Like me, you probably grew up being told, “You can be whatever you want to be.” It’s an optimistic thing you say to children who hope to become astronauts, baseball players, or movie stars.
But in our deeply humanistic, not to mention hedonistic, culture, that saying has morphed into something more sinister.
Our culture teaches that the essential fact about you is that you’re a self. And the self is an inner core of feelings and intuitions that make you a unique individual.
In that view, the saying, “You can be whatever you want to be,” means something very specific. It means that true freedom requires expressing your inner individuality. And to do that, you must act outwardly in accordance with however you feel inwardly, no matter what anyone says. It doesn’t even matter what kind of body you have. What matters is expressing that inner self. And any criticism of those lifestyle choices is seen as an attack against that person's right to be what they are. If you want to learn more about how that has been playing out in American culture, see Carl Trueman’s excellent Strange New World.
Should Christians think about spiritual growth as the need to express our individual selves no matter what?
The Bible takes a very different view.
God’s design for you is not to express your inner authentic self. After all, you’re fleshly and fallen; expressing more of that would be a disaster.
Instead, God’s plan for you is to die and rise again in union with Christ. It’s not a plan for more self-expression but for Christ-formation. As Paul said:
My children, I am again suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you (Gal 4:19).
In a culture saturated with individualism, it’s easy to think of that kind of Christ-formation in strictly individualistic terms. But God’s plan is bigger than that. Paul explained that Jesus sent apostles and pastors, and teachers to realize Jesus Christ in the corporate life of the church:
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness (Eph 4:13, emphasis added).
Notice that Paul was concerned that Christ be formed until “we all” (plural) grow into Christ’s fullness. God wants more than individual growth—He wants body growth. He doesn’t want you to express yourself by yourself. He wants you and every other believer to express Christ together.
That should change your whole approach to spirituality.
You might have thought that Christ’s work is about “me, me, me,” but you’re only a tiny part of the picture. The glory of Christ could never be captured in just one individual. It takes a whole church to express what He is.
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.