It’s an old song, but it has become the theme song — at least in principle — of the American spirit and in an ever increasing measure the spirit of the age, “I Gotta Be Me”. Just look around, watch what’s being done, listen to what’s being said. Observe our modern assumed, inherent “right” to do whatever we want — choose whatever lifestyle, whatever gender, whatever morality, whatever. Even in the religious world, some would even take the old invitation, “Just As I Am” as a permissive religious anthem (it is not, by the way) to extol the complete forgiveness of God without repentance, as if to say, God will accept me and save me exactly as I am, no changes required now or ever.
While the world cannot be expected to act any other way — it knows no other way — it is not the life of the genuine Christian. Jesus’ call to discipleship was considerably more rigorous.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” (Matthew 16:24).
This call was not an invitation to be yourself. Notice the conditional particle in this call, “if”. If we wish to follow Jesus, the first condition is to “deny” ourselves. Thayer (an authoritative Greek lexicon) defines “deny” as: “1a) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone 1b) to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests.” There’s nothing in this definition or in Jesus’ command about just being yourself — at all.
But in case we were a little confused about “denial”, Jesus clarifies in even more extreme language, “die”. That’s what taking up one’s cross is about, dying to ourselves, not “self-realization”. The cross at this point in the world’s history was not a symbol of Christianity; it was a tool of death and execution. If you think of a hangman’s noose or a firing squad, you get the picture.
And then there’s the business of “following”, not forging your own path, not doing your own thing. Following. Him.
This is why Paul said,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15)
To put it bluntly, Christianity is not about you just being yourself; its about disowning who you were, dying to that old self; and instead living the mind, words, deeds, and footsteps of Jesus in your present circumstances. It’s about letting the light of Jesus shine in you in your school, business, community, neighborhood, circle of friends, home, bedroom, and even your mind.
Being “me” has been the starting point of many a half-hearted disciple. It is what has been rightly called “cheap discipleship” — a full embrace of grace and forgiveness with only a casual approach to obedience. As a follower of Jesus, it must never be I Gotta Be Me; rather, it must always be I Gotta Be Jesus. It’s not a call to perfection, but it is a call to take discipleship seriously.