She struck terror in all who met her.
Her voice, like an agitated hive of bees, stung all who came in range of it. Her words were sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18). Her tongue broke spirits (Proverbs 15:4). Her speech wielded the power of death (Proverbs 18:21). All who saw her braced themselves.
Her philosophy was identical to a past roommate’s who, after eating too much Chinese food, would smile and say, “Better out than in.” Her incivility must rumble out — no matter the discomfort it caused everyone else in the room.
And none could take offense because, as everyone was fond of reminding themselves, “That’s just how she was.” To complain about her was to complain that water was wet and rocks were hard. Gravity was what it was; she was who she was. Her personality, in this view, was an inflexible disposition, a scientific inevitability, something she couldn’t help. To mutter against her was to grumble against biology.
And well-mannered was not who she was. Politeness was not at the core of her. Rumor had it, she was born this way.
Don’t Be Yourself
“Just be yourself,” “keep it real,” and “keep it 100” are life slogans for many in our day. And when they are, authenticity often takes precedence over courtesy, self-actualization triumphs over self-discipline, and the self — whoever it may be — is to be celebrated and never censured.
And subtly, we can adopt this philosophy in the church. Even though every imperative in the Bible protests against it, every identification of sin condemns it outright, every discussion of holiness and God’s judgment warns against believing it, we too excuse sin tendencies as our personalities.
- Oh, her? She’s just strong-willed and independent. That’s why she doesn’t submit to her husband.
- Him? Don’t worry, he isn’t trying to be inhospitable and cold towards everyone. He’s just shy and introverted.
- Yeah, he doesn’t lead spiritually, but don’t fret. He just doesn’t go deep — that’s not who he is.
- Why isn’t she growing in her knowledge of God’s word? Because she just isn’t a reader.
- Why does it seem like he flirts with every girl he meets? Don’t read too much into it. He just has a playful personality — that’s just the way he is.
This unassailable sense of self is contrary to biblical thinking. Our personality must bow to God’s standards, never vice versa.
- Wives, submit to your husbands, whether you’re strong-willed or not.
- Introverts, be hospitable and kind, even if your inclination is to stow away for time alone.
- Husbands, lead your wife and wash her with the word, even if you’d prefer to just keep it light and casual.
- Christian, meditate on the word of God day and night, even if you haven’t read any other book since high school.
- Romeo, restrain yourself from engaging women’s hearts, even if you find it easy to engage with the opposite sex.
“You Must Be Born Again”
Ever since the fall, being yourself is the opposite of what God desires. Since the fall, our authentic selves are unsurpassed in self-absorption; they hate God by refusing to treasure him above all things. Therefore, the authentic you is worthy of death.
And this is the scandal of the gospel. It tells each man, woman, and child — whether criminal, “good,” religious, or otherwise — that they must be born again to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3). It tells us that the unregenerate man who is “keepin’ it real” is keepin’ himself in constant threat of God’s wrath and only increasing his condemnation (Romans 2:4–5).
Whether Mr. Rogers or Gandhi or Stalin, being the “true you” does not produce the righteousness that God requires. We all need God’s righteousness freely offered to us in Christ (Philippians 3:8–11), and we all need to be new creations of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
Jesus doesn’t say, “Just be the true you.” He says, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
Be Something Greater
And Jesus died on a cross so that we can be born again. He bore the wrath of his Father while we were “just being ourselves,” and sent the Holy Spirit to make us new creations in him. And the Spirit dwells inside of us who are born again to cause us to increasingly walk out who we already are.
This new us is a better us than we could have imagined. We are not made to image the ideal versions of ourselves, but to reflect the image of God himself. God ordained our salvation to make us look like his Son (Romans 8:29) — a being who, if you saw now, as Lewis writes, “you would be strongly tempted to worship” (Weight of Glory, 45).
So, “just be yourself” is only good advice when it means “be that person: the new you in Christ.” Paul returns here again and again in his epistles:
At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:8)
In other words, Paul tells Christians to be who we are in Christ. We walk as children of light — not to become light, but because, by a work of our almighty God, we already are. We live as new creations with new affections and joys because, by the Spirit’s regenerating work, we already are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And we become more like who we already are when we stare at Christ and seek to be what he is (2 Corinthians 3:18). We do not gaze within and become more of what we see inside, but we gaze without to see him — and to others who look like him — and, by the Spirit, mimic what we see (Philippians 3:17).
Don’t be yourself. Be something higher. Be who God predestined you to be. Be who you are in Jesus.