Saturday, July 11, 2009


"Just accept yourself for who you are, and everything in your life will fall into place." This is common modern wisdom: just be who you are, and that's all that matters. But will this idea stand up to examination?

To understand a concept, sometimes it helps to understand what it is trying to combat. What the self-acceptance concept is geared to combat is what I will call the performance mentality. The performance mentality is the idea that to have value we need to be successful. While there are variants of what this looks like, it generally involves such things as money, status, power, appearance, being attractive to the opposite sex, and the accumulation of things.

Now if we turn from the blatant material things to the realm of morality, we are once more faced with the principle of performance. We are confronted with a series of rules we are obligated to keep if we are to be considered a good person. Is there any wonder that most people carry with them deep feelings of guilt and inadequacy. We are also faced with the problem that whatever we do is not good enough -- there is always some higher level of performance we have not yet attained. We are on a endless treadmill that we never see the end of. And if we do manage to convince ourselves that we have attained it (whatever "it" might be), we are left with the uneasy feeling we are not really being honest with ourselves.

It is clear why it is attractive for a person in this mindset to be told to just accept themselves as they are. But there are problems. If we accept ourselves just as we are, we leave ourselves just as we are. We are left with no goals, no direction in life, and no sense of purpose. Also, I think if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize there are things in us that, for both our own sakes and the sakes of others, are best not actualized. Now one way around this is to say that these things are not our real self but things we have somehow acquired later. We may also conclude that if we find our real self, we will find our meaning and purpose. We are therefore left on a perpetual quest for our real self. Sounds like the performance mentality in another guise.

Having searched far and wide, I am convinced there is only one answer to this dilemma -- the Christian gospel. It starts by explaining that there is a reason we feel guilty and inadequate. We are guilty and inadequate (Romans 3:23; 2 Corinthians 3:5, 6). This, I admit, is not a cheerful diagnosis, but sometimes it is necessary to face a situation to deal with it. The person who is not willing to face the diagnosis that they have cancer will likely die of it, but the person who accepts the situation and gets treatment may be cured. The good news of the Christian faith is that God has provided a cure for our guilt and inadequacy. Jesus Christ came and died on the cross to pay the price for all the wrong things we ever did (Romans 5:8; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and based on faith in Him and not our performance (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Romans 3:28) we are accepted by God (Romans 8:33, 34; John 3:18). But though He accepts as we are, He also begins to change us into who He wants us to be. He sends His Spirit to dwell in us and transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18). He also works in us to accomplish His purposes in the world (Ephesians 2:10). But this is not done out of a performance mentality, to earn something from God, but out of love for the God who has already redeemed us (1 John 4:18, 19; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). It is only here that I see a workable balance between acceptance and performance.

It is therefore ironic that Christians, who have the only real answer to the problem, so frequently fall back into the performance mentality. Then, when we are worn down by this mentality we turn to the psychologists to learn we need to accept ourselves. It is not in the scope of this post to deal with the question of the value of modern psychology and what, if any, contribution it can make to Christians in helping them live their lives. But I do believe, in this one particular area, that there is only one real answer. And if we neglect it, we are like people who go around begging for quarters when we have a debit card for a large bank account in our back pocket.

No comments:

Post a Comment