‘When You Feel Like a (Christian) Imposter’

Hey TD,
Do you feel like a “Christian” imposter? You know the Christian life is meant to be lived much differently than the way you’re living your life, but you don’t really know where to start in beginning to change.  You’re in a comfortable routine (aka a rut) that doesn’t really require much thought or active Christian love; but it looks “Christian” enough.  On the inside, though, you know there’s no transformation taking place.  What to do?
If this sounds like you, please read on and then reach out to your small group leader, who will discuss it with you and help walk you through the rut.  What is there to lose? – Arthur

What if you feel out of place among Christians or in church? What if we feel we don’t belong?

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This piece originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition on October 27.

 

It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and while the name might not be familiar to you, the concept behind it is sure to be. Imposter Syndrome is the haunting feeling that you can’t really do what everyone expects you to be able to do. It assumes any success you’ve experienced was an unrepeatable fluke. You’re a fraud, and any moment now everyone is going to realize that.

It’s common to experience this in our work contexts. I’m actually experiencing it right now. I’ve just been speaking at a conference where all the other speakers are people I deeply admire, people unusually gifted and able. So what am I doing here? Surely there must have been some mistake.

There’s a similar feeling that easily creeps into our Christian lives as well. We walk into church on Sunday and look around. Everyone else looks as though they belong here. They seem to have the Christian life figured out (or so we think). But Christianity doesn’t feel so natural to us. It feels far from second nature.

Holy Is Who You Are

Perhaps this applies most when we think of holiness. We hear the commands to “be holy, as your Father is holy.” We know we’re meant to live in a way that’s worthy of the gospel. Yet it feels so alien to do so. All our default settings seem lined up in the other direction. And in the fatigue we can start to think, There’s no point. This isn’t me. I’m just trying to be someone I’m not.

But natural though it might seem to think this way, it’s actually completely untrue. The Bible is, of course, deeply realistic about the continuing presence of sinful tendencies in our lives. We aren’t yet rid of our sinful nature. But that’s not all there is to say on this point. Yes, the sinful nature is still kicking around, but it’s not who we now truly are.

The key to all this is understanding our union with Christ. Being a Christian doesn’t just mean that we’ve decided to “vote Jesus” or that we admire him from afar. The most common way the New Testament describes believers is as those who are “in Christ.” We’re united to him, like a branch to a tree (John 15:1) or a body to its head (Eph. 4) or a husband to his wife (1 Cor. 6).

One of the glorious implications is that who we are now is who we are in Jesus. Listen to these startling words from Paul:

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)

This means our relationship to our old self, our sinful nature, has decisively and dramatically changed—forever. So Paul can say:

Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ. (Rom. 6:11)

Sin is no longer our master. This doesn’t mean it exerts no influence over us, but that it has no authority over us. We never have to do what it says. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever sin. But it does mean that every time we do, we didn’t have to.

Sin Is Not Who You Are

Grasping this point is life-changing. Most of us will have particular besetting sins that seem so established we can’t imagine them ever going away. So when temptation comes, it says, This is who you are. This is how we roll. Stop pretending to be something you’re not. It can sound so compelling, and we can easily give up.

But here the message of the gospel is wonderfully liberating. This or that sin may well have defined our lives. Perhaps it was who we were. Even so, it’s no longer who we are.

Paul makes this point to the Christians in Corinth:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9–11, emphasis added)

This or that sin may well have defined our lives. Perhaps it was who we were. Even so, it’s no longer who we are.

When the New Testament calls us to holiness, it’s calling us to be who we now are. If I am who I am in Christ, then holiness—not sinfulness—is truest to who I am in the deepest core of my being. However deep sinful feelings may go, the new love and life I have in Christ goes deeper still. Sin goes against the grain of my true self; therefore, pursuing Christ is the most “true to self” I can ever be.

I write this as someone who has wrestled with homosexual temptation his whole Christian life. It defined my affections and feelings for so many years. At times it still exerts a powerful gravitational pull on my life. But while it may describe some of my temptations, it isn’t who I am. Indulging such feelings is never being true to myself as I now am in Christ.

Danger of Getting It Backward

What is most true of believers is never going to be an aspect of our sinful natures. If we get this backward, though, we’ll never feel that we have the power to live like Christ.

Attempting Christian ethics with an unchristian identity produces an unstable compound. We need to reform our identity in order to live out our ethics, or else we will give up the fight for holiness as we cling, well-meaning but deceived, to “who we really are.”

Who Are You, God? Infinite!

Stop and think about something or someone infinite.   No, really.  Try and do it.  Try to think of all it entails.  I’ll wait.

