A long time ago in a country far, far away, a younger version of myself watched the gyrations with growing unease. Sunday night worship was being lead by a talented youngster, whose gifting was completely overshadowed by his crazed movements. As his behavior sped past peculiar and into bizarre, I resolved to speak with him. The conversation that happened later that evening sounded something like this:
I said, “Dude, that wasn’t cool!” Be nice, I was younger and it was the 90’s. “What were you trying to do?” He said, “Ah, man. I was just being true to myself!”
I don’t remember my response but I imagine I suggested that he aim higher. And yet, in spite of my failing memory, his answer remains indelible. The whole encounter, the gross performance and the disappointing conversation that followed, were all wrapped up in this…”I was just being true to myself”.
The phrase takes self-indulgence and makes it sound noble. Gratifying oneself without concern for others is deemed ‘true’, as though selfishness is synonymous with honesty. In this thinking the best of us really don’t care about the rest of us. It’s supremely self-centered. But pride aside, the perils of this course are greater still. The Christian needs to think about which ‘self’ is being accommodated, because confusion here can lead to real trouble.
“But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:20–24)
The Christian is a new creation, a man or woman who has been essentially reconstituted in their inner being. This is more than hyperbole—the Christian is made new, as Jesus put it, they are ‘born again’. But even with this new identity and potential, much of the old person remains. This means that in the heart of the Christian is a conflict that cannot be ignored. The Christian needs to repeatedly reject (put off) their old identity while practicing (put on) their new one in Christ. Idleness in this area will result in a slow slide that ends in a return to past ungodliness. Victory is won when the old self is repeatedly crowded out by the new life.
Reminded of this we return to that fateful statement, “I’m just being true to myself”. If we could strip the selfishness from the phrase, it may still hold some value for us. If we use it to explain that our behavior is consistent with our inner self then it speaks of integrity. But even then, we need to be clear as to which self we are being true. For the believer, who is being true to whom they are in Christ, they are going to prove their identity through selflessness.
“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)