deeds leaves as an example for us.... The Ten Commandments form the constitution of a life of obedience to God and, in the final analysis determine that which may and must not be imitated in the life of Jesus.
Being like Christ, means loving the Law of God and looking to it as a guide to the Christian life. The Law not only drives me to Christ that I might be saved, it also guides my life that I might be sanctified. Christ's life on this earth was a life of perfect obedience to this Law, and if we are going to grow, we should look to his example and to the Law for guidance.
This realization about "being myself" has guided me for sometime now. I am still growing and learning. I will be growing and learning for the rest of my life. One thing that I have learned in all of this, though, is that I am more myself as I am more like Christ. That is to say, I am more who I was created to be the more I imitate Christ. Being conformed to his image does not mean I lose my sense of self, but it means that I am more acutely aware of who I am. Oliver O'Donovan puts it this way:
God is more ambitious for us than we are for ourselves. He did not redeem us to make us indistinguishable and average. And so we need to pray... that he will put into our minds "good desires."
So, this is the advice I now give when I know someone is struggling with their sense of self, their identity. This is the advice that I will give to Calvin when he comes to me trying to figure out who he is as a young man. I will say, "Look to Jesus. Be conformed to his image." This is the answer we need today. This is better than "just being yourself."
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