If you really tried, you know how difficult it is.  How can you really fathom it in your mind?  In our continuing series, “Who Are You, God?,” Sandra makes a valiant effort at helping us not to fully comprehend the Infinite, but to understand Him more.  It is certainly a worthwhile read.  Enjoy your God further and feel free to comment. – Arthur

Who Are You, God?  Infinite!

Jonathan Edwards stated, “Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important.”  Knowledge of God.  When we study biology, we classify organisms by the things they have in common.  We use the categories of kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species.  We say that God is “sui generis.”  It is a neo-latin word that means “in a class of its own.”  We cannot compare God to anything or anyone else.  When we say that He is infinite, we can not wrap our mind around infinite.  All we know about infinite is that it is the negation of finite.  We can introduce analogical language, but as Augustine said around 400 AD, “Anything that we affirm about God analogically, we must deny univocally.”  He is the one that also said, “God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

We are creaturely.  We are localized in one place at one time.  I live in my body that currently resides in the city of South Pasadena.  I entered this planet on November 16, 1958 and there will be a day that I leave this planet.  What governs time?  A day is based on the rotation of the earth on its axis.  A year is based on the time it takes for the earth to orbit once around the sun.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  (Genesis 1:1)  Dates and places do not confine God.  He is the one who created the mechanisms that measure time!

How much of our life is governed and directed by the clock?  At a certain time, we wake up and at a certain time we go to sleep.  The clock keeps our lives orderly and keeps us all on the same schedule.  Our watches synchronize us all.  We all understand what it means when someone tells us that we plan to meet next Tuesday at 7 pm.  There is also an expectation about age.  When children reach 5 years old, they start kindergarten.  When they reach 16 years of age, they can drive a car.  When they are 18 years old, they are considered an adult.  Telling time is one of the first things that we teach our children and celebrating birthdays are done routinely.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”  The linear nature of time keeps things sorted out.  The future is before us, the past is behind us, and we live in this infinitesimally small sliver of time called the present.  The present quickly becomes the past even before we can say the word, “now.”  There is no stopping of this progression.  The things in the past are only kept alive by our memories of them.  Time is inextricably linked with knowledge.  Our knowledge is limited because we cannot see the things that will happen in the future and we quickly forget the things that have happened in the past.  God is not so.  The present, past and future are constant and full realities to God.  In Psalm 139:4, we are assured of God’s deep and infinite knowledge of all, “Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.”  This makes it quite impossible for anyone to ever think, “I’ve never done anything wrong.”

In 635 BC, the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.”  Time, like a river, is an avenue of change.  We are more “human changings” than we are human beings.  The only One who is not changing is God, the one and only true Being.  He is the great I AM.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8)  Without God’s Holy Spirit, we would be swept along the river of the time, filling our heads with all the gadgets, distractions, and entertainment of this age.  Satan is also quite savvy to make the most of his time.  After the temptations of Jesus, it says in <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Luke 4:13, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.”  Satan is doing his best to keep us from the Truth.  But, by God’s grace, as we are being swept along, there is an anchor or lighthouse that we can cling onto in His Word.  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower or the grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.”  I Peter 1:24, 25

If the ticking of the clock does not confine God, does God have a time reference?  There are two Greek words that are commonly translated “time” in the New Testament.  One of them is “chronos” and the other word is “kairos”.   “Chronos” has to do with chronological time, the calendar time.  “Kairos” has to do with the opportune time, an event or season of time.” Jesus said in <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”  Another verse in the Bible that uses “kairos” is found in <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Luke 12:56 when Jesus said, “You hypocrites!  You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?”

God is infinite, but at the same time, there is a spiritual clock that is ticking away.  In II Peter 3:8, we are told, “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Divine chronology is based on moral conditions.”  God acts and intervenes in history as well as individual’s lives when the moral condition is ripe for redemption and sanctification.

How then should we live?  In a way, we are all bound by time, but as children of God there should be a spirit of “timelessness” about us.  We are well aware of “chronos,” but we need to be even more aware of “kairos.” <st2:bcv_smarttag w:st=”on”>Ephesians 5:15,16 says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  In Al Mohler’s blog, he commented on the gay marriage issue that is being legislated in New England.  He said, “New England is losing the remnants of its Christian memory.  We need a new generation of Christians who, like Jonathan Edwards, will bring the Gospel anew to New England.  New England was the cradle of colonial America.  Is it now the cradle of America’s secular future?” As one of my Sunday School students, Emily, mentioned, perhaps the only purpose of time is for us to come to salvation.  Once we come to know the Lord, time as we measure it is insignificant.  We have now entered into an eternal perspective and accounting of time.

