Why “Being Yourself” Doesn’t Work

Greg Hardy is a troubled NFL star who spent all of the 2014 season on suspension after he threw his girlfriend onto his bed, which happened to be filled with assault rifles, and threatened to kill her. Recently we have discovered what Hardy did during that time off: he made a rap video. In this video, Hardy and crew are seen chillaxing with strippers, cigars, booze and the occasional barrage of gunfire. After threatening to never get “played” by a woman again, he lets loose with the message chorus of his song: “What you see is what you get. I’m just me, I’m just real, and that’s what I do.

In showing this to my wife, I was struck with by the gravity of something she said. “Well that’s exactly what culture says he should be. He’s supposed to just be himself.” And she’s right.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this portrait of our own culture must be worth a billion more.

Far from being a product of our generation, culture is proclamation of a creed: manifesto for the common man. Today our culture sends many messages, but one rings truer than all others: the best thing you can be is yourself.

This sounds really good. In fact it sounds almost biblical. Eugene Peterson interprets Luke 14:11 like this: “But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself” (taken from The Message). But is the Christian message of humility merely the message of self-expression? Or is the idea of “being yourself” really a side-effect of an otherwise transient hope?

A Broken Mantra

The problem with culture’s creed is that it’s broken. It’s broken because we are broken.

Our culture has become so self-obsessed that we are blind to the long term impact of our ideas. We think that self-expression and honesty will lead to a world which loves each other intimately and fully. However this is not the case. Take for instance the chorus of one of Billboards top songs: “Give it to me I’m worth it, baby I’m worth it. Gimmie, Gimmie, I’m worth it.” Or another, “Gonna love myself, no, I don’t need anyone else. I love me.

I feel so warm and fuzzy inside.

We want people to be themselves because it sounds liberating. But what if people are selfish?  What if people are, well, jerks? Where then do we stand to say that I’m allowed to be myself, but they themselves are no longer allowed such expression? We like to hope that if something is tied to ourselves it becomes justifiable to do. If I like mismatched clothing, I should be able to wear it. But what if I like other people’s things? What if I like to have sex with other married people (see Ashley Madison scandal)? What if I like hurting people? What if I like things I shouldn’t like?

The Problem

The problem with this pipe dream is that it needs some sort of structure to work inside of. Some people like to call these boundaries “morals.” America’s Founding Fathers quickly realized that a representative republic would only work in the presence of morals. Samuel Adams said, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.” Benjamin Franklin adds, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” These Framers, and so many others, promoted morality not because they were Bible believing Christians, but because they recognized that a populace with no morals is led by the tyrant of individualized passions. It becomes chaos.

When a large amount of people say a lot of things without the boundaries of morals, we begin to see the emergence of something terrible. In 2013, a movie came out titled, “The Purge.” In it we see the government instituting a 12-hour reprieve of any sort of illegal activity: all things are legal. The result wasn’t utopia because we were all granted freedom of expression, the result was hell on earth.

Because we live in a society that advocates the “freedom to be yourself” the result is a culture which is eliminating morals. Again, we see where this can lead us into trouble. It’s not sustainable because it doesn’t take into account the evil people among us, and it also removes any sort of platform to judge or remove the wicked actions of people who desire to do wrong.

The Gospel Correction

This is where the gospel comes into play. It goes beyond mere morals and it addresses the reality of humanity. Culture has fallen prey to the fallacy that if something is done out of nature, stemming from the core of who they are, the person is not morally capable for their actions.  One pastor has said, “The truth is our condition is worse than a choice; sin dwells in our ‘flesh,’ it is part of our very character and is why we need a Savior outside of ourselves.

Jeremiah says that it is the heart itself which is desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). Paul says that a heart apart from God is by nature hostile, set opposed to pleasing God (Rom. 8:7). Jesus himself says that it is not what goes into a man which makes him sinful, but what comes out of him (Mark 15:11).

The gospel looks at us in the eye and says, “You are harmful to yourself, and hostile towards others.” And rather than simply neutralizing us like the threat we are, it offers us grace through Jesus Christ. It takes the sinner and declares him to be innocent. It makes us righteous. But more than that it enables him to be changed in his inner person. This is the only safe place for self-expression; for far from being tied to the hope that this individual is good, it is tied to the nature of Christ which has become the new identity of the believer.

For the Christian, self-expression is Christ-exaltation. The best thing we can be for the world is to be outside ourselves. It’s to be Christ himself.

Dear culture, come be yourself by surrendering yourself. Come find your identity by losing it in Christ. In the gospel we have acceptance of the whole of who we are because Christ redeems us to make us not moral, but righteous. In the gospel we have peace because for the world to truly see us, is for the world to truly see the love of Jesus inside us.

The greatest hope for our world, and our culture, isn’t in the heart of the individual but in the person of Jesus Christ.