The message today is titled “Being True to Yourself.” How many of you guys would like to be true to yourself? How many of you think that is a good thing? We’re going to talk about what does that mean and how do you do it. I want to start off with a story. We had a family that attended here some years ago. They were friends with David and I. And the husband particularly was active and got involved in some different ministries. They had two children. One, I believe, was going into seventh grade. One that was going into ninth grade. They went here for four or five years and then suddenly one day, the husband left the wife, left the children, and moved into the homosexual lifestyle. It was a shock. Of course the kids were devastated. A friend of his from the church that was in his home group asked him, “Why did you do that?” He said, “Because I felt like I wasn’t being true to myself, to who I really was.” Now, to be true to yourself, that seems important. So, it got me thinking—how do you know who you really are? What determines that? If I’m going to be true to myself then I’ve got to decide who I really am. And what is it that determines who I really am? Am I, for instance, defined by feelings I have—whereas my friend thought sexual urges and temptations—is that what defines me? Is it my only giving into such feelings—whether it’s anger or depression or whatever it would be, or sexual temptation—is it only by giving into such feelings or temptations that I can be true to myself? If I’m frequently troubled by certain thoughts or anger or fear or desire to get high or some other compulsion and I do not give into those, does that mean I’m not being true to myself? Is it only by giving in to feelings that I can be true to myself? Good question. So, who am I, exactly? Who determines that? It seems like an important question.
Now, evolutionists say that we’re just animals. We evolved from animals. And so we are defined and we are driven by animalistic drives and desires. I want to show you a picture. You may recognize that as Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud believed in evolution, believed that we were just animals. He believed that there was nothing more basic than our animal drives. And so he said that to repress these drives was unhealthy, especially the sexual drive. He said that most emotional problems in the country were a result of people repressing these natural drives, that they shouldn’t be depressed. He felt that religion was just unfounded wish fulfillment. He felt that the Bible was filled with repressive teaching that was making people unhealthy because it didn’t allow them to just go with whatever their feelings, their urges were. He said religion was wish fulfillment but sex was most basic to who we are. Because after all, if we’re just biology, if that’s all we are, what’s more basic than the urge to reproduce and continue the species. It’s fundamental to who we are. And so, I want to tell you what Freud’s big lie was. Here’s Freud’s big lie: “There’s nothing more real than your feeling and urges. These define you and cannot and must not be ignored.” (It’s unhealthy to repress them. You have to give into them). Now, this lie has had a profound affect not only on our whole culture but on millions of individuals. I want to contrast that with the Bible’s big truth. So, that’s Freud’s big lie. Here’s the Bible’s big truth. You are defined by your choices and actions, not your feelings, desires or temptations. The Bible says you’re defined by what you do, not by what you’re tempted to do. That is a liberating truth. Because it means rather than defining us—some of these shameful thoughts that go through your head or things that you’re tempted to do, whatever it was, maybe it’s to get revenge or something terrible and you think, “Man, I’m glad nobody knows what I’m thinking”—rather than defining you, some of these dark temptations are a reflection or a symptom of a deeper brokenness within us that God wants to heal. These things don’t define us but they can be a symptom that there’s something in us God wants to heal. Giving ourselves over to those sinful desires will never make us free. They’ll never make things better. It always makes things worse.
We’re talking about what defines me. The Bible says that we’re defined by our heart and not our belly. We’re going to define that in a second. What does that mean? Well, first of all, the heart we see in Proverbs 27:19.
As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.
So, it says that just as the ancient person would look into still water and see his face reflected to him (today we’d look in a mirror), in the same way it’s the heart that shows who we really are. The mirror shows what our face looks like; the heart is the measure of who we really are. The heart is where you hold your beliefs. It’s where you hold your values, your convictions. Now, what’s the belly? The belly represents your appetites, your drives, and your urges, all of which have been twisted by sin. So, the question is: which one of these, your belly or your heart, are you going to let define you? Which one of these is going to drive the destiny of your life? Let’s look at Romans 16:18 a little bit about the belly. Paul is speaking about false teachers. He says….
