In a recent newsletter, James Clear quoted author Michael Lewis’s fascinating insight on how people talk about themselves and the impact that has on their lives. The quote is a little long, but worth reading in its entirety:
“If you listen to people, if you just sit and listen, you’ll find that there are patterns in the way they talk about themselves. There’s the kind of person who is always the victim in any story that they tell. Always on the receiving end of some injustice. There’s the person who’s always kind of the hero of every story they tell. There’s the smart person; they delivered the clever put down there. There are lots of versions of this, and you’ve got to be very careful about how you tell these stories because it starts to become you. You are—in the way you craft your narrative—kind of crafting your character. And so I did at some point decide, “I am going to adopt self-consciously as my narrative, that I’m the happiest person anybody knows.” And it is amazing how happy-inducing it is.”
Now, to my knowledge, neither of these men are followers of Jesus, and in no way am I encouraging anyone to begin thinking of themselves as the happiest person they know. While that idea gets sufficient play in a generation fixated on selfies and the power of positive thinking, it’s far from biblical as far as life goals are concerned.
However, there are some significant realities that Mr. Lewis has picked up on, particularly here. Notice again what he says:
“…you’ve got to be very careful about how you tell these stories [about yourself] because it starts to become you. You are—in the way you craft your narrative—kind of crafting your character.”
There are central biblical truths upon which this encroaches. How you talk about yourself to others is reflective of how you think about yourself in your heart (Lk. 6:45), and that has immediate bearing on who you are on a day-to-day basis. As Paul Tripp has said, “no one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.”
The Supreme Mandate to Think About Yourself
Our thoughts about ourselves naturally have some of the most powerful shaping influence over us. It’s no surprise then that God commands us to think about ourselves—only to do so rightly. Contrary to Mr. Lewis’s assumptions, as noble or well-intended as they might be, we do not have the option of deciding how we want to think about ourselves per se.
One of the unique features of Christianity that sets it apart from every other world view or system of values is the mandate to be what you are. For Christians, the Bible starts with the indicative of who you are actually and objectively (as opposed to who you think you are, or who you feel like you are), and moves to the imperative of becoming someone who lives consistently with that by the very means of recognizing the reality. Paul explicitly and repeatedly makes this point in his letters:
“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:6-7).
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin… So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:6-11).
Examples could be multiplied, but the point is clear: Christian, you are united to Christ, dead to sin, and alive to God. So recognize that, and through that recognition, be that.
As I write, I’m remembering a talk I heard sometime back by Sinclair Ferguson, who said in effect that we instinctively appeal to people on these very grounds: “What are you doing? You’re a married man!,” or “As long as you live in my house and bear my last name, you’re going to conduct yourself in such-and-such a manner,” etc. In the very instincts of humanity made in God’s image is the recognition of the necessity to conform to who you actually are. So it’s no wonder that we should see its pinnacle in the faith of Christ, a system of redemption that seeks to restore men to the purpose for which they were created. It’s also no surprise that we should see shadows of something like it in the observations of people like Michael Lewis.
Who Do You Say You Are?
Consider again the last part of the quote by Mr. Lewis:
“And so I did at some point decide, “I am going to adopt self-consciously as my narrative, that I’m the happiest person anybody knows.” And it is amazing how happy-inducing it is.”
Here is a man disclosing that, by the sheer power of his own natural cognitive faculties (faculties with which God has endowed the human race), he has resolved in his own mind to talk about himself as an exceedingly happy person—as opposed to a defeated person, or an unfortunate person, or abused, or oppressed, or the smartest, or the strongest, or the most deserving of [fill in the blank]. And his own testimony is that that has had a significant impact on his life from day to day.
So, Christian, endowed not only with natural, God-given cognitive and volitional faculties, but also with the new nature and its renewed conscience, will, and affections that spring from the new man regenerated by the indwelling Spirit of God: how do you talk about yourself? That’s an important question, because who you are in the stories you tell about yourself is nothing less than the very overflow of the contents of your heart.
When people ask you how you’re doing, is your answer that you’re a failure who is constantly defeated by sin? Are you a victim, spurned and burned by fellow church members from whom you aren’t getting what you deserve? Are you the defender and protector of all that’s right with an American society that, unlike you, has turned its back on God and is heading for hell in a hand basket? Are you depressed, downhearted, and burdened? Are you disappointed by life because it hasn’t turned out the way it “should have” and you’re still single, or married to the wrong person, or in a career you hate, or in a place you hate, or because some loss or another? Or, on the other hand, are you bursting at the seams with the pride of life because of all you’ve built and the wealth you’ve amassed by the superiority of your own mind and the skill of your own hands?
Who You Really Are: Dead to You, United to Christ
If you belong to Jesus Christ and have trusted in him alone to take away your sin and reconcile you to God, none of the things we just rattled off are true about you. You’re not who you say you are, or who you feel like you are, or who you think you are, or who you want to be, or who your natural impulses compel you to be. You are who God says you are.
And guess what? He doesn’t say (as some would) that you’re worthy, lovable, acceptable, ‘perfectly imperfect,’ or anything of the kind. He says that you’re lost, weak, incapable, insufficient, unlovable, and rejected (Rom. 1:18-32, 2 Cor. 12:5-10)—but that Jesus is strong, able, worthy, lovable, accepted, all-sufficient, exalted, and perfect in holiness, and your entire existence is swallowed up in the identity of his glorious worth if you are in him.
In fact, Paul reflected this kind of self-awareness and regularly talked about himself in those terms: “I have been crucified with Christ. 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.” (Gal. 2:20)
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
What it would do for you if you were to resolve today to think and talk about yourself in terms of who you really are, who God says you are—forgiven, holy, sanctified, acceptable in the Beloved One, a saint, a son of the Father, reconciled to the Judge of all men, redeemed and restored to God by the blood of the Lamb, blessed with every spiritual blessing, heir of the world, and future regent with King Jesus?
As Christians, we have an obligation to follow the Master, and the New Testament is clear that the quality of our discipleship is directly tied to how fully and faithfully we “reckon ourselves” dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. So how you talk about you is springing from how you think about you. And how you think about you is having a powerful shaping influence on who you are.
So, how do you talk about yourself?