Should You Be Your Authentic Self?

Our world loves to tell us to be ‘authentic’. Everywhere you look on the internet you’ll find people telling you to be ‘your authentic self’ or ‘be true to yourself’ or talking about ‘the real you’. One of the worst things you can do, to hear the culture tell it, is to not be authentic or to ‘live a lie’. This all sounds very nice and, if we’re not careful, we can buy into it without ever asking if being authentic is actually something we should be doing.

To figure out if we should be our ‘authentic selves’, we need to know what an authentic self is, as opposed to an inauthentic self.

Authenticity, in the modern sense, is acting, living, even existing as you wish, unconstrained by social customs, laws, or even nature, including your own biology. This idea of authenticity has its roots in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which on its own should be enough to raise more red flags than a Chinese military parade. Rousseau taught that human beings are inherently good, and that evil is the result of inequality, itself a result of civilization with its private property, social relations, and laws. According to Rousseau, society makes people evil because it puts constraints on their ability to do what they want, in other words, to be their authentic selves. Rousseau understood that, for a society to function, its members must respect each other’s rights, such as private property. He also understood that private property leads to inequality, which he blamed for competition for resources, which he in turn blamed for human evil. He thought that humans in a ‘state of nature’ uninhibited by obligations to others, such as laws, rights, and duties, were perfectly good and moral.

This idea was expanded on by others, to where the ‘authentic self’ is one that exists in consonance with its own self-definition. In other words, to be authentic is to decide what you are by looking deep inside yourself, and then to live according to what you feel is right. This is how a man can decide to ‘become’ a woman, and claim that he was always a woman, because he looked inside himself and decided he felt like a woman. While transgenderism is perhaps the most visible expression of this ideology, the problem runs much, much deeper. At its heart, the question of authenticity is a question of authority: who decides who you are?

The Bible never says to look inside yourself to determine who you are. On the contrary, the Bible contains many examples of God making changes to people’s identities, whether it’s changing Abram’s name to Abraham and telling him to leave his homeland, Jesus calling His disciples, or perhaps the greatest identity change of all, salvation. In none of these examples does God ask if what He’s doing fits with someone’s inner sense of their identity or if He’s keeping them from being authentic. Why doesn’t God seem to care about people’s authentic selves?

The answer is that God is sovereign; what He says goes. If God says you are a man, then that is what you are, whether you feel like it or not. If God says you are a woman, then that is what you are, simply because He said so. The Bible does not admit of the possibility of changing genders or being born in the wrong body, because God decreed that neither of those things is possible. What the modern idea of authenticity really is is an assault on God’s authority.

The modern ‘authentic self’ seeks to usurp God’s authority to define His creation, that the individual may be free to reshape the world to his or her own desire. Nevermind the fact that it doesn’t actually work and that people who do this always run face-first into reality as God decreed it, the modern authenticity movement is just a repackaging of the Devil’s old lie: ‘ye shall be as gods’.

Christians don’t need to worry about being ‘authentic’ or being ‘true to yourself’, rather, we need to obey God, who has already decided who and what we are. He knows what’s best for you, and He has your eternal best interests at heart. He created you the way you are for a good purpose. In our age of angst and existential crises, this is an extremely liberating truth. You don’t need to try to figure out who you ‘truly’ are ‘deep down’, you need only obey God’s word and let Him deal with making you who you are supposed to be.

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