I recently took a course that was essentially about the acceptance of the authentic self. Predictably, the course rotated around the individual. It placed “me” at the centre of everything. This made me think of the present day obsession with the self, fuelled by the question: Who am I? The authentic self, with its endless calls for self-expression is celebrated in the western world, even Ethiopia. With the rise of social media, people zealously “speak their minds,” often without thinking. Emotions reign and appeals to any objective truth are suspicious. The so-called authentic self is thus unassailable and unaccountable. Every individual is an authority.
The authentic self is unaccountable. Every individual is an authority.
I fear that the point we’ve arrived at, together with the process we took to get there, has lost sight of what it means to be human. For example, one serious flaw of this emphasis on the authentic self is that it doesn’t have an objective standard to measure meaning or value. Secondly, it does not accept the true man, Jesus Christ, since it revolves exclusively around the self. The purpose of this article is to tackle that grand question: Who am I? But the answer isn’t found where the world insists we look, inside of ourselves.
The Authentic Self versus the Image of God
First of all, let’s bring up the often cited “image of God”. What does bearing the image of God mean? God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). In the Ancient Near East, a king would leave his image (or statue) in a town he’d conquered. Thus God made us in his image to be his representatives, ruling and tending over the earth as representatives of our God (Genesis 1:28).
The image remains, albeit distorted. This is essential to any true understanding of the human person.
Although God created man and woman in his image, we read in Genesis 3 how Adam and Eve fell into sin, failing to truly reflect the image of God. The fall has to some degree marred the image of God in us. However, the image was not lost or entirely forfeited. We know this because of Genesis 9:6, where God commanded Noah and his children that they are not to kill human beings, since they are created in his image. Thus the image of God remains, albeit distorted, even after the fall. This is essential to any true understanding of the human person, or authentic self.
We Rediscover Our Authentic Self in Christ
Psalm 8:5-8 unpacks the image of God and fills out our understanding. Those verses show that man is created to be the ruler of the earth. And as we look further ahead in the Bible, Hebrews 2:5-8 associates this verse with Christ. But this high view of man in Hebrews 2 is not limited to Christ but also extended to believers—to those joined to and following after Christ in faith. Thus we become truly human through nothing less than salvation in Christ. Therefore, the question, “who am I?” is answered in Christ. He is the true human working to restore fallen humanity. You will only realise your authentic self, if you recognise your need for Christ.
As We Grow in Christ We Express Our True Self
How can we reflect the image of God? The answer is this: becoming like Christ. Let’s take two points from Paul to see how we could do this, from Ephesians 4:23-24 and Colossians 3:9-10.
In Ephesians 4:23-24, Paul commands us “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”. We can take “the likeness of God” to mean the image of God. Here then, building on Genesis 1, the likeness or image of God means righteousness and holiness. Christ is the perfectly righteous and holy man. By living in a holy manner, we resemble Christ, and truly reflect the image of God.
There is no authentic self unless it is shaped by God’s truth.
Second, let us look at Colossians 3:9-10. Here, Paul writes, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator”. Paul is comparing true knowledge with falsehood. He is saying that the image of God means being formed by knowledge that expresses itself in truth-telling and faithfulness. It means speaking the truth and submitting to it. There is no authentic self unless it is shaped by God’s truth. We are not free to create ourselves but must submit to our Creator.
The Truest Person Who Ever Lived
The image of God refers to righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image”.
We must be increasingly devoted to resembling Christ, the true human.
Therefore, being like Christ means actively resembling him in holiness, righteousness, and knowledge. Our faith must penetrate into our lives beyond prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. Although these are important, they ultimately take up very little of our time. We must be increasingly devoted to resembling Christ, the true human, in every area of our lives. This will almost certainly result in suffering. Far removed from serving ourselves, imitating Christ will entail suffering with him through loving others. It means being rejected. However, it also means hope. A hope that is beyond our wildest imagination.
Lose Yourself to Find the Authentic Self
Our world doesn’t entertain such knowledge, righteousness and holiness. They don’t have the desire to bear the image of God by faithfully following after Christ and imitating him. Their lives revolve around themselves, not the truest person who ever lived. Modern mantras insist that you affirm yourself, regardless of how much sin is involved. Cries for the authentic self reject any intrinsic value in human beings and insist solely on individually determined meaning.
God teaches us that we will find our authentic self by losing ourselves in Christ.
But in Christ we find our true and authentic selves. As Paul writes: we are being restored to our original design—to holiness, righteousness, and perfect understanding or knowledge, to reign with Jesus as stewards of this world. Oddly enough, to conclude, God teaches us that we will find our authentic self by losing ourselves in Christ.