By Dr. Henry Cloud
When the real self comes into relationship with God and others, an incredible dynamic is set into motion: we grow as God created us to grow. It is only when you are connected to the Head (Jesus Christ) and connected to others (the Body) that "the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow" (Col. 2:19). A coming together of grace and truth in Jesus Christ is our only hope, and indeed it is a hope that does not disappoint.
Jake, a friend of mine and a recovering alcoholic, put it this way: "When I was in church or with my Christian friends, they would just tell me that drinking was wrong and that I should repent. They didn't know how many times I had tried quitting, how many times I had tried to be a good Christian.
"When I got into Alcoholics Anonymous, I found that I could be honest about my failures, but more important, I could be honest about my helplessness. When I found out that God and others accepted me in both my drinking and my helplessness to control it, I began to have hope. I could come forth with who I really was and find help.
"As much as the church preached grace, I never really found acceptance there for my real state. They always expected me to change. In my AA group, not only did they not expect me to change, they told me that, by myself, I could not change! They told me that all I could do was confess who I truly was, an alcoholic, and that God could change me along with their daily support. Finally, I could be honest, and I could find friends. That was totally different, and it changed my life."
Jake found that when he could be himself in relationship with God and others, healing was possible. Problems occur when the real self, the one God created, is hiding from God and others. If the true self is in hiding, the false self takes over. The false self is the self that is conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2). The false self is the self we present to others, the false front, if you will, that we put up for others to see. Paul speaks of the false self this way:
"That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body." (Ephesians 4:20-25)
As long as the lying, false self is the one relating to God, others, and ourselves, then grace and truth cannot heal us. The false self tries to "heal" us by its own methods; it always finds false solutions, and the real self that God created to grow into his image stays hidden and unexposed to grace and truth.
Grace and truth are a healing combination because they deal with one of the main barriers to all growth: guilt. We have emotional difficulties because we have been injured (someone has sinned against us) or we have rebelled (we have sinned) or some combination of the two. As a result of this lack of love or lack of obedience, we are hidden in a world of guilt. We saw earlier that Adam and Eve had to hide themselves because of the guilt and shame of their sin, and also because of what they had become (less than perfect).
Guilt and shame too often send us into hiding. If we have to hide, we cannot get help for our needs and brokenness; we cannot become "poor in Spirit," and therefore be blessed. When grace comes along and says that we are not condemned for who we truly are, then guilt can begin to be resolved, and we can begin to heal.
Sometimes the church reinforces our inclination to hide. My friend Jake found an end to his hiding only after he joined an AA group. When he came into a culture where he did not have to be ashamed of his failures and was forgiven for his sins, then truth and grace began to have their effect in his life.
It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA group. In this kind of church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In the former setting, people look better but get worse, and in the latter, they look worse but get better. Certainly there are good churches and poor AA groups, but because of a lack of grace and truth in some churches, Christians have had to go elsewhere to find healing.
It is only in a combination of grace and truth that the real Jesus is present. It is only when the real Jesus is present that we can begin to grow into the image of our Creator.
Adapted from Changes That Heal: Four Practical Steps to a Happier, Healthier You by Dr. Henry Cloud. Click here to learn more about this life-changing book and here to read a sample.