Lord, help our every moment be a redeemed moment.  Help us to not constantly gaze on the ticking of the clock as much as the ticking of the moments until we see you face to face. Help us to look and long for the ultimate “kairos” moment for us – the time when we will see Jesus face to face. Impress on us the fact that that moment is as close as a heartbeat away.  Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come. InYour timeless Name, we pray, Amen.

– Sandra Hsieh

Who Are You, God? “Do You REALLY Want to Know?”

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Aaahhh, it’s always easier to ask a question than to answer it, isn’t it?  And even harder still is to accept and submit to that answer, should the answer not be to our liking … even if that answer is God.  In continuing our “Who Are You, God?” series, I share some thoughts that just may be of use to you as you (hopefully) continue to pursue God for who He is.  I don’t often include many of my own essays in this blog, so I hope that it’s helpful!  Comments are always welcomed! – Arthur

Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive.  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Look up in the sky!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s Superman!  As a child, I loved to collect super-hero comic books.  I enjoyed the exaggerated, super human qualities of these heroes as they battled outrageous evil foes in order to save the entire human race.  I marveled at the heroes’ god-like physical attributes and abilities as captured by the comic artists’ renderings.

I also enjoyed the TV shows or movies made of these comics, but not as much as the comics themselves. Why?  Humans.  Real human actors had to be used to play the roles.  No matter what the costume directors or make up artists did, there was no way that human actors were going to be able to match the caricatures of strength, presence, and agility depicted in my comic books.

A caricature is an exaggeration, or distortion by exaggeration, of parts or characteristics, as in a picture. (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1998) My family knows well what it means to be caricaturized, both in drawing and with words.  We once attended a business function where the hosting firm hired cartoon artists to sketch drawings of the guests.  After our drawing was completed, we had a good laugh at ourselves (and cried inside, if truth be told!) as we poured over our various physical features that the artist over-exaggerated.  We displayed the sketch in our home for a while with a sign underneath that read, “Go ahead and laugh!”  What’s not quite as funny, however, is when certain aspects of your character become caricatured and you become stigmatized for certain things that are actually inconsistent with your real character or nature.

A popular slogan invites, “To know me is to love me.” Inherent in all of us is a latent desire to be truly known and to be truly loved.  Known for who we really are, and not for what we’re perceived to be.  Loved despite who we really are, “warts and all.”  Even if the perception is favorable, if it’s not accurate, it’s not you; and you’re being loved for being someone who you are not.  Nobody wants that.  Not really. Not only is it not truthful, it’s not satisfying.

Our God, too, wants to be truly known by His Bride, His Church … for who He truly is, as He has revealed Himself to us via His Word. When we highlight certain aspects of His character, such as His love, and diminish other aspects, such as His jealousy or justice, we are not loving God for who He is, but rather, who we make Him to be; or worse yet, who we want Him to be.  When we do that, we end up worshipping an idol, a god made in our own image.

If we would commit ourselves to read Scripture in order to discover more about who God really is – how He thinks, feels, and evaluates, to study and marvel at His character and attributes – in other words, to know HIM rather than to read because we know it will benefit us and is what we ought to do, we will be in for an amazing journey of discovery, surprise, and wonder.  We will be left with jaw-dropping, soul-stirring encounters with a Being that will emerge to us, not only intellectually, but in our hearts, as truly being sui generis, in a class all of His own.  Our hearts will be left chock-full of deep gratitude and love for our Heavenly Father, and an insatiable desire to want to know and love Him more.

That’s what happened to the two men in Luke 24 who left Jerusalem deeply discouraged and disappointed after Jesus’ death.  While traveling on a road to a village seven miles away, they were encountered by a stranger who inquired as to the nature of their conversation.  “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” they replied to him (v. 21).  What ensued undoubtedly changed their lives forever.  What happened?  They had a Bible study along the way with this stranger, who explained who God truly was and what His plans really were.  He exposed their caricaturized visions of God and His plans, and revealed to them the self-centeredness of their understanding.  Beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Luke tells us that this stranger explained to them the real things concerning the Lord in all the Scriptures (v. 27).  Their response?

They urged him to stay with them because they couldn’t get enough.

Once they began to have dinner together, “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.” It finally dawned on them that the stranger that were having Bible study with was none other than Jesus Himself!   “And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?’”  That’s what happens when you actually study God’s Word with God and actually listen to Him.  Your heart burns within you!

