As a pastor, I sadly hear all too often that people aren’t happy. What leads to this unhappiness in people is varied to some degree. What is consistent however is that happiness is mostly dependant upon internal conditions rather than external circumstances. It is often the case that two people can be dealing with very similar situations and yet one can persevere without losing joy, while another is unable to find any at all. One of these common internal conditions is a lack of clear identity and self-love. Now I know this sounds a little cliche and even more self-help than sound Christian doctrine, but hear me out. If you don’t have a clear sense of who you are and even more, like who you are, there’s a good chance you won’t experience consistent joy in your life because here’s a mind-blower – you talk with and spend more time with you than any other person.
When you don’t like how you feel in life, the natural response is to make adjustments. However, those changes have to be effective. Leaning heavily on Paul Tripp’s book ‘How People Change’ below are a list of different approaches people take to formalise personal change. None of these is in and of themselves wrong. They just don’t necessarily lead to genuine transformation. Consider if you utilise any of these approaches?
· Legalism – You make new lists of do’s and don’t’s by which to evaluate oneself. The premise is by changing the external activity you can improve the internal identity.
· Mysticism – You seek spiritual highs and supernatural encounters, moving from one emotional experience to another as a way of escape. It leads to short-term positive feelings but to maintain these feeling you need to recreate the emotional experience. Your identity attaches itself to how you feel.
· Consumerism – You spend your life consuming goods and services. Whether purchasing material possessions or personal experiences, when fixated on yourself you never feel satisfied with all you have and experience.
· Activism – You get involved in essential causes seeking to right the wrongs you see outside of yourself. You may feel puffed up by the crusades you participate in, yet your brokenness remains unaddressed within.
· Biblicism – You seek to master theology and the content of the Bible. You may grow in the knowledge of God but not necessarily communion with God. You may know the Word of God, but you may not know the God of the Word.
· Psychologyism – You talk openly and often about your brokenness, but you may treat Christ and his church as your therapist rather your saviour and his body. Merely talking about problems doesn’t necessarily lead to freedom from the issues.
· Socialism – This is the act of socialising with people in the hope to become like them. While it is vital to be sharpened by those above you and in front of you, merely socialising does not transform you.
Again, none of these is in and of themselves evil. These approaches are simply ill-equipped to truly transform your soul. So what can we do? Well, let me offer one more ‘ism’.
Gospelism is finding your identity in Christ and Christ alone. It’s aligning your view of self, with God’s. What does God say about you? After all, He made you. You have inherent value, worth and dignity, not because of anything you do or don’t do. Not because of anything you achieve or don’t achieve. Rather because God created you. Think about who you are in light of whom God is and has done. The gospel tells us who God is and what he has done and thereby implicates who we are in light of these truths. So consider these five truths and be reminded of who you are in Christ.
God made you in his image: Is there any higher honour that God could bestow upon you than creating you in his image and likeness. You may have days where you fail miserably and sin significantly, but even on that day, you are an image bearer of God (Gen. 1:26).
God sent his son to die in your place: God loves you so much that even when you fracture that image, he is willing to forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Jesus not only died for you, but he was willing to die, he chose to die. He wanted to forgive you of all your sin and place you back into a right relationship with God (Rom. 5:8).
God gave you his Spirit: As though forgiving you wasn’t enough, God desires to conform you back into that image of Christ. He does so by providing you with the Spirit to dwell in you to change you from the inside out (Ezek. 36:26; 1 Cor. 2:12).
God gives you His Word: God also wants to continue to commune with you. So He gives you His word so that you can know Him intimately. He gives you his word so that you can not only understand who He is and what he has done but also what he continues to do (1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 2:14).
God gives you His Family: God not only gives you his Spirit He adopts you into his family. You belong to King Jesus, and He invites into his home and his family. You are God’s son or daughter, and he treats you as such (Gal. 3:26; 4:6).
Consider the lengths God has gone to make you his own. Focus on Him. Make Him the centre of your thoughts, and He will transform the way you feel about yourself. Ponder the majesty of Christ, and allow your life to sit against the backdrop of an incredible God that loves you and gave his life for you. It will change how you view and feel about yourself.
I leave you with my favourite verse in the entire Bible.
“…It is no longer I who live, but 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.” Galatians 2:20