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly…
Now, if you have the NASB or the NIV, it says that they serve their appetites but the actual Greek word there is ‘belly’. The newer translations have used the word ‘appetite’ just to help bring the thought out of what he’s actually saying but the actual word there is ‘belly’. And what it’s saying is that these people call themselves Christians but they did not serve Christ. They served their own appetites. You see, you can call yourself a Christian and yet be a slave to sin. Philippians 3:18-19, again it’s going to use the word ‘belly’, the literal translation in the King James and ‘appetites’ in some of your other ones.
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.
So, your belly, your appetites can be your God. You can go to church—these guys were Christian teachers and yet their appetites was their God. Now, consider this, your heart is eternal. Your heart will live forever. Your heart will go to heaven. Your belly, your appetites, however, will not outlive this life. When your body is put in the grave, all those drives, all those appetites, all those feelings (fleshly feelings) will be gone, never to reappear. Our heart is eternal and our heart is the seat of our being. It defines us. Therefore, it must rule over our belly, or it must rule over our urges. Or else, the Bible says, our end will be destruction. As soon as you start being led by your feelings and being defined by your feelings, you start to unravel. And that’s not only the story of many people, it’s the story of our culture over the last five or six decades.
Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts… For sin shall not be master over you…
So, sin wants to master you. Sin wants you to identify with it. Sin wants to name you. It wants to become your identity. The particular form of sin that any one of us might struggle with might be very different. And some people have tremendous struggles with their thought life, with temptations. And oftentimes it is tied to some traumatic event in their past. Perhaps they were physically abused or sexually abused or abandoned or perhaps they made some terrible mistakes in their life. And as a result, they wrestle against strongholds in their mind that assail them. And they may react to the pain by substance abuse. They may react by anger. It may drive them to fear. They may act out sexual brokenness. And the devil wants you to not only identify with what was done to you, he wants you to identify with your sinful response. But God says you must consider yourself dead to sin. Remember we just read that? Consider yourself dead to sin. Now, what does that mean? That means that you say to whatever sinful temptations you wrestle with (and most of us have a few that we’re really prone to), here’s what you say, “Temptation, I know that you’re there. You were there yesterday. You’ll probably be around for the foreseeable future but you’re dead to me. You do not define who I am. You don’t get to name me and I am not going to submit to your mastery in my life.” God says consider yourself dead. Now, when you’re born again, when you accept Christ into your life, you receive His Spirit. The Bible says we receive a new nature. The old nature doesn’t go away. It’s just that you’ve gone from having one nature to having two natures. The new nature joined to Christ, that new reality in your life, a new power center, and the old flesh. And so, we have to choose which one of those natures we’re going to draw from. Think of them as like planets. You have to make a choice which one of those planets you’re going to orbit around, you’re going to draw from, you’re going to identify with. And whichever one of those two natures or planets you identify with, the mass gets bigger and bigger, and if you will, the gravity begins to draw you in more and more. And whichever of those natures you ignore, the gravity, the pull lessens. So, if you learn to identify with the new spirit, to walk in the new spirit, to continually yield to the new spirit, then the old nature begins to shrink. That means that if I don’t want sin to master me and name me and become my identity, then I’ve got to learn to continually identify and draw from the new spirit. And the Bible calls that walking by the Spirit or walking in the Spirit.
But I say, walk by the Spirit (instead of by your feelings) and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (you won’t be driven by your feelings). For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
So, Jesus has set you and He set me free to choose which of those natures we’re going to be identified with and draw from. First Corinthians 6:9 and 11 is very instructive so pay close attention to this scripture. It’ll help you. This is Paul talking.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived…
Now, that’s very important: Do not be deceived. The world that surrounds us, the media, academia, whatever, it wars against God’s truth. How many of you know the world is in a 24/7 wall-to-wall war against what God says is true. And therefore the Bible highlights this by saying, “In this area, don’t be deceived” because he recognizes and what he’s going to say—the world tries to deceive us and there’s a lot of confusion. Do not be deceived. Let’s keep reading.
… neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you…
In other words, ‘such WERE some of you’, meaning they aren’t that anymore. He goes through this whole list of lifestyle sins that people were caught in and he says, “A lot of you were involved in that but no more.” In other words what he’s saying is that we are not determined for life by genetics or anything else to live out the past or to stay caught. We can change. Now watch what happens. Verse 11.
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
It says the forgiveness that comes to us by the sacrifice of Christ, the washing of the guilt and the shame of our sin of what we’ve done, or what’s been done to us, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, all of this together enables us to profoundly change and to be something else than what we had been in the past.
