“Be true to yourself.”-Everyone
This cultural gospel is so common it doesn’t strike us as odd. Put simply, BTTY asserts that we only find meaning internally, when we are acting in ways consistent with what we think and want and how we feel.
BTTY sounds healthy, but it’s not. If we accept this premise we will find disappointment and bankruptcy, not satisfaction and meaning. One increasingly difficult truth to embrace today is as human beings we were created to find our satisfaction outside of ourselves.
BTTY has an authority problem—no one has the right to tell you how to live.
In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self Carl Trueman notes how 19th century Romantic poet Percy Shelley’s attack on organized religion and marriage was based on a fundamental distrust of authority. He explains how regarding both religion and marriage, “the individual has to acknowledge the existence of an external authority beyond that of immediate, personal desires.”
We don’t like authority (maybe we never have). But this anti-authority ethic crashes headfirst into what God reveals in the Bible. For example, the Apostle Paul writes of enemies of Christ in Philippians 3:19,
“Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame; and they are focused on earthly things.”
Not much BTTY there.
When we believe our appetites are the true guide to our authentic selves then they become our god. The inevitable result is we glory in what we should be ashamed of, and we necessarily live with an earthly rather than heavenly perspective. We’ve turned appetites into ends rather than means.
Appetites themselves are neither good nor evil. When we eat, do we eat with thanksgiving for God’s provision of our needs or do we eat looking to food as our ultimate satisfier? Our hunger is morally neutral; what we do with that hunger is not. The same applies to desires of any kind—financial, emotional, sexual, etc.
The alternative to BTTY is to seek meaning outside of ourselves in Jesus Christ. But how does faith in and submission to God—our infinite, external authority—satisfy rather than stifle us as human beings?
- Faith anchors our purpose in the Creator-creation distinction. We have a purpose than transcends our abilities, knowledge, moods, and circumstances. Generating purpose and satisfaction is not our burden.
- Faith anchors our purpose in a loving redeemer. In Jesus we find a savior who sees us in our brokenness, loves us, and has acted to rescue and reform us. We need not seek love from ourselves or society, we have perfect love in Christ.
- Faith anchors our purpose in God’s glory. When we value what is truly and infinitely valuable we are equipped to discern how to navigate the twists and turns of our lives.
Maybe the best way to BTTY is to admit that left to ourselves we have no ultimate meaning. BTTY by finding true satisfaction outside of yourself in Jesus Christ.