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Becoming What You Are


Its funny how when we’re asked to tell the truth about ourselves, it makes us shift in our seats. Tell the truth sounds a little like a threat, as if it’s going to uncover hidden stuff that will ruin us in some way. But when we talk about God, there is a different way of coming at this. And that’s to tell the truth first about what God has done in us.


I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


St Paul spoke these words in Galatians 2. He wasn’t just talking about himself; some elevated status for the apostle to the Gentiles. He was speaking about everyone who puts their trust in Jesus.


The crucifixion may have happened pretty much two thousand years ago, but it’s not a museum exhibit to show how brutal the Romans were; it has real and lasting impacts on human lives now. In some deep way, we died with Jesus on his cross. And as surely as we have died, so we now live his resurrection life. Sin, all that is wrong with our lives, has been dealt a mortal blow. We now have the power through the Holy Spirit to live a life that is changed by salami slice degrees over years. One that looks more like Jesus. The best version of ourselves.


There’s a saying: become what you are. It pops up in eastern religion, in Nietzsche’s writings, in Jungian psychoanalysis. And it is a fair description of what the New Testament says about those who follow Christ. God has remade us through the cross and resurrection. We didn’t contribute to that. It was entirely his doing. And we can’t unmake it either, anymore than we could win an arm wrestle with God. His grace and his power guarantees our salvation and make for changed lives as we co-operate with him, as we become who we are in Christ.


The problem is that culture and upbringing can get seriously in the way. Human beings are by nature strivers. The evidence is all around us. We are constantly trying to be better at being ourselves, better at doing things. It’s the message of childhood education and every adult self-help book. We become task driven, goal oriented and dazzled by targets and measurements. To gain wider acceptance, we have to meet these targets.


But when it comes to the life of faith, there are things we have to unlearn. We can’t set ourselves the individual goal of reaching God, like climbing Mount Everest. It all starts with God, and a valuing of what he has done, not with what we are trying to achieve. As it says in Titus:


He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.


In a hyper-individualistic, competitive culture, holding on to this for some is as easy as clutching soap under a power shower.


But there is another thing that can get in the way. It is so much a part of our lives that we often don’t give it a second thought. I speak of the voices in our heads. I do not mean the psychotic states that afflict some poor people, who need medical treatment. When we think about ourselves, the voice and tone we use in our minds is never simply our own. It is an amalgam of all the influences on our lives. The parental voice is especially strong, but there are others. And it is alarming how judgmental it can sound. We beat ourselves up over failings, real or imagined. There is a nagging tone, like tinnitus, that diminishes and confines us.


The sadness is how often people mistake this for the voice of God himself. It leads us to a place of fearfulness and recrimination, where God is watching us like a hawk, waiting to catch us out. But it is a travesty of who God really is.


The Canadian author, Douglas Coupland, once said his greatest fear in life is that God exists but he’s actually really nasty. It was a fascinating observation and one that many people are tempted to feel when life deals them cruel blows. But this is not the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves us with an everlasting love. We should interrogate the voices in our heads more often, adjusting the frequency until the voice of grace becomes clear, because this is the one that originates in heaven.


It is not easy to tell honest stories about ourselves. Those voices in our heads that judge us can be so strong that we end up drowning them out by telling fairy tales instead. Stories where we are always the good guy and the person we cross must be the bad guy, to ensure we can continue to feel good about ourselves. It alarms me how often I hear people tell me a story of conflict where the other person is entirely to blame for it and the person telling the story has nothing to be sorry for. And then I stop and think of the times when I’ve been telling that story.


There are times in life when we are so badly treated by other people that questions of forgiveness and reconciliation become very complicated. But there are many more times in life when making up with another person should be straightforward, but we conspire to make it hard. It usually isn’t difficult to say sorry to someone when you know you will be forgiven. And it usually isn’t difficult to forgive someone when they say they are sorry. But we fear we won’t be forgiven and so don’t say sorry. And we can’t seem to forgive because the other person doesn’t appear to be sorry.


This goes to the heart of the cross, where all has been forgiven. It is the inspiration for both why and how we can forgive one another and how to say sorry. We are living in a calloused culture where we justify ourselves while judging others. The cross can break this cycle in us if we let it. If we tell honest stories about ourselves. If we become who we are.



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