Depression. Self-image problems. Unrealistic expectations of success and security promoted on social media. As they say, the struggle is real. While it produces turmoil on the inside, it produces a need to “fake it” on the outside which leads to more sadness on the inside. I’ve been there. I will be there again. It sucks. But what to do about it? I’m observing a trend amongst Christians that is trying to counter these things and it’s mostly centered on being positive. “Corby, what could you possibly find wrong with that?” Sadly, plenty. What I’m seeing is that the focus on being positive is centered on “me,” on self. In fact this is contrary to God’s solution to the problem. God’s solution, as one would expect, produces way better results, and I’m hoping people will be encouraged to pursue it relentlessly. Being positive isn’t the answer. Be more than positive; be biblical.
Disclaimer: Someone people think of me as funny and encouraging. Some people think of me a negative and critical. I think I’m both and I think that’s a good thing. One set is not better or more right than the other. In fact, being all funny and all encouraging can be as unhealthy and as not useful as being all negative and all critical can be. I recognize that many of my posts lately have swung negative and critical, but that’s because there has been a lot about which to be negative and critical. I’m going to try harder to be more balanced. Having said that, this post is also about striking a balance with regard to how one views oneself and our place in the world. If it bugs you, please don’t dismiss it out of hand. Chew on it for a bit and see where it goes.
Who is worthy?
I’ve seen this focus on being positive, on being happy, growing in popularity for a while amongst Christians. But what pushed me over the Biblical edge was a meme I cannot now find. It was an Instagram style picture with the words, “You are worthy” on it. It has a very particular audience and context, so in a sense I get what it is after and can agree with it. It was created by someone who is a Christian and has an outreach to people who are thinking about suicide. Having been in that headspace myself and having an understanding of the gospel, I can see how that can be a Biblical statement. However, apart from all of that context, it is actually a very misleading, destructive, and an unbiblical message.
(As an aside, I’m seeing this more and more, this being Christian communicators posting a piece of Biblical truth that, on its own, without the proper context, is actually a very unbiblical point. It’s a very frustrating trend for someone who loves and values God’s word and truth.)
So, in the light of the conversation of depressions, self-image, and comparing oneself to others, what is the Biblical truth about who we are and our worth? Why is being positive about ourselves wrong, and what does it mean to be Biblical instead?
No one, one their own, is good enough
In talking about the nature of humanity and who, if any, is inherently better than anyone else, the Apostle Paul creates what is called a “string of pearls” of Bible quotes on the subject of goodness in Romans 3:10-19.
just as it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
In Romans 3:23, in his own words, Paul says,
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory (approval) of God.”
Apart from God, there is nothing that we are, that we can do, about which we can be positive. We are not worthy. Do people, apart from God, do good, kind, admirable things? Absolutely. But they are still going to Hell because they are apart from God. Is it really enough to focus on the positive and not be caught up in the negative of that reality? No, it isn’t. In order to recognize one’s need for Jesus, that one is a sinner in need of a savior, one has to recognize that all that they are on their own is as nothing. If one clings to all of their own positiveness and tries to use it as the basis of an argument to say they are worthy, they are good enough, they will totally miss the point.
In the very next verse, Paul says,
“But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Once a person is saved, all of the gifts, abilities, kindness, and goodness can now be used rightly, but must be attributed to God and His salvation, not reduced to something that is just positive. It’s more than positive, it’s redeemed. It’s being used as it was intended by God for the first time.
Why does God save us?
No one is worthy. God doesn’t love or save us because we are worthy. Then why does He love and save us? Because we are His creation. He loves us because He made us and He wants us to be with Him forever. That is so much better than any other reason!
Think about it. If God loved us because we were worthy, it would mean that we did something to make us worthy. We would have to keep doing it to keep us worthy. If we stopped doing it, we wouldn’t be worthy anymore. That is called conditional love. That is not how God loves us.
Have you ever had a friendship like that? Have you ever had someone like or even love you because of something you could do, and then they stopped once you stopped? Or perhaps, have you stopped liking or loving someone because they stopped being worthy in your eyes? Is that really the kind of relationship with God that you want? I don’t.
Not Positive, Biblical
So what does being Biblical look like? Why is it better than being positive?
What and who you are
When it comes to self-image and so-called “self-love” (a term that really bugs me but I can’t yet put my finger on why), two verses are foundational to me.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come!”
I am no longer what I was before Jesus, I am more. Not because of me, but because of Jesus! I am IN Christ. This is what makes me a new creation. All of the old crap that I don’t like about myself, or that I think others don’t like about me, no longer has any power over me, only the power I give it. I am something new because of Jesus. You are not worthy, He is worthy.
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Effectively, I am dead. I mean this as seriously as it can be taken; to the suicidal, you can die without dying. To the one who wishes they were dead, you can be dead, and be reborn (born again) as something brand new. You can have Jesus living in and through you. You are not worthy, He is worthy. And if He is in you and you in Him, that makes you worthy.