May I ask you a personal question? When was the last time your heart burned within you with the Word of God?  You may reply and quip that if Jesus personally had a Bible study with you, your heart would burn too.  Jesus tells us that He is always with us in the place where it counts, in our spirits, and that He will never leave us. (Heb. 13:5) He has given us His own Spirit to lead and guide us … where?  Into Scripture.

1 Corinthians 2:10 informs us that His Spirit “searches all things, even the depths of God.”  Now, since we know that the Holy Spirit is God Himself, the questions that beckons us is, “Why does the Spirit search the depths of God, since He is God?  The answer?  For us!  For us!  For us to truly know God in the way He wants to be known, God Himself is going to have to be active in revealing Himself to our minds and hearts, for, “… the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” (v. 11)

In giving us the Bible, God is opening Himself up to us and inviting us into His heart, to get to know Him, the true Him. The Scriptures are “God-breathed” (2Tim. 3:16) and are given so we can enter into a true and honest relationship with Him, the true God, and not a caricature of who we think or want Him to be.  Listen.  Meditate. Take notes.  Engage.  Relate.  Your God is waiting.  Enjoy as your hearts burn within you!

– Arthur Hsieh

 

Who Are You, God? A Lover of the Broken and Contrite

Hello TD!  I hope your start to the year has been just what God has wanted it to be for you, even if not what you had planned.  That’s been the case for me, where God has been revealing and exposing my heart and showing me this boy still has a long way to go.  Though humbled, it is objectively a great start to the new year.  That’s why our first meeting of 2014 was on Job, of all people.

And now, I’d like to introduce a new series of essays, entitled, “Who Are You, God?”  Written nearly 5 years ago, in today’s inaugural essay of the series, you can feel the struggle, fight, and pain, our dear E.I. was going through.  The fight still continues today.  When I approached her about the possibility of posting her essay, though it is vulnerable and sensitive, she agreed if it could minister to anyone.  It will.  Thanks, E.I.! – Arthur

The existence of suffering is an issue that many people raise against the existence of God. If a loving God exists, of course there wouldn’t be any suffering in this world, right? Although it is often used as an argument against His existence, without suffering, many people would not seek Him, including myself.

I remember the moment when I first heard the news of my parents’ divorce. I knew that my parents didn’t share the most exciting of relationships, that they had their share of arguments, and that there was a slight possibility of them separating. Knowing this was not enough to prepare me for this moment. When my mom shared the news with me, my mind went blank. Something inside me died. To this day I cannot easily talk about those memories without reliving them and freshly feeling the pangs of hurt deep within me.

Before you pity me, let me share with you why it hurt so much. My rosy perception of life was shattered. I clearly saw the depravity of my parents. Even worse, I stood face to face with a true reflection of my artificial faith.

Growing up as a pastor’s daughter, I knew the Gospel, well, at least technically. It made sense that God exists and I could understand why Jesus had to come die on the cross for us. I could see why I had to accept Christ into my heart. However, deep inside, the main reason why I called myself a Christian was because I was the pastor’s daughter. It was an obligation. When it came to my day-to-day living, I remained ultimately accountable to a different person—myself.

Still, I can argue, God didn’t have to make it such a painful process for me to realize that I didn’t have true faith. Did He really have to break my family apart? God, did you really have to do that?!

Scripture sheds some light onto this question through the life of Israel’s greatest human king. After committing heinous sins of adultery and premeditated murder and after a confrontation with the prophet Nathan, David says:

“Behold You desire truth in the innermost being,

            And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

            For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;

            You are not pleased with burnt offering.

            The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

            A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:6, 16-17)

David here realized that God doesn’t need our sacrifices or physical offerings. He wants us. He wants the allegiance of the heart, the inner man. Also, note that David did not coincidentally come to this revelation. It was after he was exposed to God’s scrutiny and after he was broken and distressed over his sins that he came to a deeper and fuller knowledge of God.

This is what He did with me. He had to literally bring me to my knees in pain in order for me to truly see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” specifically, “in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Although my memory of that time saddens me, I strangely look back with fondness. It was then that I felt closest to God. When grief over sin crushed my spirit, I found delight in the Gospel. When my eyes were filled with bitter tears, I could see more clearly the radiant glory of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3). When it seemed that my world was crashing in, I felt deeply secure knowing that my God is Faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:24). During that moment of sorrow, I found true joy.

In the end, Romans 8:28 stands true: He really does “[cause] all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Even when hard times come, we know that even suffering is used for His good purpose of sanctifying His people to, like Jesus Christ, rightly worship Him. “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” (Psalm 95:6-7) There is nothing better than kneeling your heart before the throne of the true, living God.

– E.I.