Acting Like Our True Self

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As the teaching pastor of a local church for nearly five years now, I find myself repeating certain phrases or going back to various word pictures over and over again depending on the week’s message. And since our church is highly focused on the work (and word) of reconciliation, one of the oft-kicked around phrases is “working our way back to the garden.”

edenIn saying this, what we mean to express is that we were meant for so much more (thanks, Jon Foreman) than our current broken world and were instead intended for shalom – for harmony with God, with the earth, with our fellow (wo)man and our self. The early chapters o Genesis set this up so beautifully in the Garden of Eden, revealing humanity the way it was intended. And so in our gathered assemblies together, we often speak of making our way or working our way back to the garden as we understand more and more of who we were intended to be.

But I heard a phrase recently that has thrown me for a bit – perhaps taking me deeper in my understanding of this aspect of spiritual formation. Someone used the term “true selves” in reference to our position in the garden. And I immediately fell in love with it.
So much of the teachings and writing concerning the Christian discipleship or spiritual formation is about working toward something new. We are usually called (out of fear) to turn from our old ways, our old man, our earthly self and invited to move toward eternal life or to have our sins forgiven, et al. Growing up, there was a lot of talk about a need to be disciplined to learn these new ways, to become the new man (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course). And it was oftentimes a frustrating journey of my feeble attempts to grow new limbs and learn to walk again like an infant.

Yet with this new analogy or understanding of our “true selves,” I realize now that it’s more than that. Sharing the gospel with someone or training someone in discipleship is not having to learn some new way of doing things or it’s not something to work toward necessarily. Instead, what if it was about calling people back to being their true selves. It’s about teaching them who they were created to be, seeing their place in the grand narrative and realizing that there’s a better way to live – one which they were originally intended to do/be in the first place.

There’s a freedom in a perspective like this and it’s something I feel I’m coming alive to myself. And it’s something I hope to add to our vernacular at the Mercy House.

Profile photo of Matt Conner

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


14 Comments

  1. Nathanael

    Amen, brother.
    I have an idea for a new Rabbit Room t-shirt.
    In big letters on the front it would read “I’d rather be naked.”
    And in smaller font below it would have this address: (Genesis 2.25)

    I only ask for 17% of the profits to help pay my bills.

  2. Mark Cook

    perspective can be a lot of the battle. either way, whether you’re trying to work to get back to the true self or trying to put on the new self, it still requires spiritual discipline.

    it’s hard work, whether you’re cutting back the weeds or planting new seeds (dang, that rhymes!)

  3. Tony Heringer

    Matt,

    I’m finishing a journey through Revelation with commentator William Hendriksen. I came across this quote a couple of days ago with regards to the return of Christ:

    “No longer will this universe be subject to ‘vanity.’

    All of Creation is moving toward that end. It is the reason we can always have hope even when all seems hopeless.

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Matt,

    For we were once darkness. Now we are light in the Lord. Live, then, as children of light.

    In other words, “be your true self.”

    God has given us Himself as our inner Source in Christ. A one time static event. Bang.

    We’ve been taught that the Christian life is a long, arduous journey of becoming. But it is a discovery of be-ing.

    By one sacrifice He has perfected us forever. For it is God in us, willing, and acting. Now we are to be made holy in our actions by a process – the process of working out our salvation (already in us) with fear and trembling – by faith.

    Christ encamps in us, in Jericho, in the center of the Land. Then it is a process for Him, with our cooperation by faith, to invade our psychology and cast out all the unbelief and fear there.

    We’ve been trained to think in terms of two dogs. Feed the white dog and starve the black dog.

    But there aren’t two dogs. There’s only one. And He’s not a dog; He’s God, living in us (see how backwards our human thinking is).

    Our job is to cooperate by faith – to take the Land, to possess our possessions, to cause righteousness to invade every corner of our being. That righteousness is our true self. We already have it – we have Him. And now we’re to cast out all fear, all unbelief, and rely on Christ to live in us, through us – as us.