I’ve shared my testimony many times but when I was 22 years old I was an alcoholic. I was in bondage to confusion and despair. I had suicidal thoughts. And I knew that I could not change. I knew that. I was held in bonds and I was unable to change. But then I believed in Jesus, I was born again and the mastery of sin was shattered over my life. I had a new nature and I thank God every day of my life that He gave me the ability to choose. I didn’t have the ability to choose before but now I had the ability to be free. Our church is filled with people who were once slaves to all manner of sins, who walked in all different kinds of sinful lives but then some of them came to the altar and got saved and got filled with the Holy Spirit. Some of them went to the counseling office and found out the truth from God’s Word about themselves and about life. Some of them received tremendous deliverances. Some of them just gradually began to be transformed as they learned God’s Word. Some of them went through our different ministries. For instances, the Restoration Ranch. But all of them got a new name. They got a new identity. They got a new vision for their life. And they got power to change. The Christian life does not mean that you’re not tempted by sin. It doesn’t mean that you might not have to struggle regularly with some really unsavory thoughts or dreams. What the Christian life means is that you love Jesus enough that you continually yield to the Spirit every day and so your life changes. It’s just a reality that we struggle with temptation. Christians always have. Christians always will.
Martin Luther, the great reformer, said this about temptation. He said, “I cannot stop a bird from flying over my head but I can make sure that it doesn’t build a nest in my hair.” And what that means is that you cannot control what thoughts or images might flash across your imagination or your mind, or what you might dream about. You can’t control every temptation that comes but you can decide not to participate in it and not to let yourself be defined by it. Hebrews 4:15, a lot of you are familiar with this verse, it says that Jesus was in all ways tempted just as we are yet without sin. Think about that. It says that Jesus was tempted in all the ways that you and I can be tempted but He never sinned. So, what that means is, listen to me, temptation can’t be the problem. If Jesus was tempted and you’re tempted then that means it’s not the temptation that’s the problem. Being tempted, having bad thoughts assail you, or bad dreams assail you, it does not disqualify you. It does not bring condemnation into your life. It’s just a challenge that you have to wrestle against. Here’s the problem. We don’t like ambiguity. We don’t like paradox in our life. We don’t like having to deal with two natures. We don’t like being a sinner and a saint all at the same time.
You are a sinner and you are a saint. What do I mean by that? Well, you’re a sinner in this sense: you will always struggle against sin. It will always try to trap you. It will always in some ways attract you. Oftentimes sin will seem like the easier of the two solutions. So, it’s not until heaven that you’ll get to the point where sin is not an issue. On the other hand, you’re a saint because Jesus Christ went to the cross so that you can be forgiven of all of your sins. Cleansed from the guilt and the shame of it. So that you could be set apart by God for His purposes. How many of you know that’s what a saint is? The original Greek literally means to be set apart. A saint is one who has been set apart by God for His purposes. And you’ve been set apart by God for His purposes. Your destiny is in heaven. God is working in your life to transform you into the image of Christ because He wants to show the glory of God to the world. And so, we’re sinners and we’re saints. It’s a reality we have to deal with.
People think, especially people that might struggle… we all struggle with temptation but some people have a stronger struggle and it’s usually because of their past history. And they think this way. They think, “If I was really a Christian, I could never have a dream like I had last night.” Or, “I could never have that thought.” Maybe it’s a thought for revenge. Maybe it’s a thought of lust. Who knows? And you think, “If I was a real Christian, I wouldn’t have those thoughts.” And you think, “You know what? How can God really love and accept someone like me that can think that way?” I don’t know about you but when I was a young Christian and if I would do something that I knew was wrong, it wasn’t honoring to God in thought or deed, I used to think I had to punish myself to prove to God that I was worthy of His love. I’m not kidding you. I know none of you guys were as dumb as me. But I’d think, “Okay, I really blew it so I can’t read my Bible or pray or go to church until I beat myself up a little bit and prove to God that I’m worthy of His love and forgiveness.” How many of you know that’s nothing but pride? Like, I’ve got to prove to God that I’m worthy and, you know, I can do this Christianity thing. I know I blew it the other day but I can pull this thing off. Listen, here’s what you do when you fall. You say, “Oh my gosh, that’s just a reminder of how much I need Jesus. That’s just the proof that whenever I try to live on my own and not put my faith and trust in Him, this is just further evidence of what I do. So, God, forgive me, yes, for the sin, but even more for wandering away from You. And Lord, in this instant, I accept Your forgiveness and I look to You for Your empowerment, in this very instant.” It’s like you sin because you get into the flesh, so how do you respond to it? You stay in the flesh, right? You try to do it on your own. That’s not in my notes… let’s go on.
