Dead to Sin, Alive to Christ
I hope it’s obvious that there is a wrong way to be true to yourself. That familiar refrain or mantra often presumes that is equals ought. That’s just a fancy way of saying that your desires, your sense of who you are and what you want—that is about you—equals ought. You, therefore, ought to do them. You ought to embrace them. You ought to live according to them.
The problem there is that there’s no doctrine of the fall. There’s no understanding that we are sinful creatures. We’re born into this world sinful by nature, and we’re bent toward evil so that apart from God we want bad things, or we want good things in the wrong proportion or for the wrong reasons. So, to be true to yourself without a Christian conception of the fall is to say, Just embrace whatever you are, irrespective of whether those come from sin, flesh, or the devil.
I sometimes give the little quip that the great theologian of our age, Lady Gaga, said in her song “Born This Way.” Okay, you might have been born that way, but you can be born again another way.
Just saying Find yourself or Be true to yourself doesn’t give the Christian doctrine of the fall or redemption that you need to be born again. You need to mortify the sinful desires of the flesh. You need to vivify what is given to you as a new creation in Christ.
There is, on the other hand, something that’s right about that phrase, namely, that it recognizes the world gets this half right, or maybe two-fifths right. We do all operate out of our truest self in a way. Or, we’re meant to operate out of our most foundational identity. So as a Christian, yes, we have indwelling sin. Yes, we continue to sin and we need a Savior. At the same time, we’re justified, we’re saints.
You need to vivify what is given to you as a new creation in Christ.
Paul often addresses the church as saints, even very troubled churches. We have communion, we have union with Christ. So what’s true about the statement is that we are meant to live out of our identity as new creations in Christ. So much of the New Testament moral instruction is really flowing out of indicative into these imperatives—that is, statements about who you are: This is true of you. You’re no longer a slave to sin. You’re a slave to righteousness. You’re no longer worshiping the god of this age. You have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. This is what’s true of you (Rom. 12), so in view of these mercies, therefore, here’s how you ought to live: present yourself as living sacrifices. In other words, be who you are. Understand who you are in Christ, and then live that out.
So if that’s what we mean by “finding your true self”—your self which is dead to sin and alive to Christ—then that’s good advice.
Kevin DeYoung is the author of Do Not Be True to Yourself: Countercultural Advice for the Rest of Your Life.
You are not just an individual. You are not your own creation. You did not invent yourself. You exist in a web of relationships. You are a social animal.
We’re a generation that has been raised on spiritual fast food, and we’re sick. It’s time for us to sit down at the table, linger, and sup on the feast the King has for us.
You don’t need to look far today to notice that personal identity is a do-it-yourself project. People think about themselves constantly, it seems, and with high expectations!
But God's word says that God's power is made perfect through weakness. So I'm intended to come in my weakness in search of God's power, not in search of my own power.