That is so much better than simply being positive or having a positive mental attitude! Simply being positive depends on you, and you will fail. Being a new creation and having Jesus live in you depends on Him, and He never fails!
Our identity is in Jesus, what He has done, and His power, not in ourselves, what we can do, and our own power.
More than rah-rah
When I was in high school I won two different school spirit awards as a senior. I know how to cheer, I know how to encourage, I know how to spread the positive vibes. It’s fun for everyone involved. But it’s also all very temporary. I see Christians doing the equivalent of cheerleading one another, and its depressing. That’s like giving someone a rice cake and telling them how amazing it is, when in fact there is something called a cheeseburger in your other hand, and it’s soooooo much better than a rice cake!
You can encourage your brothers and sisters in Jesus with, “You’re great! You’re amazing! You can do it!” (Rice cakes.) Or, “I (or you) can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (you).” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV) Isn’t it so much better to encourage someone to depend on Jesus for their strength than to tell them to trust in their own?
It’s a small thing, but it’s also a HUGE thing. I can’t overstate this, nor can I overstate the bummed-ness I feel when I see people unintentionally encourage people outside of their identity in Jesus. It’s like both parties are being robbed of something. Don’t give rice cakes, give cheeseburgers!
More than positive attitudes
I constantly see Christians posting memes or reposting quotes from Christian sources, or not, that are about not being grumpy, or trusting in the good in others (see above), or others baseless positive thoughts. They are weak options compared to Paul’s words in Philippians 4
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
I don’t know if this was Paul’s intention, but each of those things begins as attributes of God. These attributes are then expressed through the lives of God’s people as they engage in a right relationship with Him.
It’s not simply, “Think happy thoughts.” It’s, “Think about the goodness of God.” Where do we learn about God’s goodness? God’s word, the Bible. The more we are in God’s word, intentionally, regularly, the more mental, emotional, and spiritual fuel we have for thinking about things that are true, noble, just, etc. Rice cake, or cheeseburger?
Beyond positive and happy to maturity and joy
What I’m really on about is something more than just changing these habits that I see developing. What I’m really talking about is growing in Christian maturity. What’s the difference?
Being positive and happy primarily depend on circumstances. Happiness depends on happenings. When everything is good it’s easy to be positive and happy. We avoid bad situations because it threatens our positivity and happiness. Unfortunately, this means that we avoid conflict, we avoid correcting others or being corrected ourselves, we avoid dealing with things that are holding us back.
We have come to a point in our culture, and in the church, where we value being positive and happy above all else, when the reality is that Jesus promised us the opposite as a result of following Him!
This is why so many Christians are more or less coasting and so few are really growing. Focussing on being positive and happy is actually making you a weaker follower of Jesus. Does this mean we seek to be cranky or critical, and pursue the most difficult situations in life? Not at all. It means we seek to live life in the moment as it is, not as we want it to be. This happens through growth and maturity.
What does that mean? When you read about people in the Bible in really crappy circumstances, they acknowledged the crappiness of it, but then gave God the credit for being good, for being faithful, and even recognizing that He was the one would put them there. Take some time and read Genesis 37-50 and the life go Joseph.
How do we do this?
Many times God compares His people to a fruit tree or a grape vine. These are things that are supposed to grow, mature, and bear fruit. If they don’t do any of those things, they are dead. In order to help them do those things, a gardener does things like
- replanting in more proper or more useful environments,
- pruning of limbs and branches,
- training or tying up vines so that they grow in the right direction,
- grafting in new things to improve the health or fruit of the tree or vine.
In addition, a growing thing needs good soil, water, and sunlight. A Bible-teaching church and someone to disciple you are extremely important, but also becoming harder to find these days. What you can do much more easily is get yourself into God’s word so that you can build the habit of viewing yourself and your world through God’s mind and heart. I’d like to share with you two ways you can do that.
Desert Island Bible Study
This is something you can start today. If you aren’t on my email list currently, you can join using the form on this page. Once you sign up you will receive a free copy of the bundle which includes instructions on how to do it. For an overview of what it is, follow this link.
The Rhythm Journal
This is something that is still in development and will be ready at the end of summer. It’s a guided journal to help you walk with God at His pace. It’s guided in that tasks you questions to help you engage God’s word and become more sensitive as to how He is present through your day. It’s a journal in that it’s a record you can look back on in times of discouragement to remind you how God has been faithful in your life. Sign up for the email list and check the box for The Rhythm Journal. This link is an overview of that project as well.
Wrap it up already!
Growth means change. Change is scary. Seeing the positive and seeking happiness don’t equip you to deal with scary. But growth and maturity do. Those come with learning and living God’s word. As you do that, you will grow beyond positive, to Biblical.