I remember being on a third grade Little League baseball team. It was the first year that kids were allowed to pitch, and I was terrified every time I stepped up to the plate. I made contact with the ball only two times that entire season. The rest of the time I got walked, or struck out looking. I played left field, and one time I had a ball go through my legs. In the outfield. At the end of this atrocious season, I received a trophy and was told I was great.
That was a common theme in my life. The parenting and social culture that I grew up in told me and my peers that we were great, that we could accomplish anything, that we were going to change the world. That we were above average. The reality is, that’s not the case.
This self-image obsession snuck into the church, and what was birthed out of this misconception is the “Self-Image Gospel”, a false gospel that makes the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ about making you and I feel better about ourselves as people. I am thankful for men like Matt Chandler and others who have called out this insidious misbelief about the gospel.
There are tremendous gospel promises, promises that state all kinds of amazing things about us as children of God. That being said however, when we make the onus of the gospel about our self-image, we make the gospel about us instead of about God. This lie is insidious and not easy to catch, but we can see it creeping into our walk with Christ, when we start letting the litmus test of our faith be about how we feel at the time.
The self-image gospel can lead to two dangerous and concerning practices in our churches:
1) Acting Like We’re Perfect
This is probably beating a broken drum, but it still continues to eat away at true community in the body of Christ. Because we were fed lies that we are great, amazing, and extraordinary people, we carry that facade into our small groups, our relationships with fellow members of our churches.
Women are supposed to be perfect. They are supposed to look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect life. Men are supposed to be strong, able to overcome and tackle any struggle or difficulty in their life without help. These are standards that the Scriptures never ask of us. But because of our culture, we forfeit deep relationships. We make our lives out to be perfect, we don’t ask for help, we don’t admit that sometimes we’re simply not great.
Here’s something that’s freeing to me. In Scripture, when one of God’s servants proclaims their inability or their weakness, God never corrects them. God never tells them how great they are. He only ever tells them how great He is.
While praying in Genesis 18, Abraham says that he is but dust and ashes, and God doesn’t correct him.
In Exodus 3, Moses will come up with countless excuses as to why he can’t lead the Israelites out of Egypt, whether because of his lowliness, his speech, or the like. God doesn’t correct him. When Moses says “who am I?” to lead the people out, God simply reminds him of who God is.
In Jeremiah 1, Jeremiah says he’s too young and too inexperienced and unable to speak and thus he can’t be a prophet for the Lord. God doesn’t correct him and tell him how great a speaker he is. Instead, God reminds him of who made the mouth, of how great He was.
This is absolutely freeing. The reality is, you and I aren’t perfect. We can take down the facade. We are not great.
2) Obsession With Our Brokenness
People who tend to realize that the Scriptures never tell us to put up a facade take things to the complete opposite extreme. With hearts in the right place, they end up taking their eyes off of the character and greatness of God and spend too much time obsessing over their own broken lives.
This sounds like the gospel, when men and women are open about their brokenness. However, it becomes decidedly not the gospel when it becomes an obsession, the central focus of their walk with Christ. They preface every facet of their ministry in the context of their own brokenness. This is a twisted form of self-worship, which shows just how insidious the traps of Satan can be in our lives.
It is one thing to humbly admit that we don’t have it all together. It is another thing entirely to fixate on ourselves, taking our eyes off of Christ and who we are in Him.
In the Exodus story, Moses won’t take his eyes off of himself. He keeps remaining fixated on his own brokenness, and won’t put his eyes on God. In chapters four and seven, Moses continues to cry out to God, saying he’s unable to do what he’s been called to do. God is patient with him, but says time and again “I will go before you and with you”. Moses was so obsessed with his own shortcomings and ‘brokenness’ that he forgot the character and greatness of God.
Here’s where this struggle is tough for me. The men and women in the ‘brokenness’ subset of Christian community are some of the most genuine and well-meaning people that I know. Their hearts are in the right place. It is my prayer that this blog is not a form of condemnation upon them, but rather that it would remind them to acknowledge that they aren’t great, but God is.
The perfection facade club forgets that they aren’t great. The brokenness club forgets that God is. I have found myself in both camps in my life. And it’s a constant struggle.
Let us remember that the gospel is not about our self-image.
Let us remember that we are not great, but God truly is.
In His Name,
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