The campaign to be your best self is gaining momentum. It’s established by psychology and human development studies, then made fashionable by culture. Like any form of self-help, becoming the best version of yourself demands that you call to action the long-dormant, inner and secret motivation you have to conquer addictions, break bad habits, get out of debt, or retire at the ripe age of 38.
A how-to article by Scott Barry Kaufman from the HuffPost blog describes your best self as someone who lives “a life rich in health, growth, and happiness.” Melissa Camara Wilkins writes that to be your best self you draw from your strengths, do things that make you happy, and act in ways that feel right.
The “best self” conversation is leaking into the church now with all its secular antidotes and methods. Acquaintances and friends need to be vigorously censored for our approval. Food can only be consumed if it is clean. Lifestyles should be enjoyable but Eco-friendly. Habits and hobbies must bolster us toward self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is the conviction to serve something other than or beyond ourselves. This is the objective. This is the outcome of setting and achieving goals to be productive, successful, and confident in today’s society. This is idolatry.
To attribute your best self to having good health, edifying relationships, or a positive goal-setting strategy, is just not true. It’s not that your best self is some exalted, Utopian ambition. Instead, it’s just not a real thing. You see, the Bible only ever describes two types of selves: the old and the new (or the dead and the living). Romans 1 depicts the brutal truth of what it looks like when men act in ways that feel right to their depraved selves. They are not productive, successful, confident or pretty. They are dead and unable to do anything right, which renders any self-improvement attempts totally futile.
In contrast, Ephesians 2 presents those saved by Jesus Christ. They are alive, redeemed, and made new. This being made new is not a matter of the old self being improved with a Bible DIY class. The old self is fully consumed, and in its place stands a brand new creation. The Apostle Paul says this new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4).
Self-improvement’s lure is strong, but resistance is vital. Compliance means conformity to the image of the world and their standard of better and best. The Bible has no “better/best self” footnote, cross reference, or concordance entry. There is simply the old and the new man. If there is one likeness you ought to detest and avoid, it is yours—full of wickedness and sin. Any attempts at your best self will never be good enough. Only God can give flesh and life to dry bones.
So for the Christian who has fallen prey to this worldview, you can blacklist whomever you decide you must, double the amount of kale in your smoothies, and balance all your needs and goals like a trapeze artist on the high wire. It will be useless because Christ (and only Christ) can make you new and set you free. Submitting and conforming to Jesus Christ means dying to self. The work of God’s grace in your life and the fruit of the Spirit will yield your best self. Why? Because you will be nothing like yourself. You will be more like Jesus.