We are in a series called ‘Half truths’. These are mantras of the modern world. Mantra number one says that ‘Happiness is the most important thing in the world’. We found that God is committed to our happiness, but our happiness must be on God’s terms, and that is a problem given that mantra number two says, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what to do’. Indeed, that is thought to include God himself. Our world has gagged God. Our world wants progress without God’s presence. We want to be happy but we won’t let God tell us how. We will find our own answers. We don’t need parents, churches, government, and teachers to do that. Anyone old enough to remember the band ‘Pink Floyd’? They sang, ‘We don’t need no education! We don’t need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teacher, leave them kids alone.’ We have made ourselves the fountain of all truth.
This leads us to mantra number three, ‘You must be true to yourself’. Happiness will only come when we are true to who we are, not what we we’ve been told we are.
Over the years the phrase, ‘Be true to yourself has meant different things. So when Shakespeare wrote in in his play ‘Hamlet’ five hundred years ago, ‘to thine own self be true’, he didn’t mean, ‘keep it real’. He was saying, ‘Keep your reputation intact: don’t gamble and don’t sleep around’. Fast forward to 1968, and Sammy Davis Jnr sings, ‘I’ve gotta be me!’ ‘Whether I’m right, whether I’m wrong; Whether I find a place in this world or never belong; I’ve gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me! What else can I be but what I am?’ He is not wondering if there is a woman inside of him. He is thinking, ‘I’ve got my dreams and I want to follow them’. But when Lady Gaga sang ‘Born this way’ she was giving a voice to the LGBTI community, who felt that they could not be true to themselves.
So in what sense is this phrase, ‘Be true to yourself’ true, and in what sense is it a lie? I want to think about this under three headings. First, we are created humans, second, we are fallen humans, and third, we are redeemed humans.
It is here where we need to be true to ourselves. We are humans before we are Christians. All humans are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Like a finger print, each person is unique. We are made the way God wanted us to be. We each have our own distinct personalities, temperaments, capacities, and frailties. We are who we are, and if we don’t operate in a way that accords with how God has made us, we will pay a price.
This is an area of wisdom. For example, I am a mild introvert. I can be with people all day on Sunday from 7:30am to 9:30pm. I can have back-to-back meetings with staff from 9am to 6pm and a deacons’ meeting for another two hours with no problem. But if I’m out too many nights in a row, I just get sick. I’m not like my brother. He is a full-blown extrovert. He is energized by people. He can be out every night for three weeks. I can’t be him: in that sense I must be ‘true to myself’, and true to how God made me.
This is why we are blessed with so many useful tools to help us, such as ‘DISC’ or ‘Strength finders’ or ‘Myers Briggs’. They help us to work out how we are wired and how others are wired. You are who you are, and that is ok.
But we are not just humans: we are fallen humans. So Lady Gaga sings, ‘I’m beautiful in my way, coz God makes no mistakes’. Yes, God don’t make mistakes, but we humans have, and as a result, every human is broken in every area of life, including our sexuality. The self you want to be true to is scarred by sin. We humans are not born with a blank slate and pure heart. We are broken and bad. Who exactly am I to be true to? Here is God’s diagnosis of human nature without Christ, and it is not pretty.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-4 NIV)
I’m not sure I want to be true to that self: spiritually dead in our sins; unable and unwilling to love and obey God; and followers of the world. Instead of being free thinkers, we are puppets for the world’s agenda. We are played like fools. What we think is creative and cool is really code for the pressure to be like everybody else. So we rebel against authority like parents or church or school only to end up viciously pressured to be like our peers. We are naturally followers of Satan, the father of lies, who himself is wrapped in half truths and uses disinformation to create chaos and conflict. We are being played by Satan every day.
This week I heard about Edward Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew. Bernays is the father of modern advertising. A hundred years ago, he was asked by the head of a cigarette company, ‘How can we get women to smoke?’ So at the annual ‘May Day’ parade in New York, Bernays told the newspapers that a group of suffragettes—early feminists—were going to make a protest in the march. He then organized a number of models to be there, and at the high point of the march, the models stepped forward, lifted up their dresses and showed a packet of cigarettes in their garter belt. Then they each lit up a cigarette with what they called torches of freedom. That image went round the world. From that moment is was now cool and sexy for women to smoke. Women were tricked by men to think that cigarettes made them sexy, free, and powerful. The result was that women ended up buying a product that now kills them.
That is how Satan operates. We are being played by him all the time. He can do it because he knows we are slaves to the desires of our corrupt hearts. Fallen humans don’t control their sinful desires: the sinful desires control humans. What we call ‘freedom’ God regards as blind slavery to sin.
Our society fought for the right to access to porn. We got it, and now 70% of males and 30% of females are accessing porn regularly, and they can’t stop.
