Freedom to Transform
Fear of man
Self-help vs. Gospel transformation
When reading this blog article, it can be tempting to read it as a self-help article. One thing I want to address right from the beginning is that I believe self-help is very different from transformation that comes through Jesus Christ. If you’re not careful, you can catch yourself reading a bunch of self-help and psychology books, and relying on the principles and tools without ever really needing Jesus. I’ve been there! Any non-Christian can do the same and get results in becoming a better ‘you.’ However, the difference about the Christian life is that Jesus isn’t trying to have you become a better ‘you;’ He’s interested in you becoming something completely different.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor 5:17)
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
Self-help, psychology and wisdom of man can only help patch up your ‘old man’ and help you become a better ‘old man.’ Now this improved ‘old man’ can seem happier, be more loving and kind, and be an overall good person. But still, this old man is limited by the fallen sinful nature. Jesus came so this old man would completely die so that we would become something completely new. We have the opportunity to be molded and transformed into the image of God by His Spirit living in us.
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Rom 6:6)
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:17-18)
Before anyone gets too mad at me, I am not saying that there is no place for self-help and psychology. I would be prideful and presumptuous to claim anything like that. God can work powerfully through psychologists and through a variety of self-help tools. What I’m simply saying is that we limit ourselves tremendously if we end up relying on tools and principles more than the Spirit of God for transformation. We also limit ourselves if our underlying beliefs are based on trying to patch up the old man to make him look better versus believing that the predestined ‘you’ is to actually to look like Jesus. You can put perfume on a dead corpse, but it’s still a dead corpse!
The beauty of the gospel is that you cannot transform yourself! It can be frustrating at times because we are so wired to ‘do’ to ‘get,’ ‘perform’ to ‘earn’ and we like to have things under our control. But it’s in surrender and partnering with God’s word that we become beautifully molded into the masterpieces that he originally dreamt. This can be a whole blog post in and of itself, and perhaps I’ll write one in the future, but I wanted to give you a bit of framework for what I’m about to talk about. As you read this blog article, I recommend that you read it in light of knowing that transformation comes from God and to use the principles in this article to help you stand in the truth of God’s word, not merely as steps to a better you.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom 8:29)
“You can put perfume on a dead corpse, but it’s still a dead corpse!”
Living free from how you think others view you
Now to get onto what I really want to talk about in this blog post. Not too long ago, I realized that I continually created boxes to fit into based on who was in front of me. This was something that I did subconsciously, so it wasn’t something I was really aware of until I had a few encounters with people that made it blatantly obvious. I unknowingly created self-defining boxes based on how I thought others viewed me. I trapped myself with judgments I made about myself based on previous encounters I had with people. I realized that this was another layer of fear of man that God wanted to set me free from. These boxes were self-made, self-imposed and extremely self-limiting. But there was an exciting hope that rose up inside of me when I realized it was completely in my power to change things. My opportunity for freedom wasn’t dependent on other people to change their opinions about me; It was dependent on me to change my own opinion about myself. I was excited about breaking free from this cycle of self-judgment to help me grow stronger in my identity and to give God opportunities to transform my heart.
“My opportunity for freedom wasn’t dependent on other people to change their opinions about me; It was dependent on me to change my own opinion about myself.”
Exposing the imposter
To give you a little bit of background, from 2010 to 2013, I attended ministry school after I had just radically given my life back to God from fifteen years of falling away. My conversion felt so radical and brand new that I didn’t know who I was anymore and I was crying out for my identity. My false identity left with the sinful life I previously identified with and I was freed from. I had occupied myself for so long with creating a fake persona that I imagined other people and myself could love. Deep inside, I hated myself and was afraid of letting my true self emerge for fear of being rejected. At the core, fear of man and fear of rejection was robbing me from living free and from knowing that I’m already loved and accepted. On the outside, I thought I was pretty cool, likable, successful and generally a good person. But I was really just hiding. Jesus came in and tore off my costume and I felt naked and exposed for the first time. It was one of the most awkward times of my life. Being born-again had a new and personal meaning for me now. I felt like I was truly born again, like a newborn baby in diapers, and I needed to find out who I was. For a period of time, I felt so insecure and had trouble even talking to people in social settings. In ministry school, I was a broken and insecure orphan who was learning how to be a son. I was learning how to let my true self emerge and how to embrace and love myself. It was time to live free from masks and it was time to stop hiding.
