Appendix 4: The Real Self
The interplay of true psychology and basic Bible truths
4-1 The Real Self
Psychotherapists have powerfully pointed out the difference between the real, essential person- and the personas, or personages, whom we live out in the eyes of others. We humans tend to pretend to be the person others expect of us, we act out the person we feel our society or upbringing demands of us, rather than ‘being ourselves’. Truly did Shakespeare write [from a worldly perspective] that all the world’s a stage, and we are merely the players / actors. And as Napoleon said, “One becomes the man of one’s uniform”; the persona, the act we live, comes to influence the real self, the real person, like the clown who can’t stop clowning around offstage. In Biblical terms, we allow the world to push us into its mould, psychologically and sociologically, rather than allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds by the things of God’s word and His Son (Rom. 12:2). At baptism, the “new man” was created within us; the man Christ Jesus was formed in us, a new birth occurred, the real, essential Duncan or Dave or Deirdre or Danuta became [potentially at least] ‘Jesus Christ’, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). This is how important this matter is. Perceiving the Christ-man within yourself is related to your “hope of glory”; this is the assurance of our future salvation, through which we can have all joy and peace through believing.
The real self, I submit, is related to the man Christ Jesus formed within us
at baptism (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 4:19), the “new man” who is born at
baptism (Jn. 3:3; Eph. 4:24). This at times co-incides with various
personas which we all tend to live out in our lives, depending upon
whom we are with. At times our real self comes through, we are totally
‘ourselves’, at others we deny ourselves and act just a persona;
and at yet others our ‘persona’ is influenced by our real self but
not totally eclipsed. Thus the high school teacher working in an
inner city school needs to come over as tough and hard to her classroom
of unstable adolescents. But that ‘tough guy’ persona is ameliorated
by its inter-relation to her true person, the man Christ Jesus within
her. This ‘new man’ is what the Scriptures often refer to as “the
heart” or spirit of the believer. God laments that His people are
like a silly dove that has no heart, and therefore when they pray
to him, it is not from the heart- for they had no heart (Hos. 7:11,14).
Those who have not truly intersected their lives with God, who have
not experienced true conversion and new creation, have in that sense
‘no heart’. The two ‘selves’ in David are reflected
in the way throughout the Psalms, he says things about himself which
may appear contradictory- e.g. he protests his innocence and righteousness,
and yet elsewhere laments his own sinfulness. One moment he speaks
of his own inability to keep God’s law; the next, he is cursing
those who don’t keep that same Law. This wasn’t any
schizophrenia speaking in David. Rather did he recognize who he
saw by imputed righteousness; and yet he recognized who he also
was naturally in practice.
The Lord taught His followers “first”, or ‘most of all’, to beware of hypocrisy (Lk. 12:1). For us, all the world is not to be a stage, and we are not to be merely actors upon that stage. Hypocrisy is that living out of a persona, acting, rather than being the person God created us to be. In the Lord Jesus men saw the word made flesh (Jn. 1:14). There was perfect congruence between the person He presented Himself as, and the person He essentially was. This was why He could so easily touch the true person in others. And I think this is the meaning of the otherwise enigmatic insistence that the Cherubim’s faces, their appearances, and ‘themselves’ were all one (Ez. 10:22). The Russian [Synodal] version translates this: ‘Their view, was who they themselves were’. So often in our encounters with others there is no real dialogue, rather a conflict of monologues. This is why so many a debate between a Christian and a Mormon, e.g., has come to nothing; for perhaps both of them are merely showing one of their personas.
The Lord Jesus alone could say, with full meaning, “I am”. Who He appeared to be, was who He essentially was. He alone achieved a completely integrated, real self. He was what Paul called the “perfect man”, the completed, integrated person (Eph. 4:13). But He had to work on this. Hebrews always speaks of Him as “perfected”, as a verb (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28)- never with the adjective ‘perfect’. Apart from being a major problem for Trinitarian views, this simple fact sets Him up as our pattern, whom the Father seeks like wise ‘to perfect’. Yet the path the Lord had to take to achieve this was hard indeed. Not only did it culminate in the cross, but His growth as a young man is described by the word prokoptein (Lk. 2:40,52), defined by Karl Barth [Church Dogmatics I 2, p. 158] as meaning ‘to extend by blows, as a smith stretches metal by hammering’. Through childhood crises and the turmoil of adolescence, this is what He went through, to lead Him to the final ‘perfection’ of being able to say “I am”. Because Jesus was always showing His essential self- and this is in some ways an exhausting and almost unbearable way to live- He tended to connect easier to the real selves in His hearers. It may seem strange on first reflection to realize that the peerless Son of God could connect so easily with the hardest of sinners. Whenever we try to be righteous, we often alienate ordinary, sinful people. Yet why, then, did Jesus connect with them by being righteous? Surely because it was somehow so evident that He was no acting out a persona; He was being absolutely Himself, not acting out a part, with no hidden agendas. This was the beauty of His character; just as nature is beautiful because it simply is what it is. So self-evidently, who He was within, was who He showed Himself to be. The more we are ‘ourselves’, the more likely it is that we will connect with our contacts. People who only live out their personas create an impersonal atmosphere around them, whereas the person who lives and shows their real self encourages those around him or her to also feel themselves to be persons. I would go even further and suggest that the more we live as who we are, God Himself will become more personal to us.