So, we think, “How can God love or accept someone who struggles with these wicked thoughts?” But what if that’s all wrong? What if one of those people that’s really struggled because of brokenness, what happens when they get to heaven and instead of God saying, “You sit over there in the second-class section”, what happens if He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You know what? You loved Me better than most because you faced some stronger temptations and you overcame them because of your love for Me.” You see, every temptation that you have is an opportunity for you to worship God. It’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate your love for Jesus. It’s an opportunity for you to experience the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit and to proclaim to a watching world that God is faithful and God is able to take us through deep waters and to give us the victory. All of us have to fight against anything that would keep us from becoming what Christ wants to make us. And that’s part of the good fight of faith that we all enter into.
Now, evolution teaches us that man is just biology. And as I said before, if all we are is biology, then sex becomes all-important. About 50 years ago or so we had something called the sexual liberation revolution. Some of you guys are old like me and you can remember those days. The sexual revolution meant that Sigmund Freud was about to get his wish. Because what that did was it cut sex away from all the instruction that God gives us in the Bible, all the restraints that are in the Bible, and it just said—if it feels good, do it. In fact, that was one of the phrases. If it feels good, do it. If something’s natural, how can it not be good? Now, if Sigmund Freud was right and all we are is animals and there’s nothing more real than our feelings and our drives and that it’s unhealthy to repress it and it’s healthy to let it go, then America should have entered into a period of tremendous psychological health and social well-being and cohesion. But in fact, the opposite happened. And why is that? Because a secular evolutionist and Sigmund Freud are not right. They are wrong. And God is right. The Bible is right that we are spiritual beings. We are not animals driven by feelings. That’s not the most real thing. We are spiritual beings created in the image of our Creator and our greatest need is to know Him and to hear His Word and to walk in obedience to that reality. Listen, this is very important because our world is very confused at this point about freedom.
True freedom is not the permission to indulge in sin that will eventually hold you in its powers. True freedom is the power to become what God can make you.
True freedom is not the permission to indulge in sin because that simply leads to bondage. How many of you know that? True freedom is not being told that whatever feels good, I can do it. That leads to slavery. True freedom, rather, is the power to be free from slavery. True freedom is the power to become what God can make you. True freedom is the power to be the person you want to be without being held by the compulsive bondage of anger, fear, sin, lust, whatever. That’s freedom. And I told you, from 18-23 I lived in bondage. Alcoholism and all the other things would have destroyed my life just like they’ll destroy your life. But at age 23, Jesus spoke to my heart and He said, “You follow Me.” And I said, “I will follow You.” And He said, “Who is my disciple but the one who keeps My Word.” So, from that moment I decided that I would live led and directed by His Word rather than my feelings. And my life has changed. I’ve had 40 years of the blessings of God instead of 40 years of the consequences of stupidity and bondage.
…“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Jesus said, “If you follow My teachings, you’ll be free and you’ll grow in freedom. But if you follow your feelings, you won’t be free and you’ll grow in greater slavery.” Now, evolutionary science tells us that we’re just animals who act out of genetic programming which is the reason why everything that the Bible calls sin, junk-science tries to find some genetic reason why that’s what you have to do. But I want to tell you, that’s junk-science. It’s weak science. It never holds up to scrutiny. The Bible says that we are spiritual and moral beings, we’re made in the image of our Creator and we have free will. And once you come to Jesus, then you have the power. It’s one thing to say you have free will but if you’re caught in bondage, you can’t exercise that. But once we come to Jesus, that means that bondage is broken and we truly can exercise free will. We define who we are, then, by our choices and by our actions.