During ministry school, I’ve had plenty of awkward and insecure encounters with people and leaders. But since my time in ministry school, I have grown leaps and bounds in my identity and became more comfortable in my own skin. I am a completely different person now then when I first came into school. Don’t get me wrong, I still have awkward encounters from time to time, but now I know how to navigate them without compromising my identity.
Not too long ago, while walking on church campus, I approached a few ministry school leaders that I haven’t talked to since my ministry school days. What I noticed was really discouraging. When I spoke with past ministry school leaders, a person who I hadn’t seen in a long time resurfaced. An impostor had emerged. Who was this person appearing all of a sudden? Why was I suddenly acting insecure, fearful and awkward again in front of these ministry leaders? This is not me!
In that moment, God gave me understanding of the situation. Subconsciously, I was acting according to how I thought these leaders viewed me. And since I haven’t seen these leaders in years, the last known experience they had of me was when I was awkward and insecure. So unknowingly, I conformed to what I believed their last perceptions of me were, fearing that if I were any different in front of them, then I would somehow be exposed to be a phony, a fake, and an impostor. It’s ironic that in my attempt not to be found out as a fake, I ended up putting on a mask myself. I realized that I had an underlying fear that perhaps I’m really still the same insecure person I was in the past and that I really hadn’t grown. And now, this self-perpetuating situation confirmed that my greatest fears actually might be true: that I haven’t changed!
Do I do this everyday?
Then I got to thinking, do I do this in my everyday life in other ways? I started thinking about my roommate, who saw me the most on a day-to-day basis. How many times am I just conforming to how I think my roommate currently perceives me? He is someone who has seen me at my worst. I realized that I in fact do that with my roommate as well. I realized I’ve been keeping myself from growing in love because of fear of being found out as a phony. There have been many times when I’ve fallen short and have not loved well. I’ve chalked these moments up to being proud of myself for being real, transparent and vulnerable. But I realized that I held myself to these past mistakes and self-judgments. I unknowingly refrained from allowing myself to start afresh each day and put on love in new ways because of fear that my roommate might think I’m being fake. Again I subconsciously conformed to what I thought was my roommate’s latest perception of me. It was all a self-imposed trap in my mind that kept me in shame and condemnation. And condemnation kept me from transformation because condemnation said that I am only as good as my last interaction.
The ‘being real’ trap
Another thing I realized with my roommate was that I was good at being vulnerable and real in front of him. I think it is healthy to allow yourself to be free to be who you are in the moment, flaws and all. We are all on a journey of growth and being conformed to love. It is tiring to put on a continuous act of perfection, and behavior modification will only leave us in constant self-maintenance mode to keep up that image. Ultimately, performance will leave you burned out. However, we seriously limit ourselves if we are content with just being real. Being real and vulnerable should not be an excuse for staying in dysfunction, limiting yourself, or willfully remaining in sin. Let me explain.
Being real and vulnerable are valuable traits. But it doesn’t stop there. Being real and being your true self is not the same. In fact, being satisfied with just being real will prevent you from becoming all that you were meant to be. You unknowingly cap yourself with a ceiling of internally believing you can’t or don’t need to change beyond a certain point. We can keep ourselves from the potential transformation that Jesus Christ has for us by just staying there. Sometimes we can idolize people that are known for being real and vulnerable. We can end up justifying someone’s dysfunction by admiring someone just because he is being real. And I get it, it is attractive and refreshing to be around someone who is real. But being real can give people unspoken permission to stay in a broken place. Can I be real for a moment? You don’t get cool points for being real and choosing to stay in sin or being unloving.
Don’t get me wrong, being real and vulnerable are all important virtues to live by. We live unapologetically and boldly as who we truly are, even if others don’t understand. We acknowledge our faults, apologize and ask for forgiveness when we need to. However, often times we stop there and just try to behave better. What doesn’t happen is that we don’t renew our mind in that moment. We don’t repent, which actually means to change your mind. We don’t fully believe that our true self is to look like Jesus and to become love. Change your mind about yourself! Allow yourself to grow and transform!