    That’s our true self – an inner union which becomes a unity of being and purpose.

    We’ve been so used to sinner-saint theology that we miss the point. Most of us believe more in the sinner side of it than the saint side, because we judge things by appearances rather than by the Word.

    If we judge by the Word we find that the appearances begin to conform to the Word. If we take up our real identity, our true self, and rely on that, our outer actions begin to follow.

    There are two selves. One is true, and the other is false, a balloon self, a hot-air self blown up by the lies of Satan. That false self is easily punctured every time if we rely on our real, true self. The sinner-self is a fake, a lie, smoke and mirrors. Our true self is a gift that we as the Church have not seen or believed in.

    I can’t seem to talk about these truths without using a lot of words. It seems so complicated to talk about. But it is only our human viewpoint that makes it complicated. It can be summed up in a sentence. As a believer I am to trust that Christ lives in me, through me, as me – every moment of every day.

  5. Aaron Roughton

    Amazing Matt. This is what is kicking my tail right now. I had a vivid dream after reading some small group material about this very thing that I went with my wife to witness an execution. It was an old man who was understood to be me, or my old self. I have claimed to follow Jesus for as long as I can remember, so I think I’ve mistaken the fumbling, lukewarm Christian Aaron as the new Aaron. I’ve literally felt jealous of people who have amazing later life conversions with lines clearly drawn between old ways and new ways, old self and new self. Anyway, all that to say thanks for posting. It’s been a while since we heard from you on here. Always good.

  6. Travis Stewart

    I love and need the idea of Shalom in my life. I first considered this idea through Cornelius Plantinga’s book “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be”. I long for the day when I will live out of that place of my “true self.”

  7. Profile photo of Travis Prinzi

    Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Excellent stuff. This is why Tolkien can say that good sub-creation produces the “imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires.” They’re ancient, because they’re what we’re created to be, and what we lost in the Fall.

  8. Tony Heringer

    I thought of this post over the last few days as I was reading Paul David Tripp’s “Instruments In The Redeemer’s Hands: People In Need Of Change Helping People In Need Of Change.” First, in the context of the body life Matt is alluding to in his post, Tripp refers to this passage:

    See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:12-13

    Then he goes on to say:

    “[This] passage clearly teaches that personal insight is the product of community. I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own decisions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. If I am going to see myself clearly, I need you to hold the mirror of God’s Word in front of me.”

    The second and related point I re-read today. Here Tripp gets at what is a constant theme here in the Rabbit Room:

    “We must faithfully proclaim: ‘Hope is only to be found in Jesus Christ, the King of kings. In Him, lasting personal heart change is possible.’ Any other message encourages false hope.

    People struggling with life in a fallen world often want explanations when what they really need is imagination. They want strategies, techniques, and principles because they simply want things to be better. But God offers much more. People need to look at their families, neighbors, friends, cities, jobs, history, and churches, and see the Kingdom. They need imagination – the ability to see what is real but unseen.”

    There’s a Rich Mullins’ song “What Susan Said” that has this stanza:

    “Two full grown men in a huddle of kids
    And they’re trying to help them to believe
    What is too good to be real
    But is more real than the air they breathe
    And it’s Wally and the Beaver, David and Jonathan
    It’s the Love of Jesus puttin’ on flesh and bone

    The fellowship we have here is good. We have artists and art lovers spurring each other on in the exploration of imaginative thought and deed. But, the fellowship we can and should be having in our local churches is oh so sweeter because there I have brothers and sisters incarnating the love of Christ and calling me to be who I really am in Him.

  9. sandi

    For those drawn to exploring this further, you would love reading Transformed into Fire: An Invitation to Life in the True Self by Judith Hougen.

    Here’s a quote that gives you an idea of her thinking: “The love of God is who you are, the compassion of Christ is the only solid identity you will ever apprehend. All thoughts of identity apart from this single, magnificent truth are shadow and illusion (in other words, the false self). The love that God unwaveringly holds for you, received within your immortal soul, is your real identity, your true self. This love of God is everything, and you are nothing apart from this one love.” (pg. 107; parenthesis mine).

