I have a young son who has not yet learned to lie. He is real with me in ways my older kids are not. On one occasion, he came to me with chocolate covering half of his face and a declaration of confession.
“Momma! I ate chocowit. I ate five of dem. I’m sowwy. I didn’t ask! But I like dem!”
This child sings off key as loud as he can at home, at church, in the car, and even in the line at the supermarket. He dances to his own beat, plays dress-up with his older sisters, and shares only when he wants to. He confidently lives out of his true self because he knows he’s loved and accepted.
As we grow older, we quickly learn that this unconditional love is not the norm, so we begin to construct a false self—one that is more palatable, more socially acceptable, and more capable—in order to receive the affirmation we crave. Shame teaches us that parts of us are unacceptable. Inadequacy compels us to hide our weaknesses. Failure instills in us a fear of rejection. A false self emerges as we build an identity on the abundance of our possessions, or what we have accomplished, or how others perceive us. We put on a mask to protect ourselves, and the longer we live behind the mask, the harder it is to take it off and be real again.
We put on a mask to protect ourselves, and the longer we live behind the mask, the harder it is to take it off and be real again.
The apostle Paul speaks of another self—the “old self.” In his letter to the Ephesian church, he writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22–24).
The old self is the self still in bondage to the curse of sin and its resulting shame. The world’s answer to this curse is the construction of the false self. God’s answer is the birth of the new self. The false self strives for approval by its own efforts. The new self is rooted in the unconditional love of God.
As a pastor, I have sadly discovered that a majority of Christians have a difficult time putting off the old self and putting on the new. We see the disparity between the two, and it compels us to become even more performance driven. We ask ourselves, “Why do I not reflect true righteousness and holiness in my life?” We strive to become this ideal person so that our false selves can pass some sort of litmus test of Christian perfection. We bury our true selves deep beneath the surface.
This burial is problematic because, without light and exposure, our true self never grows. We try to build relationship with others through our false selves, and our true selves never get a chance to be nurtured or loved. We strive so hard at perfecting the surface, never allowing the deepest parts of ourselves to come into the full identity God created us to be.
David Benner writes in his book Transformed by Love, “Daring to accept myself and receive love for who I am in my nakedness and vulnerability is the indispensable precondition for genuine transformation. But make no mistake about just how difficult this is. Everything within me wants to show my best ‘pretend self’ to both other people and God. This is my false self—the self of my own making. This self can never be transformed because it is never willing to receive love in vulnerability. When this pretend self receives love, it simply becomes stronger and I am even more deeply in bondage to my false way of living.”
My son exposes his unfinished ways, giving me, his mother, the opportunity to help refine them. He gives me the opportunity to teach him about dental hygiene and why junk food is unhealthy as I wipe the chocolate from his face. He gives me the opportunity to sing along with him, off key, and to take joy in that. He lets me laugh out loud at his hysterical dance moves. He relates to me out of his true self because he trusts that I will always love him and accept him.
Likewise, I’ve been learning to invite God into my deepest true self, allowing him to instruct, to heal, and to transform my places of unhealth. I’m learning to let him make new those broken places, one by one, until I can finally respond to life out of a healed spirit. However, before I am able to do this, I have to intrinsically believe that God is a better parent than I am. It sounds incredibly obvious, I know. Yet often we don’t live this way. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hide our shame, our nakedness, from him. We feel insecure about his love and acceptance. We fear his rejection.
As his children, we can come unabashedly to the throne of the Lord. We can have confidence that it gives him great delight when we approach him in our truest forms. I recall the words of Jesus when Nathanael first saw him. “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false” (John 1:47, NIV 1984).
God sees every part of us and loves us more than we can ever imagine. He sees us not only in our unfinished forms but also in a perfected state as he patiently nurtures us into the image of Christ (Philippians 1:6). In other words, our timeless Father sees us not only fully sanctified but also fully glorified. As daughters and sons of the Most High King, we get to live out of that certainty. Let us not live out of our false selves. Let’s live out of the fact that God sees us fully glorified—what we are becoming!