You gotta be you

I gotta be me

There’s nothin’ else that will do

There’s no one else we can be

To your own self be true so that everyone can see

Exactly what makes you, you

And also what makes me, me!

Imagine these words set to an upbeat tune, spilling forth with joy from an exuberant, handsome young man surrounded by a chorus of Muppets and purple bubbles shooting out of everything. I looked at my toddler taking in this frenetic scene with wide eyes and thought to myself, this is the last thing I want to teach you, buddy.

In our increasingly secular culture, ultimate loyalty to self as the greatest commandment really isn’t that surprising. I wonder though if many of us who claim Christ aren’t still deeply committed to our culture’s highest value instead of our God’s. With all our talk of love languages, Buzzfeed quizzes and personality tests, I can’t help but question how much of our belief system is entangled with the lust to express our individuality instead of—or at the expense of—pursuing Christ?

Where do unique personhood as an image-bearer and the biblical call to conformity to Christ meet? How can we honor God in how He has made us individually, but also serve Him and others sacrificially? How can we tell when we are sinfully self-focused? 

Testing Our Claim

Years ago in one of C.S. Lewis’ books, I came across this observation by George Macdonald:

The one principle of hell is — "I am my own."

Strong, huh? But think about it for a second. Devotion to self as the highest value is antithetical to the self-sacrificial message of the gospel. When we give advice to our friends, post inspirational memes on Pinterest, make decisions and choose how to treat each other, what is our central claim behind those actions? I am my own? Or, I am for you.

If I value being true to myself, then the fact that my love language isn’t quality time may allow me to be ungrateful to someone who is giving of their life to me. If I “don’t work well in groups” I may refuse to engage in confessional community or help a friend on moving day. I can tell myself that what others need is “just not my gift” all I want, but in reality I leave a trail of missed opportunities to love like Jesus and grow in faithfulness because my commitment to self over others makes me unwilling to serve. In return, I totally miss out on experiencing and getting made more like Christ. 

Of course God makes us all different with gifts and preferences others don’t possess—that’s the body of Christ! But we need to be careful that we aren’t limiting our obedience to God’s commands by treasuring our personalities more than Christ’s character.

Pursuing an Illusion

The very idea that we can be true to ourselves under the curse is an inherently flawed concept. While in our flesh, we are never going to fully be the people our Maker intends. Apart from the redemptive work of Christ, we don’t have any idea who we really are! Our highest fidelity therefore, has to be first to him, so that he can show us who we are as he conforms us to be more like Jesus in our ability to know and obey him through faith.

The attempt to be faithful to our corrupted thoughts, desires and wills independently of God actually perpetuates our enslavement under the yoke of sin as we worship and honor a broken being rather than the worthy God. How do we know when we are in this error? Rather than fruits of the Spirit we will see acts of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21).

Pursuing the King

When we champion the ideal of fidelity to self, we mean to encourage—to facilitate a utopian world of personal freedom. But scripture tells us that apart from Christ we are not free, but captive slaves of the prince of this world (2 Tim 2:26). When I consider our culture today I can’t help but think of another time in the history of God’s people when, “having no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). The thing is though, we do not live in an era without a king. Our King has come down to rescue us from ourselves, taking on our flesh, to give his life for ours. King Jesus shows us the Way to life—to freedom from ourselves. And by his Spirit within us, he enables us to walk that Way through faith; redeeming the broken selves we are foolish enough to want to be true to.

Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.