One thing God is giving me to help me see myself as he does is the emphasis on us being like ourselves. By “ourselves”, I don’t mean who we are in our natural selves, what God calls “the flesh”, but who we are in our salvation, the new creatures God has made us.
When we look at things from the standpoint of whether we are being ourselves, instead of using the law like a measure of whether we are good or bad children, the focus is on our identity, whether we are acting like the people we are in Christ.
On one side, this makes it easier to look at how we are doing. It isn’t legalistic. It isn’t judgmental. There is no room for favoritism or partiality because we don’t measure ourselves by externals. Instead, it is relational. Are we being ourselves? Are we acting like ourselves? Are the things we see happening in relationships in our churches the things that express our identity in Christ? These are fairly easy yes-or-no answers, so it is fairly simple to differentiate between when we are acting like ourselves and when we are not.
On the other side, this easier way of understanding how we are doing makes it more difficult to self-justify things we are doing wrong. When it is just who is right and who is wrong, it is easy to argue with our relational circuits off. We can make our law-based lists of who did what, probably with a bias that makes ourselves look better than others, and then justify why being non-relational towards someone is a good thing for us good boys and girls to do since they are being bad and deserve what they get.
However, when the standard is whether we are acting like ourselves, and the, “ourselves” is who we are in Christ, and the measure of what we are doing is what Jesus is doing, it is WAY MORE difficult to think that we are doing the right thing. How can we tell ourselves we are better than others when the thing staring us in the face is that we are not like Jesus?
So, here’s a good question: what is it about Jesus that God is focusing on to help me see how he wants me to learn to be myself by learning to be like him?
Because God’s aim is to make me like his Son, and his preferred modus operandi is the Beatitudinal Valley, we can always expect God to personally show us areas of improvement in ourselves alongside things about Jesus he is presently working into our lives. The more we fix our eyes on him, the more we become like him.
How does this apply to me?
First, there is a general way in which agapè love seems to be this program running in the background that applies to everything else, always testing whether agapè-love is in operation. I cannot escape the fact that without agapè, I am nothing. Reading Paul’s description of love in I Corinthians 13 shows us what it looks like to be ourselves because that is what Jesus is like. This makes it fairly simple to know when we are not being ourselves because we only need to ask ourselves, “Am I being patient and kind, rejoicing with the truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things, or am I envying others, boasting in myself, acting arrogant or rude, insisting on my own way, and/or being irritable or resentful?”
Secondly, corresponding to this focus on agapè-love is Jesus’ clarification that, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” As Jesus does nothing apart from the Father, I am like him in needing to do nothing apart from Jesus. When I operate independently, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong in externals, it means nothing because I am not attached to Christ in the activity. Until my independence (relational circuit off, dependence on self-protection) is crucified, I cannot act like myself, and am hurting others no matter how I self-justify my actions.
Thirdly, I always aim to look for the most specific things God is teaching me, what he is doing in me with those teachings, and how I am to join him in his work in those ways. At the moment, this has included a focus on this Scripture:
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Through this, there is one characteristic of being myself I cannot escape; it is called, mercy. To understand how mercy makes me who I am now, I also need to acknowledge that “disobedience” was just as much a characteristic of being myself in the past. I acted disobediently because I was disobedient. As Paul wrote it, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” When that was who I was, that is how I acted.
Because every human being has that exact same identity of disobedience, when anyone is in Christ their new identity is characterized by mercy. No one is saved by works; anyone who is saved is the recipient of abundant mercy.
This is why, when Jesus taught the Beatitudes, he first gave four realities that demonstrate our need of the blessing of mercy. He then followed this with the fifth Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful…” because those who truly receive his mercy become merciful people like him. Mercy is a chief quality of those who have received mercy, and it keeps us attached to God with our continuing need to experience mercy every day of our lives.
When I put this all together into a very personal description of the activity of God, I know he is addressing things in me that are not like Jesus (things like bitterness, irritability, and resentment). At the same time, he is calling me to abide in Jesus like a branch attached to its vine so that I become more like him every day. He calls me to know him in his agapè-love so I can agapè-love others as he agape-loves me. And he calls me to know his mercy towards a disobedient child like myself so I can be the merciful who is like him in the mercy I show to others.
To really grow in this, we must be completely honest with Father about how we are doing, admitting to whatever is not like Jesus in how we are relating to anyone, and letting ourselves hunger and thirst for the impossible work of God to make us like Jesus more today than ever before. This will always show us real and personal things God is working on and build our attachment to God as we join him in his work.
The result is that everyone in our lives gets a better version of ourselves to deal with since we have become a little more like our Savior today (“from one degree of glory to another”). And, the good works that come out of us being who we are in Christ will shine like a city on a hill so that others “may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”, just as Jesus promised would happen when we are like him.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)
 I am indebted to Jim Wilder for this focus on thinking out of our identity rather than our behavior. Behavior follows whichever identity we live in.
 Galatians 5 gives a good contrast between the flesh and the Spirit. The New Testament is full of this contrast.
 II Corinthians 5:17 says we are “a new creation”. Jesus said we had to be “born again” to make us this new creation (John 3:1-21 particularly vss 3-8). God told Ezekiel that he would one day “give you a new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26), and Paul described it as putting off our old selves, renewing our minds, and putting on “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
 The way the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 affect us as God leads us through them both in salvation and in daily transformation.
 I Corinthians 13:1-3 explains that doing things without agapè-love is like a child clanging a toy to the point of utter irritation (vs 1). It means, “I am nothing” (vs 2), and, “I gain nothing” (vs 3).
 The same is true of Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-24 (“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control”), followed by a summary of the positive, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs 25), and the negative, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (vs 26).
 I Corinthians 13:4-7 reveals what love looks like and what it does not look like so that it is fairly easy to know whether we are acting like ourselves. I Corinthians 13:8-13 shows the supremacy of agapè-love over spiritual gifts (even though Paul taught us to use all the spiritual gifts to this day).
 John 15:5
 Romans 11:30-32
 Titus 3:3
 Matthew 5:1-12
 II Corinthians 3:18
 Matthew 5:16