If you’ve been around Christian Internet in the last few years, you’ve seen talk of the Enneagram. It’s another in a plethora of personality profiles and diagnoses to help us better understand who we are and why we are the way we are. On the Enneagram, I’m a 7. I think? Real fans of the Enneagram will tell you there is no test for it, so it’s an evolving understanding, but we’ll go with 7. I know for sure I am an ENFP, and a High I. And probably a badger or otter or blue and yellow, whatever all of those other tests have told me over the years. I know this because I am the type that starts things with full gusto and never finishes. I’m the one who tries to get the whole group to agree, the one who wants to throw a party, but can’t remember to buy the cake or send out the invitations.
I don’t put a ton of stock in personality profiles, but I enjoy looking at them, I like using them to understand how I tick, and what makes others tick and what matters to them. I also have a hard time with the folks who want to tell you they’re witchcraft and sorcery or whatever. (Speaking of which, I am a Slytherin through and through!) There is nothing wrong with any of the tests, profiles, or ideas, at their core. The issue comes, when Christians find themselves stuck in a pattern, or a life, that isn’t the one that Christ has called them to live. When Jesus calls us to him, he calls us to come and die to our old self, and be renewed.
It seems most expedient to just say “oh well, that’s just who I am,” because our flaws by definition, are weaknesses. Not to mention, there are positives to understanding the way God has wired us, and they help us be the best version of ourselves, and who he created us to be. The problem comes, when “that’s just who I am,” or “that’s just the way I am wired,” becomes and excuse for weaknesses, or worse, sin. When we hurt others because we won’t try to grow and mature. As followers, to pursue that transformation that the Gospel offers. The growth and maturity that comes from regularly drawing closer to Jesus.
One time, I was being shouted at by a leader in the church I served at the time as pastor. We were having a heated discussion, and I was trying to explain why other people found his behavior unacceptable. He finally boomed back at me, “This is just the way I am!” And I said, “Then I guess my work here is done.” And he looked at me sideways. I tried to explain to him that if we are following Jesus, the Gospel is constantly changing us, that discipleship isn’t a one time transformation, but a constant drive to draw closer to, and be more like Jesus. In this case, I was trying to, gently, address an issue that had come up, and the friend I was trying to correct was not interested, because this issue was and always had been there. In a sense, he just sloughed off the challenge for growth, and said, “this is who I am.”
I don’t know his enneagram or his Meyers-briggs. But I can still say, with 100% confidence, that he didn’t have to remain that way. That Jesus came, and died, not so that he would fall into the same patterns, or that he would keep on failing. But so that he could grow, and ultimately become more like Jesus. The apostle Paul, a guy who knows a few things about leaving behind who you used to be, (ya know, that whole Killing Christians part of his life isn’t something he was terribly proud of…) puts it this way in Romans 8: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” He knows that who he was can define him. But, because of Jesus, he has the opportunity at being made new.
A guy like Paul, you have to imagine, who was going from town to town breathing murderous threats, has an anger issue. In fact, you could even say you see some of that energy seething out in the letters he writes to the various churches. However. As he continually writes about being transformed, and being renewed, he doesn’t say, “That’s the way you are.” He continually pushes and challenges his hearers to be transformed, to be renewed, to push and to grow (Romans 12, Titus 3). You can even see his own growth in the anger department, as he peacefully and passively accepts the arrest and imprisonment thrust on him, even though he is innocent, and his patience as he attempts to make an appeal to Caesar.
And, it’s not just once. It’s a day by day, regular renewal. Part of growth and maturity is continuing to grow, not just calling it a day. There is no moment in our life in Christ that we have “peaked” or matured. The simple fact of the matter is, regularly we have to continue to climb the mountain of faith. There are days when we fall, days when we regress, but, for us to continue living for Jesus, we can’t say, “Well that’s just the way I am.” We must dust ourselves off, and try again the next day. In the words of Paul, we are being renewed, day by day.
This is the beauty of following Jesus. My weaknesses, my flaws, my inherent problems, don’t have to be the things that define me, and they don’t have to remain my weaknesses forever. Through the power and transformative nature of following Jesus, I can say, “that is who I used to be, but thanks to Jesus, that is me no longer.” That’s the hope of the Gospel. Not just that we left our life before Jesus behind, but that every day, we are being transformed by his power, love and mercy.