How to end this cycle
Sometimes we believe that we still are the mistakes we just made, the selfish act we just did, the short-tempered outburst we just made, the sin we just committed, or the insecure person we just exhibited. Our shortcomings and failures condemn us and judge us, saying we are defined by our last actions. The best thing in those moments is to repent, find your value and acceptance from God, wipe the slate clean and try again.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2)
Change your mind about yourself and align yourself with the truth of God’s word. Repentance can look like putting off the old man and putting on the new man. This process involves removing the lies about yourself, and replacing those lies with the truth of who you are.
that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)
Repentance is important because our beliefs about ourselves dictate our behavior and actions. It can seem hypocritical to those who are used to judging or defining themselves based on their past behavior and actions. Transformation requires you to believe you are different before you become different.
“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov 23:7)
2. Find your value and acceptance from God
Get your love, acceptance, and value from God and not man. When you don’t need people as the source for your identity, then you’re free to be yourself and are able to love them instead. We live in true freedom when our actions aren’t influenced by whether or not someone will accept us or reject us. Instead, true freedom comes in knowing that we are already loved and accepted. Then we can love people freely without needing something in return.
3. Wipe the slate clean and try again
It’s time to step up to the plate again. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and show yourself mercy and grace. After repenting and aligning yourself with truth, you’re now working with a clean slate.
Take every moment to be the most joyful, most loving, most compassionate, most patient, most generous person you’ve ever been to that point. It can feel hypocritical and like just some sort of mental ascension, but what I’m talking about requires faith in who God says you are and faith in God’s goodness to change you. Hypocrisy, or ‘play acting,’ is when you stay in unbelief of your true identity and put on a mask, playing the part of the impostor self. The best thing you can do at any given time is to align with who God says you are and act accordingly, even if it feels fake at the time. This isn’t behavior modification, but it is faith in action.
Let me be even a bit more extreme with this. What if I mistreated someone even 10 minutes ago? Is that an indictment on who I really am? Do I have to conform to being that person, believe I haven’t really changed and continue to mistreat people to live up to that judgment? Or can I even in that moment, ask for forgiveness, repent and be completely different even if it feels phony? Don’t fall into condemnation of your own judgment of yourself and hold yourself to that judgment. Don’t hold yourself to what you think others’ perceptions of you are, even if you may be right. You can trust that God is doing a powerful work in you and you are being transformed into the same image. You can trust in His word that you are a new creation and no longer have the resume of a sin-tainted life. When you live accordingly, you allow yourself to be on a constant platform of change, trusting more in His word than in your experience.
“Transformation requires you to believe you are different before you become different.”
It’s time to live free!
Don’t be confined or trapped by what you believe are others’ perceptions about you. Don’t conform to how you think others last viewed you or have experienced you. It doesn’t allow for you to change. Sometimes we can think that if we act differently, that the way our friends or peers view us will expose us as being hypocrites. We end up fearing being found out and having to face the inevitable disappointment that perhaps we are not as great as we foolishly hoped we were. We fear that when we’re found out, it will only corroborate our greatest fears, that we are still the same unchanged person. We are boxed in by what we think are other peoples’ perceptions of us and live like prisoners in our self-created jail cells. We have subconsciously trained ourselves to operate in this manner and define ourselves accordingly so much so that we don’t realize it. We have programmed ourselves to fit in other peoples’ boxes that we create in our own minds.
Instead, you have permission to be different now.
- Do the previously uncharacteristic extravagant act of love.
- Be more generous with your time, money and belongings.
- Be kind.
- Be a good listener.
- Be a thoughtful friend.
- Be a powerful leader.
- Love God with all your heart.
- Love people well.
- Be the confident person you know yourself to be.
It might feel foreign, fake, or you may experience fear of being found out. But if you let other peoples’ opinions speak louder than God’s truth, it will be hard for you to change. You will stunt your transformation. And the crazy thing is, often times you confine yourself to a box that’s not even how people perceive you! Even if it is how they see you, the good news is, you are not trapped by other peoples’ perceptions. Who cares what someone else thinks about you anyway? It’s overrated!
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us (Eph 5:1)