    At the risk of being a spoiler, the book culminates exactly where you think it should….in how the true self is released to express and receive God’s love in community. We become unveiled to rightly see God’s image in one another and worship. She writes on pg. 220, “To see the image of God in others and to worship him through engagement with others is the culmination of loving Jesus, the purpose of community, and the greatest meaning of earthly life. After everything else is burned away or cast aside as rubbish, what remains, what matters, is that my relationships become so saturated with love and honor for others, that I become so aware that others bear the image of God as his beloved, that to simply be with another person is an occasion for worshipping God.”

    If you want to know more about Judith or her writing, she has a blog at http://www.emergentself.blogspot.com/ . If one of the well-spoken/well-written Rabbit Room writers ever reads her book and finds it as meaningful and truth-full as I have, i’ve love to see it reviewed here. You’ll have to live out “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” though; it has an awful pinkish-mauve design.

    blessings,
    sandi

  10. Joe Thayer

    I came back to re-read this post and specifically Ron Blocks response (which I dig sincerely). I was wondering if he could elaborate on one statement. ” Our true self is a gift that we as the Church have not seen or believed in.” I do not disagree. I just don’t understand why. We are talking about the central truth of our faith.

    This is why it is on my mind. I had an experience tonight. I was a guest musician at a conference. At the end of worship time, the pastor asked me to repeat an original that we had done earlier. It was a heartfelt four-chorder about discovering who I was in Christ. The tune becomes quite declarative in it’s conclusion. We let ‘er rip. As the song was fading out, two of the speakers and the Pastor approached the platform. Into their microphones they asked me if I wrote the tune. They asked me if it was about me. Yes and yes. They loved the song. They loved that I had written it. They wanted to pray for me. Then they asked me if I was ready to rise up. “Are you ready to rise up Joe?” The music was still going so we had a bit of dramatic backdrop too. They asked me several times. I finally answered, “Uhh, I’m already risen. I’m risen in Christ.” I think I heard that familiar sound effect of scratched vinyl. The music stopped for a short pause. Maybe I didn’t understand the question. So we proceeded to have an awkward conversation right there in front of all. I explained that the song was a declarative about being free in Christ. “I will no longer cry out from this broken cage”. “Out I come declaring that He has set me free”. It is about something done, not something longed for. The song is called “Bound to a Better Day” but some folks hear it as bound “for” a better day. I don’t think we reached a consensus. Probably was not the right setting for an in depth conversation. Anyhow we settled on a prayer for mercy in my life, and God’s continued direction for which I am grateful. Thank you brothers. Tonight I feel a bit dogmatic though. Seemed like a significant point at the time. After I took my seat I looked up on the wall. There was a sign with the name of the conference. “Rise Conference”. Didn’t know that at the time. I was just tagging along with the guitar player.

  11. Nathanael

    Joe,
    I, like you, await Ron’s response.
    But allow me to offer a few thoughts in the meantime.

    There is a clear tension in the core of every believer (including the apostle Paul) between who I am in Christ presently (seated in the heavenlies, pure, undefiled, perfect in His sight, etc.) and who I am in my flesh (fallen, prone to choose sin over Christ, willingly deaf to His Spirit, etc.)

    I wrote this post last year on my blog:
    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/2008/05/22/sinner-saint/

    So I understand your question to Ron, and my heart goes out to you over the awkward tension at the conference.

    But there are times when the Lover of my soul tells me to arise from my spiritual slumber and follow Him…again…and again…and again…

    “My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away'” (Song of Solomon 2.10 ESV).

    This does not change who I am in Christ.
    We need to preach from the pulpit and sing songs and write poetry of who we are in Christ, not merely of our battle with our flesh.
    But it does not negate the reality that I am stuck in time…awaiting that day when I am free from the chains of my flesh.

    A balance is needed.

    My $.02

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