Has anyone ever told you to “follow your heart”, “be who you really are”, “do what feels right” or something like this? Such an imperative usually comes from a person who means well, and wants you to know it. I want to add a few drops of digital ink to the ocean which is the internet with the hope of showing why such statements are so hazardous to a correct perception of your identity as a Christian and to your passion for life.
While positive sayings such as those I’ve described usually come from well-meaning people who are mainly trying to encourage others, they represent a fundamentally flawed idea of human nature. What I’m about to say may not be popular, but it is true, and is important for growth and maturity.
In a nutshell, humans are really bad, and God is really good.
What does this mean for our daily life? First, following your heart is one of the surest ways to end up exactly the opposite of where you should be, at least in terms of a Christian walk. Many verses in the Bible speak of the depths of sinfulness all of mankind displays by nature. The default inclination of each person is to sin. This is a doctrine commonly referred to as total depravity. It does not mean that each person will do as many bad things as possible, or that they cannot do good things, simply that each and every person can be relied upon to sin as much as they need to in order to avoid discomfort and to satisfy their desires.
With this knowledge, does the idea of being who you really are sound like a good plan? I think not! What if instead, we said be who God has called you to be?
That shifts the focus from us to God, and demands that we carefully consider the implications of what we say. It takes more work, for sure. It doesn’t sound as nice, and saying this to a person who expects you to affirm them in their sin can be extremely difficult. I believe it is much more healthy though. Rather than relying upon our own sinful desires to dictate our actions, we are submitting ourselves to the will of God and obeying his commands.
This is critical for identity because sin and identity frequently go hand in hand, especially where shame is involved. Shame is one of the devil’s strongest tools. He can make you feel inadequate to follow Christ, and in doing so, cause you to associate your sin with who you are. This is an utter lie. If you take nothing else away from this post, take this. You are more than your past sins. You are created in the very image of God, and he loves you deeply.
Please don’t buy into the lie that your sins define you. God alone has the right to say with any authority who you are and what your worth is, and it is clear from the Bible that he loves each and every person, and that their worth is intrinsic to who they are, not determined by their actions. That means you! Take comfort in this truth, and rest in the knowledge that the one who is able to save your soul is the same one who defines your worth.
Another important thing to consider is how such misconceptions of identity can affect passion. This ultimately tends to be a spiral (you sin because you feel like a sinner, your sin impacts your passion and feelings of identity, therefore you sin, perpetuating the cycle). To use an all-too-common example, porn use typically causes Christians who believe it to be sin to feel dirty, unworthy of God’s love and altogether sinful. Because of this, and in concert with the shame of their sin, Christians continue in it, keeping the cycle alive and living in the defeat of another day of struggle and shame. This in turn impacts their feeling of identity, and they begin to believe the lies of the devil concerning them. “Maybe I’m not worthy to be loved, because of how many times I’ve returned to the same sin”. “Maybe I should just accept this as who I really am”. In turn, this kind of thought leads the Christian who struggles with these sins (or whichever ones they happen to be plagued by) to become apathetic to life (especially Christian service) and to seeking righteousness, and in some cases, I have seen this lead to a severe questioning of faith.
The last several sentences come almost exclusively from my personal experience. I thank God that I am free from such a burden of shame, and I share this with you so that you may be comforted. I had a conversation with someone I’m very close to on this subject recently, in the context of confession. I realized in that conversation that I was holding in quite a bit of shame for my past sin. It is healthy to mourn our sin, to deeply grieve over time wasted in sin, especially in sexual sin, which can damage our perceptions of the world. I was holding it too closely though, and my friend reminded me that it is vitally important to remember the great love and forgiveness of Christ. He has abolished your shame. Take comfort in this knowledge.
This is why it is so dangerous to speak flippantly about things which have such a great impact on our perception of our identity. Whether we like it or not, the things we speak, believing to be true, become the things we hold most dearly to. Why would we ever speak anything but the truth then? Speak the truth about your sin, confessing it to God and to others as sin, repenting of it. Move then to a place of healing and growth. This will allow you to continue to grow and to mature in your faith, and to return to the passion God has given you for life and for the gospel. This is a beautiful thing.
I challenge you therefore to carefully consider what you say, and more carefully consider your identity as a Christian. You are not the sum total of your sins. You are a beloved creation of God’s, and you have great worth simply by merit of your humanity. Live in that knowledge, and by doing so, live freely.
In love and peace,