Out with the Old
You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse, because people are fooled by the evil things they want to do. But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
I am an extremist—not a perfectionist, an extremist. I don’t necessarily believe that the two go hand-in-hand. Or maybe I’m just an extremist in denial about also being a perfectionist. Seriously though, I manage to take the most basic task and elevate it to an entirely unnecessary and over the top level. That is why my 2018 resolution is to never diet again. If you know me at all, you know my life story has been plagued with digestive issues, landing me in rounds and rounds of outrageous attempts to get them under control.
For an extremist, a diet is like an opportunity to prove to yourself and the world just how terrific you really are—we live for this stuff. I seemed to pick the most ridiculous lifestyles to take on in attempt to be the “new me.”
I couldn’t just eat healthier. I had to start over entirely each and every time that I failed. This usually looked like my being incredibly dramatic when finding out that the dressing I just consumed contained nearly 1% of natural sugars. I would immediately claim that diet as a total fraud and then throw hundreds of dollars worth of food down the drain! That pattern landed my husband and my bank account into ongoing panic. Praise Jesus for Shea’s gentle correction, or we would still be trying to make our way off of Dave Ramsey’s naughty list.
One of the main problems with being an extremist is that it doesn’t just apply to one area of your life—it applies to all of them.
When Shea and I first got engaged, I decided to throw out nearly every piece of clothing that I owned to highlight the newness of my ring bling. It was shiny and new, so I had to be shiny and new. All of about 24 hours after making that decision, my car was packed to the brim, and I was on my way to Goodwill. Immediately after donating, I headed to my favorite boutique in town to be brutally awoken to the reality that my dream closet was nowhere in my price range. I headed home empty-handed to an empty closet.
I imagine this is much like how it feels when our souls encounter Jesus for the first time or maybe even hundredth.
We want each and every ounce of our person to radically transform instantaneously. But our person, just like my wardrobe, can’t be tossed out all at once or else we will be stranded buck naked with nothing to wear. When Paul challenges us to put off our former selves, the text implies that something still exists to put the new selves onto. We still remain present in the transition of old to new, but for an extremist, that truth sounds crippling.
For so long, I attached myself to my ability to be new.
When dieting, I couldn’t seem to exist in the process of becoming healthy. I had to just switch from unhealthy to healthy or else I was a failure. But each time I threw a diet out, a little part of me went with it. Over time, I lost myself altogether, and not in the way Paul is referring to. When we meet Jesus, we don’t just automatically switch from bad to good. In fact, that line of thinking is completely contradictory to what the Gospel is all about.
Grace. The Gospel is about grace.
It is standing in the refining of God’s grace and choosing to push our former selves (our sinful tendencies) away when they fight against our attempts of becoming more like Jesus. Sometimes they win. That’s when being an extremist ruins me. Because each time I fail, I claim that failure as my identity. Every time that a diet didn’t work, I let that failure dictate my worth as a person. I would intentionally eat like a failure, going out of my way to find the most damaging choices to my body because that was just who I was supposed to be. Do you want to know the most amazing truth?
I was right in believing that, because we are supposed to fail.
We were made to live in perfect union with the Father. Sin corrupted our destinies, and we were born with a nature that goes against God. If we place a relationship with God on the same level as perfectionism, failure becomes our only option. We can then feel justified living in our former selves, because our new selves seem unrealistic. That is the same mentality I took on for my health. I was fighting the wrong battle. I was fighting to prove my ability to remake myself, but that was never my job.
It isn’t our job to make ourselves new. It is our job to act like we’re new.
I kept chaining myself to my failures instead of challenging myself with the ongoing process. The fact that I even choose to pursue health makes me healthy. That is because my choices then shift from my body’s wants to my body’s needs. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that my body needs a good cup of fro yo, but it does mean that I need to recognize that health isn’t a destination, it is an ongoing transformation.
Similarly, our relationship with Christ is an ongoing transformation.
When we claim newness in Jesus, we are remade. We just have to choose to live like it. The minute we slip up, we must claim our newness in Christ by pressing forward not running backwards.
The best part? There are pieces of our person that God will redeem in His newness of our lives. That means that we can’t just throw ourselves out altogether, because some of our parts are necessary to God’s bigger plan. That unlocks a freedom to surrendering that we think we have to transform all at once.
To my fellow extremists, this freedom may not sound like much of a relief. Knowing that we can’t be known by how radical we’ve changed in an instant makes our efforts seem pointless. I challenge you, like God challenged me, to shift from what your person wants to what your person needs. We need Jesus. We also need to live in the freedom that our efforts aren’t what establish our newness in Him.
That reality allows our hearts to focus on His glory and not on our own. It also gives us safety in knowing that we can’t lose our newness or mess it up when we have a bad day.
So in 2018, my goal is to lay down my extremist tendencies—in health and in my relationship with Christ.
I no longer want to tie my identity to my own mini-makeovers, because the truth is that they are never as satisfying as I think they will be. My wardrobe is still changing to this day, but I have realized that part of that is because of my own evolving as a human. Some changes will surprise you, and that is a good thing. But just because I suddenly like oatmeal doesn’t mean I need to eat it for every meal.
Enjoy the process friends! We are made new in Him.