Sunday, August 09, 2009

Being True to Yourself

There's something I've noticed where the Church is blindly following society, and getting into all kinds of trouble as a result.

In general, it's more of a problem the more the church understands and identifies with contemporary society. So I'd guess that a clear majority of charismatic evangelical leaders I know believe this in some form, with fewer conservative evangelicals going along with it (but then, I think charismatics are usually better at relating to postmodern society - conservatives are often still relating to modern society, which explains why in university towns people doing artsy subjects tend to be a lot more charismatic than people doing sciencey subjects).

Liberals seem to believe this far more than traditionalists. And I've hardly come across it at all among conservative Anglo-Catholics, but they often seem to relate to modern society by having rituals which contrast dramatically with it.

The belief that I think the Church has absorbed from culture is this:

It is very important to have "personal integrity" - to be true to yourself and to act in a way that fits with who you are.

I want to think about this area briefly. I think it's very important. For example, I think it is one of the key issues underlying the whole gay debate, and unless it is dealt with, could well lead to a big split among evangelicals.

Personal Integrity

Firstly, I'm pretty sure that's not what "personal integrity" means. Personal integrity means keeping your word, even when it hurts (Ps 15:4) and sticking by moral principles rather than by some sense of who I am.

God's Integrity

The closest passage I can think of in the Bible to this common view is 2 Timothy 2:13 - "if we are faithless, God will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." But things are different for God, because he's perfect. Compare the following two sentences: "I should not disown God." and "I should not disown myself." Which is more important? Isn't it obvious that the key issue is not disowning God rather than no disowning myself? Why? Because to disown God means acting in a way that doesn't fit with his perfect character. God cannot disown himself, so we should not disown him.

The crunch issue here is the Incarnation and the cross.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death —
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:4-8, NIV

Was Christ true to himself? In the sense of being true to his Father and to his Father's moral character, yes he was. But in today's sense of being true to who he himself was, he most certainly wasn't true to that. He was something and made himself nothing. When the moral and ethical imperatives of being true to God clashed with the ontological imperatives of being "true to himself", Jesus Christ became nothing, and he did it for us.

The Way of the Cross

And actually, that's meant to be a big part of the pattern for our lives.

Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Mark 8:34-35, NIV

Are we meant to be true to ourselves? No. We're meant to deny ourselves, be true to Jesus and to his Father, and follow in the glorious way of the Cross and Resurrection into new life in him.

The Way of the Cross in Mission

We are called to be Christ in our societies - Christ crucified to our old lives and raised in our new ones. And part of what that means is extreme adaptability in missions, because Christ became human and made himself nothing for us.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22

Those words grate with contemporary assumptions about being true to yourself. We have got so good at becoming like modern society to win modern society, that we have absorbed far too many of the unhealthy aspects of it. Some of us have often ceased to be merely in the world - too often we are of it as well. And others are not sufficiently in it because we spent so long in a past world that we got wedded to that instead.

Paul was willing to place the issue of who he was up for grabs, because it was far more important that he reach people for Christ than that he be "true to who he was". Paul was true to Jesus - willing to deny himself. Are we?

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