To describe or ‘know’ the real self is ultimately impossible; we can’t write down an inventory of who we really are. Paul perceived this when he wrote that now he only knows himself partially, and only in the Kingdom “shall I know, even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12). This for me is one of the Kingdom’s joys; to truly know myself, even as I am presently known by the Father. Until then, we remain mysteries even unto ourselves; and who amongst us has not quietly said that to themselves... The question ‘Who am I?’ must ultimately remain to haunt each one of us until that blessed day. It would be too simplistic to argue that the new man, the real self of the believer, is simply “Jesus Christ”. Our new man is formed in His image, but we are each a unique reflection of our Lord. He isn’t seeking to create uniform replicas of Himself; His personality is so multi-faceted that it cannot be replicated in merely one form nor one person. This is why “the body of Christ” is comprised of so many individuals both over time and space; and it is my belief that when that large community has manifested every aspect of the wonderful person of Jesus Christ, then we will be ripe for His return. This is why the spiritual development of the last generation before the second coming will hasten His return; for once they / we have replicated Himself in ourselves in our various unique ways to a satisfactory extent, then He will return to take us unto Himself, that where He ‘was’ as He said those words, in terms of His character and person, there we will be (Jn. 14:3; note that read this way, this passage is clearly not talking about Him taking us off to Heaven).
It is what we have been calling ‘the real self’ which will eternally endure. In this sense, for the faithful, their body may be killed but their soul cannot be (Mt. 10:28). I take this to mean that who they essentially are is for ever recorded by the Lord, and they will be given that same personality at the resurrection. Significantly, the Bible speaks not of the ‘resurrection of the body’ [it’s the creeds which speak of this], but rather “the resurrection of the just”, “the resurrection of the dead”. The resurrection is more about resurrected characters than resurrected bodies, although the process will involve a new body being given.
Ps. 69:32 RV says simply: “Let your heart live”. In our terms,
God is saying: ‘Be yourself, let your inner man, the heart, come
to the fore, and be lived out’. Even if we feel we haven't got there
100% in getting in touch with our real self, one of the joys of
the Kingdom is that we shall know [i.e. ourselves] even as we are
now known by God (1 Cor. 13:12). We never quite get there in our
self understanding in this life- but then, we shall know, even as
we are known.
It must be understood that we are not to have two 'selves', as
in a 'real self' and a self we project to others- for that is hypocrisy.
And yet this doesn't mean that there isn't a difference between
two aspects of the human person- the spiritual self and the human
being that is seen by men and women. We need to develop the ability
to perceive this distinction, to see ourselves from outside of ourselves.
In some of the prophetic visions, the prophet saw himself both as
a witness to the vision, and also simultaneously as an actor in
them- Zechariah in Zech. 3 is a good example. Another would be Ezekiel,
who records how he sees a man "which had the inkhorn by his
side [who] reported the matter" (Ez. 9:11)- he's seeing himself
there in the vision, and reporting it to us. In other words, they
had the ability to see themselves from outside of themselves. This
is what happened to the Lord Jesus in the wilderness temptations;
and seeing ourselves from outside of ourselves is likewise a characteristic
of all those who are in close communion with God. We see our real
selves as they are in God's sight, and yet we also see ourselves
for who we are in real human life. One of the principles of psychotherapy
is that the psychotherapist listens to the client and reflects back
onto the mind of the client what the client has told them, reframing
what the client has said in terms they can relate to and imagine.
The idea is that the client is empowered to see themselves from
outside of themselves, in a more truthful and real perspective,
and thus to view their situation more accurately; the psychotherapist
works as a kind of screen onto which the client projects, and then
views there what he or she has said. And this is enormously helpful
towards the development of a healthy mind and person. The prophets,
the Lord Jesus, and all who have found their real self in Christ,
are enabled to do something similar.