So, let me ask you a question having said all this. I began by asking, “Who am I? What defines that?” So, who am I? I’ll tell you. I know who I am. I’m Linda’s husband because 30 years ago, she and I stood in front of a preacher and I said that I would love, honor and cherish her until death do us part. And so whatever I do and any decision I make, it’s in the context that I am in covenant with this woman called Linda Hoffman. Then, I’m a father. We have three sons. And ever since we brought that first son home from the hospital, every decision that Linda and I have made, everything that we do and don’t do has been put through the grid of what is going to be good for our kids. I’ll tell you somebody else I am. I’m a pastor because 32 years ago, Dave and I established this church. And every day ever since then all the decisions about what I’m going to do, what I’m going to allow myself to do, what I’m going to choose to do, has been in the context of what would be good for Foothills Christian Church. Finally and most importantly, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ because 40 years ago I said, “Yes” to Jesus when He said, “Follow Me.” So, every decision I make, I do in the context of Jesus’ teaching and how I can glorify Him and how I can extend the kingdom of God. So, who am I? I am a result of the decisions and the commitments that I have freely entered into. The promises that I have made. The things that I believe. These define me and how I live.
Listen, you are not pre-programmed. You are not defined by feelings or temptations that you have that you never chose. And maybe you don’t even understand why you have those. Let me ask you a question. If you’re tempted to steal but you never steal, are you a thief? No. You’re not a thief. You’re only a thief if you steal. And if you’re in a situation and you’re very afraid and you very much just want to run away from that situation but you do not, instead you stand and you face it, are you a coward? No. No matter how much fear you felt, you stood and you did the right thing. You’re not a coward. And if you’re tempted by immorality, strongly tempted, continually tempted, and yet for the love of Jesus Christ you choose from that temptation and you choose to lean into God’s strength and do the right thing instead of the wrong thing, are you an immoral person? No. The devil wants to condemn you and say you are what your temptations are. That somehow because you thought of something or you struggled with something that that defines you. But it doesn’t.
Many have traded today feel-ology for theology. Now what is theology? Theology is the study of God. It is the study of His ways. It is the study of His works. It is the study of His Word. Why? So that I can understand the world, how it works, what it means to be a human being and what my place is in the world. That’s why I study theology. Now, feel-ology is the study or the focus on feelings. My feelings. And in feel-ology, nothing is as real as your feelings. There’s no right or wrong. There’s no absolutes. There’s no pattern. There’s no design. There’s no purpose. There’s just feelings. I am what I feel. I can’t be anything other than my feelings. I’m defined by my feelings. Theology says I am what God says I am. I have what God says I have. I can do what God says. Reality and truth is what God says, not what I feel. Theology says I am what God says I am. Truth is what God says.
Now, I want you to go back to how I started this sermon. What if my friend that I started the illustration with… and by the way, I’ve lost track with him. I hope he’s gotten back right with the Lord. For all I know he’s sitting in church somewhere worshipping God and I hope that he is. I just don’t know. But going back to him. What if he had continued to resist some of those temptations and instead had decided to honor his promise to his wife and to his children and to his Savior and to his church friends and all those other people, would that have meant he wasn’t being true to himself? Would that have made him a hypocrite or would that have made him a true disciple? And when he died, would Jesus have said, “You know, you weren’t really true to yourself.” Or would He have said, “Enter into the joy of your master. Well done, good and faithful servant.” Would his children have called him a hypocrite or would they have called him blessed? And again, I don’t really know how it turned out. I hope it turned out great. Just using it as an illustration. What determines who you are? Listen to me. Who gets to name you? Who gets to give you your identity and your name that you carry around and wear? Is it temptations? Is it what somebody did to you in the past and you continue to carry that and that continues to define who you are and what you’re going to do and how you’re going to react and respond? Or are you going to let the Spirit of God and the Word of God define you and give you your existence? And yes, you may struggle with sin but you say, “God has told me I’m dead to sin. I’m dead to you. You don’t define me. You don’t own me. I will not be mastered by you. I’m going to grow in God’s grace.”
I’ll close with this.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creature; the old things passed away; (everything from the past; the shame, the guilt. It’s passed away. It’s power has been broken over you but it gets better. Not only have the old things passed away but…) behold, new things have come.
A new future, a new vision, a new destiny, new possibilities, a new nature, a new power source. Everything is new. Don’t let the devil condemn you and defeat you because he’s able to tempt you because you still struggle as a human being. Jesus Christ died for you as a human being. He loves you as a human being. He knows your struggles and He’s there in them with you to give you a new sense of who you are and to give you a new future. How many of you guys want to give God a clap offering? Because He is a great God and He has provided for us a great salvation.