What do I need to do to be a light wherever I go? What advice I offer, is that is familiar to young men who ask how to behave on a first date. Be yourself. While it may seem obvious, it is surprising what the personality changes Christians go through when they are around unbelievers. Now you may be thinking, why would we need to hear something so simple like ‘be yourself’? Well, the fact is as fallen creatures we are people pleasers (Jn 12:43). We want to be liked, and that can cost us our mission. I have observed two ways that we tend to change our persona around others; we are either overly holy, or, overly heathen.
Wait! how can one be too holy, or too righteous? It is true, there is no such thing. In fact, the bible says ‘no one is righteous’ apart from Christ (Rom 3:10). While people cannot be too righteous, anyone can be self-righteous. That is what I mean by ‘overly holy’. Representing ourselves as better than we are. Overly inflating our sense of self. If I were to ask you ‘is your life pleasing to God?’, I am sure most would admit that their faith and life is full of weakness. If an unbeliever were to ask you the same question, would you alter your answer? Would you try to represent yourself as perfect? As holier than thou? As being unable to fathom the sins that they commit? If this is you, your motive is likely that you want to prove that your life has radically changed, and that you are fundamentally different because you are a believer. However, this approach is living a lie. We all stumble (Js 3:2) and fail to live up to God’s standards. But when we try hide this, we are not fooling anyone. You are not perfect, so stop pretending to be. Instead, let humility replace pride. Be yourself.
The other way we commonly tend to act around unbelievers is that we try to be liked by them by being like them. When you are on the jobsite, does you language begin to change? Are the words used at work, not quite appropriate to be used around your family? Do you do things you wouldn’t normally do to fit in? This is what I mean by being overly heathen. If this is you, it might be fear that keeps you from going against the grain of a worldly work culture. You might even think that you are proving that Christians can be cool. They could be Christians too, given that we are not so different. This approach again comes from a wrong view of self. You are not like them, so stop pretending to be like them,. You are different, you are a new creature (2 Cor 5:17). Your relationship with Jesus affects both how you speak, and how you think. You are not someone who does not know God. Yes, the world will hate you for your Christian values. Jesus said so himself (Jn 15:18), but we are not here to be people pleasers. Be yourself.
I’d like to persuade you of the need to be your authentic self, but who exactly is that? It is who you are in Christ. The apostle Paul constantly introduces himself as a ‘servant of Christ’ in his letters. His identity is founded upon his relationship to Christ. He is the property of another; a person who made to do the will of his master (Eph 2:10). He is set apart for the service of his Lord. Notice how he does not introduce himself as self-righteous, nor as one who approves of sin. He understands that a Christian is an imperfect creature. But the Christian is set apart in this: he is someone who honours God in all things (2 Cor 8:21). He is one who falls short constantly, yet does not let that to define him. He is one who fails, repents, and trusts. Don’t be afraid to let people see you fail, but be sure to let them know that even though you fail, you have a great Saviour who has done all things perfectly on our behalf. That’s the kind of thing that has a lasting impact on people. More than self-righteousness ever could. I’m not advocating that we listen to our hearts as they, apart from Christ, are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). Instead, be yourself. Be who you are in Christ.
Why might one tell you to be yourself on your first date? Living a lie is unsustainable. I once heard of a story where a girl was dating someone for four months. Wanting to impress her boyfriend, she made regular trips downtown to order food at a nice restaurant. She’d then bring it home, mess up some pans and pots, and serve it as if she had cooked the food. Her boyfriend thought she was a master chef. Do you think this act will not come to light? She certainly could not maintain this lie in their marriage. The lie will eventually come to light. Likewise, if we go around pretending to be someone else, what do you think will happen? If we don’t ground our identity in Christ, when the floods and winds of affliction come, the foundations of sand we built our image on will crumble away. We will be shown as hypocrites and dishonour God’s name among men. We do not want to be beacons in the service of Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light, but, rather, we want to be beacons for Christ who truly is the light of this darkened world.
I encourage you to bring your sense of self to the Saviour, so that you may say in your heart ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’(Gal 2:20).