Updated: May 16, 2020
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach about how to separate the truth from the lies we believe about ourselves. (Check out the full sermon recording here.) This topic is extremely relevant to me as I’ve been recognizing how often my internal monologue is filled with lies telling me that I’m not good enough. To be honest, even as I preached this message, calling others to rebuke the lies and receive the truth of who they are, I was still filled with so much insecurity and self-doubt. As I reminded my church community, the journey of discovering our true selves and accepting the truth of who we are is actually a form of spiritual warfare. It is a battle against the enemy who tries to use the lies to keep us in bondage, break our relationships, and stop the work of God’s Kingdom. It’s a difficult journey but one that ultimately leads to freedom.
We looked at the story of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. This a beautiful story of redemption in which this woman’s identity is transformed through her encounter with Jesus. In the beginning of this story, the woman didn’t think she was worthy of love and she avoided other people because she felt deep shame. After she met Jesus and he affirmed her worth, she became bold. She ran and told the very same people whom she had been avoiding about Jesus, and her town was also transformed.
Jesus is all about flipping the script. He is all about taking what we see as shameful or foolish and using it to bring about transformation. He is all about tearing down the lies and building us up in truth. And when we finally discover the truth of who God is and who he says that we are, he can use us to change the trajectory of the world around us. What a beautiful thing to experience!
But before we can experience that transformation, we first must confront the lies that we believe. Often times we don’t even recognize the lies because they are so ingrained in us. Henri Nouwen talked a lot about three lies that people believe about their identity: I am what I have, I am what I do, and I am what others think or say about me. At the root of all these lies is the belief that we are not enough just as we are. We’re not worthy of love or respect simply by being who we are. And so we feel that we have to chase after something more, or we need to hide parts of ourselves, or we need to change some aspect of ourselves. I need to do more, have more, be more in order to be accepted. This will never satisfy – it only leads us to shame.
When we have a hard time distinguishing what the lies are that we’re believing, shame is a really good indicator. Let’s look at the very first lie recorded in the Bible. In Genesis 1 & 2, we see that God created this beautiful world, and he created humans in his own image and said that they were “very good”. Adam and Eve were in deep relationship with God. It says in Genesis 2:25, that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” This idea that they were naked means that they were physically naked, but it also means something more than that. It means that they were completely vulnerable, and they were completely themselves. They were simply who God had created them to be, and they felt no shame about that. That is God’s intention for humans.
But then in chapter 3, the serpent comes in and he questions the one command that God gave to Adam and Eve. He puts this lie in their minds that God is not really good. He doesn’t really love them and want what’s best for them. They are lacking something important. Adam and Eve believe this lie. And immediately after they act on it, it says in vs. 7 that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” All of a sudden, when they started to believe the lie that they were not loved and that they were not enough just as they were, they realized their vulnerability and they were ashamed. And so they hid. And then they started to blame.
Let’s be clear here. God does not shame us, and therefore truth does not shame us. God definitely convicts us at times. He shows us when we need to change our behavior or when we need him to cleanse our hearts. But he doesn’t shame us.
Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” God does not shame us. He does not make us feel defective or less than or unworthy. That is the work of the devil. So when we start to feel that shame rising up in us, we need to recognize the lie and rebuke it.
And then we need to seek out what is true. How do we know what truth is? 1 John 4:16-19 says…
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.
God is love. He is perfect love. His love does not change based on what we do, what we have, or what others think of us. We can walk in confidence knowing that we are loved. We are not perfect. But God is making us more perfect, or more complete, as we receive and live in his love. That is the only way forward. So if we are seeking out truth, it needs to point us to love.
Henri Nouwen says it this way, “Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” The truth of our identity is that we are beloved. Just as we are right now – no matter where we come from, what we’ve done, what we have, what others think about us – we are loved. We don’t have to fix ourselves up to be accepted or be considered worthy. We don’t have to hide who we really are. We don’t have to hide our brokenness. We don’t have to hide our real emotions, needs, or desires. We can come before God completely vulnerable and know that we are seen and accepted and loved.
A couple months ago, I experienced a picture of what this looks like. My husband, Matt, and I were having a conversation about something, and it was all fine on the surface, but for some reason I was feeling a lot of turmoil inside as we were talking. I told Matt how I was feeling, and he was trying to understand what he had done wrong or what he could have done differently. It ended up being a really difficult conversation. I was crying, and I think it was frustrating for both of us because we were having a hard time understanding each other. But as we got deeper into this conversation, I realized that the turmoil I was feeling actually had nothing to do with Matt. I had come into our conversation feeling really insecure. I was afraid that I was not going to be received well, not because of anything Matt had done wrong, but because of the critical voice in my head that tells me that I am defective, that I’m awkward or weird, that people won’t understand me or like me. I came into this conversation with all of that running through my mind and so I projected all of that on Matt. That affected the ways that I read his body language and his responses. As I realized that Matt had not really done anything wrong and that this was all coming from my own insecurity, I began to feel a lot of shame. And the more shame I felt, the more that things spiraled downward.
But do know how Matt responded to all of this? He sat with me and tried to understand. He kept asking questions. He was gracious and gentle with me. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t blame me. He didn’t make me feel bad for being so insecure. I was sitting there in such a vulnerable and broken state, feeling like such a mess, and he still loved me. He saw all of my junk, and he still accepted me.
The next day when I was reflecting back on that conversation, I realized how significant that moment was for me. Even though it was messy and uncomfortable, I had to confront the lies that I was believing about myself and even lay those lies out in front of Matt. He saw all my brokenness and he still loved me completely, just as I was. That was an incredible picture of how God loves me. I don’t have to hide anything away from Matt in order for him to love me, and I don’t have to hide anything away from God in order for him to love me, either. There is so much freedom in that.
When I am confident that I am loved, I can receive more freely from God and from the people in my life. I can hear more clearly from God. I won’t be striving or trying to attain anything because I know that I already have what I need. I am loved. I am worthy. I am accepted. I can act out of that place, out of pure love.
There is one more aspect of our true identity that I want to point out. If we look at Genesis 1:27, it tells us that God created humans in his own image. Every person was created in the image of God. We were created to reflect God in his glory. This means that as image bearers, we each deserve to be treated with dignity. It also means that the truest versions of ourselves reflect the characteristics of God. God created us each uniquely so different people reflect different characteristics of God more clearly. But when we look at others or at ourselves, we should be looking for the image of God if we want to see a person’s true identity, and we should be calling that out.
We can only step further into our true identity when we first confront the lies that threaten to hold us back. I spent some time doing this last weekend, and I encourage you to do the same this week. Take some time to sit with a paper and pen and ask God to reveal to you the lies that you have been believing about yourself; ask him to bring up those things that cause you to feel shame. Write them down. Get them out of your head and onto paper so you can sit with them. And then ask God for the truth that combats those lies. I believe that God hears us and that he wants to lead us in truth so if you ask him, he will answer. As you seek truth, remember that if something causes you to feel insecure, ashamed, unworthy, or unloved, that is a direct contradiction to God. The truth should point you to love.
Let me leave you with this…. You are not a failure. You are not disposable. You are not the mistakes you’ve made. You are not what you have accomplished. You are not how you look. You are not the number of likes you get on social media. You are not the hurtful things that people have said to you or about you.
You are enough. You are able. You are worthy of dignity and respect. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are accepted just as you are. You are made in God’s image. You are God’s beloved. That is who you are.