This mantra cannot work. Seven billion humans being true to their nature is a recipe for world-wide disaster. Think of the world leaders, the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, or the US, all being true to themselves. Isn’t every pedophile or serial killer being true to themselves?
This trajectory ends up with absurd examples. In 2015, a transgender father of seven children left his wife and family in Toronto to start a new life as a six year old girl. Or consider Rachel Dolezal, a 37 year old white woman who claimed that her true self is as a black woman. Or ponder the 20 year old Norwegian woman claiming to be a cat: she was born into the wrong species. These are extreme examples, but they are the logical extension of this mantra. This is where this mantra takes us. What is not extreme is the guy who leaves his wife and three kids for his school sweetheart whom he found on Facebook. He can’t truly be himself and not be with his soul mate. The mantra, ‘Be true to yourself’ has been used to break lots of vows to lots of people leaving a trail of disaster.
We are human and we are fallen humans. But our third point is that we are redeemed humans. In Christ, you are a new creation. You are born of the Spirit. You can resist the devil and he will flee. You can swim against the current of this world. We rightly sing to God, ‘I am who you say I am’ and ‘I want to be who you Lord want me to be’. In that sense I want to be true to my new self. To be godly is simply to strive to be what we are. You are a holy people, so be holy. You have died to sin, so put sin to death. There is a new ‘me’ in me. The worst part of me is stained with sin. The best part of me—the true ‘me’—is forgiven, washed, and set free. Since sin has affected my thinking, my feelings, and my decisions, I now have to stand back from my natural self. I have to let Jesus direct me. It’s why Jesus says to all of us in Mark 8:34:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (NIV)
In this sense, you could say that ‘sin’ is being true to my sinful nature, but ‘freedom’ is about being true to the Christ in me. In one sense there is two of ‘me’. We are each of us a walking civil war, a battle zone between flesh and Spirit, the old ‘me’ and the new ‘me’, Romans 7:25b:
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (NIV)
The old ‘me’ wants to serve sin. The new ‘me’ wants to serve Jesus by living according to the Spirit, Romans 8:13:
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (NIV)
Yes, I want to be true to my new self, my renewed self. This then means that I don’t want to be hypocrite because Jesus doesn’t want me to be a hypocrite, Matthew 23:27:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (NIV)
The world is searching for authenticity. If we want to make Jesus look good in our world, then we need to mean what we say and say what we mean. The inner you and the outer you need to line up. You need to make sure that the public you and the private you are on the same page. Be the same person at church, at home, and at work. If your friends from work or school came to church, would they be surprised to see you here? Would you feel exposed?
We all love that person whose walk and talk match. When I was at Manly preaching last week, the drummer at the church used to drum for Rick Warren’s church in the early days. Rick Warren heads one of America’s biggest churches. He said, ‘With Rick, what you see is what you get: a real and sincere Christian man’.
But every Christian also feels a tension: how do I reconcile two ideas. On the one hand, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. We must side with Jesus against our personal preferences. But God also wants me to serve him from the heart. But what if my heart is not in it. I remind you that ‘The Lord loves a cheerful giver’, but you say, ‘Ray, I can’t give cheerfully: I’m not there yet and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. So until I can do it willingly, I shouldn’t do it at all’. How do I resolve this tension?
Let’s be clear. You are either going to be a hypocrite to your feelings and desires or you are a hypocrite to Christ’s claim on your life: which is it to be? You are called to trust Jesus. You are not called to trust your feelings. You are not called to be true to your feelings and desires. They must never ever have final authority over your life. They are fallen. Yes, you acknowledge them. It’s important you name them. It’s helpful to share them with others and God. It’s healthy to feel them. But you must rule over them. We are to speak to our emotions and desires, and not be ruled by them.
The same tension is there with our mixed motives. The question is, ‘How do we serve with mixed motives and not be a hypocrite?’ If I waited for my motives to be perfect, I would not have planted MBM 28 years ago. So I deal with my mixed motives in this way: I say, ‘Lord, here are my three motives for doing this ministry. I recognize that motive one is neutral, motive two is just bad, and motive three is good’. I then say, ‘Lord the best part of me wants the best motive for this ministry’. Then when things get tough I tell myself, ‘OK Ray, this is the time to prove what your motive is’. And that is where true happiness is found. Be true to the Christ in you. And the good news is that God himself is always true to himself. In fact, he can’t be anything else, 2 Timothy 2:13:
If we are faithless he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (NIV)
God is always true to himself. That is why we know we will be saved. When God makes promises, he keeps them. His emotions, his will, and his words, all line up, just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit all line up. And in the new creation, our feelings and thinking and action will all line up with God’s purposes. There will be no sin and Satan to pull us down into the dirt. And we will effortlessly find our greatest joy in God’s pleasure.