On Becoming A Self

Who are you?

You are a self. Your self. Yourself.

You are a unique self. Unique development is the nature of the self. No two selves develop alike.

You do not become what you are, but you are what you become.

By that I mean you are not pre-programmed to become what you are, but are what you have become.

Imagine that you were born in the year A.D. 559 in the Mayan civilization of the pre-Columbian Americas. Would you be anything like you are today? Probably not.

The truth is much of what causes us to develop the self we become has to do with the culture, language, environment, time, socio-economic status and religious influence into which we are born.

The pre-Columbian Mayan Brian would be nothing like the 20th century Midwest American Brian.

We are enormously shaped by our environment and experiences.

Today I spent the morning with Bill Wilson. When Bill was 14 years old his mother abandoned him on a street corner. She said, “I can’t do this anymore. You wait here.” Bill stayed on that street corner for three days. His mother never came back. A Christian found him and took Bill into his home. Bill has spent the past 27 years ministering to hurting children in the violent world of America’s inner-cities. Today his New York City Sunday School program ministers to 40,000 children a week! Would Bill be who he is and doing what he’s doing if he hadn’t been abandoned as a child? Probably not.

Bill’s life has been marked by much suffering and sadness. He’s been shot twice, thrown off a roof and suffered great pain in his personal life. But there is a beauty in his life. The grace of Christ has used his suffering to make him a truly beautiful soul. His life has not really been happy (we talked about this), but his life has become beautiful.

(I was meeting with Bill to talk about India. He wants to start a children’s ministry there. Meet Bill Wilson here.)

The self Bill Wilson has become has everything to do with what has happened to him. You cannot be abandoned on a street corner by your mom and not be profoundly shaped by it. But the self he has become is a tapestry of grace. God causing all things to work together for good. The greatest testimony of God’s grace.

Back to my main point…

Who you are is in large part attributable to circumstances and events far beyond your control.

But that doesn’t mean you have no choice in the self you become. You do.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” It’s an expression that means born from above or born from the top. It means to start over from the beginning. Musicians rehearsing a song will say, “take it from the top” when they mean to start the song from the beginning. Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, “You’ve got to take it from the top. Start all over again.”

Nicodemus understood what Jesus was asking of him and admitted it would be very difficult. “Can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?”

The self Nicodemus had become was the most prominent and respected rabbinic scholar of the Pharisees. I would suggest that until that point Nicodemus could not have been other than he was. Undoubtedly he was raised in a Pharisee household, educated in the Pharisee school of Jewish thought from a child and placed on a course that would inevitably make him what he became. But now Jesus was challenging him to make a choice that would fundamentally alter his self. To make the choice to rethink everything. To start over. To radically change his dominant paradigm; instead of viewing the kingdom of God through the paradigm of the Pharisees, to view the kingdom of God through the new paradigm of Jesus. No easy task.

Personally, I think that what Jesus called Nicodemus to do was far more demanding than what he called the rich young ruler to do. Jesus only asked the young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor. If a man really wants to do this, he can do it in a few days and then it’s done. But Jesus asked Nicodemus to completely rethink everything he had devoted his life to; to radically uproot his core beliefs of what it means to be Jewish and what the kingdom of God looks like. And to do this as an old man.

Think about it.

Is Dr. Nicodemus, with his degrees in theology, his tenure at the university, his numerous academic publications and scholarly acclaim really going to submit himself in matters of theology to a thirty-something carpenter with no formal education who is espousing a concept of the kingdom of God that is radically different from everything Nicodemus has believed and taught?

A late night encounter with the unlikely Messiah of Jesus of Nazareth forced a decision upon Nicodemus: He would either remain the self he had become, or he would be born again and become a new self. The old self had everything going for it; security, prestige, a fully developed theological system and worldview. The potential new self was a risky gamble and had nothing to offer, except…

The Truth.

There was only one way Nicodemus could become a new self: Take the leap. A leap of faith. A logic-defying, risk-it-all, never-look-back leap of faith.

And he did.

Which is why I have such a deep admiration for Nicodemus. I think what he did was harder than what the twelve did to respond to the call of Jesus.

And Nicodemus was there at the cross. And he was there to help Joseph of Arimathea carry the body of Jesus to the tomb.

Nicodemus chose to become a new self. A new self as informed by Christ. A self stripped of prestige and security. But a self who in utter humility was finding the way, the truth and the life.

What about you and the self you have become and are becoming? You can be faced with your own kind of Nick-at-Nite decisions at any (or many) point(s) along the road of life.

How much are you willing to rethink to become a different self?

Everything, you say?

Don’t be too quick or caviler about it…Jesus just might ask you to do it.

What if?

What if Jesus challenges you to become a self that would effectively dismantle…
Your Charismatic self?
Your American Evangelical self?
Your Word of Faith self?
Your Anti Word of Faith self?
Your Republican self?
Your Democrat self?
Your Pre-Trib self?
Your entire I’ve got it all figure it out down to the last beast that comes up out of the sea eschatological self?
Your four-spiritual-laws-formalistic-Christianity self?
Your I’m-quite-content-where-I-am self?
Your I’m-a-pretty-good-Christian-the-way-I-am self?

Do not marvel that I say unto you, you must be born again.

Take it from the top.



Dare to go to Jesus in secret and ask him to present you with a choice that will give you the potential to become a new self.

But be forewarned, the choice may not be easy. But it won’t be impossible either.