Monday, April 4, 2011

“Personality”: Whoever Loses His life Will Find It

Personality is Real
     There is without question in American sentiment the search for “who we are”.  I do not intend in this blog to combat the fundamental desire to understand the specifics of one’s propensities, affinities, and gifts, nor the existence of such fundamental distinctions between individuals.  Though it is not the purpose of this blog post, I sincerely believe that people are unique, that there are certain qualities of a person that define them in a deep and even eternal way.  I would argue, again though it is not the point of this blog, to say that the new creation each Christian becomes is itself unique, not simply a perfect copy of Jesus, annihilating the existence of a distinct self.  Discovering this self-awareness through interaction with Jesus/God and their biblically-given understanding is of substantial importance, yet what I wish to present here is a reasoned antipathy against the usual process of discovering who one is uniquely and the way such discovered definitions then operate in a person’s life.

People are Naturally Evil
     To do so, we must understand a basic biblical reality that in and of itself could take books to disclose: Human beings are by nature relationally against God in fundamental ways.  They begin in the place to which Adam and Eve fled: hiding from God, not knowing His true character, blaming one another, self-protective, self-justifying, self-focused, and selfish. This does not mean that I am saying there is nothing good inside human beings when they are born, for this too is not biblical, though some would surely say otherwise.  Regardless of where one is on the spectrum of whether human beings are entirely evil or simply naturally evil though with good inside them trying to lead them to God, there are no biblical scholars or theological thinkers worth truly considering who do not believe that evil motivation plagues human behavior, emotions, thoughts, and desires from the moment they are conceived.  In fact, this is one of the few points where most modern sociology/science agrees with Christianity. 

     I could attempt to quote fifty verses at this point to attempt to further illustrate for us all the Biblicity of human beings being fundamentally motivated by opposition to God and others, but that is not the primary role of this blog.  If you struggle with understanding this, send me an email and we can talk about those 50 passages.  But for now, let’s simply stay with the understanding without taking lots of time to prove it.  So, given that human beings are prone to sin naturally—even though they, at least in my opinion, have good inside them and are not initially fully hardened—the question must be asked: why would we ever believe that definitional dimensions of our character are motivated naturally and initially by righteousness?  When I know that my natural propensity is against God, other human beings, and even truthfully, against myself, why would I believe that any desire is truly good until it has been granted to me in interaction with the Holy Spirit and truth of God? 

So Why Believe that Natural Personality Stems from Wholeness?
     Why is it that when a 20-year-old has a strong propensity to analyze every situation, that we assume her personality is analytical and relegate her to a certain position in group function and relationships?   What if she is so analytical because her emotions terrified her earlier in her life and she ran from them self-protectively, sinfully (though understandably), instead of running to God in freeing trust to experience their healthy catharsis and flow?  What if her analytical propensities are actually harmful to her interaction with herself, with God, and with others because they are actually an expression of a terrified person trying to exert control desperately over her situation, in a way so fragile that she is snappy and cold, closed off, and anti-social?  Why do we codify her into such a ‘personality-group’ just because we see it on her? 

     Now it may be that in her true personality (which is however God defines her), she actually has a particularly brilliant and wonderful mind.  But if this is the truth about her, it should be arrived at after that mental propensity in her has been profoundly tested and refined to show that it can stand and exist motivated and held up by righteous things (by right relationship with God and others).  This is the assumption I have for everything in my life and this is a biblical standard I encourage anyone to take: any defining quality you have is probably motivated by sin until it has been refined by God in an obvious way.  Therefore, don’t justify it by calling it your personality until it has gone through such refinement.  Then, you can see if it can even mildly stand without sinful motivations.  If it does, if it can stand motivated by love of God, fear of God, love of people, and love of self, then you can begin to see personality unveiled. 

The Pattern of Scripture: Death to Life
     A primary theme of the Scriptures is that nothing is glorified until it suffers and dies, portrayed even in the life of Jesus or in the story of the people of Israel.  Gold and silver increases in quality as it is refined by fire and this is one of the ways our development is defined (1 Pet. 1:7).  Jesus, concerning both His own death and resurrection and concerning the general path of His disciples to lose their lives in order to find them, says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The reality of this verse follows in general with the process of death that leads to resurrection and glorification throughout the whole of Scripture.  I believe personality or true self functions in the same manner.  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless that personality falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (when it is resurrected). 

     So, what am I referring to specifically?  If that propensity to love being around people doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that intuitive ability to understand people doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that organizational ability to manage your life doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that affinity for being alone doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that love of really ‘macho things’ doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that system of values does not fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that analytical mind doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If those sappy emotions don’t fall into the ground and die, they will not bear much fruit.  If that tendency to be nice to people all the time doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that day-dreaming of your future family doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that vision of great impact doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that tendency to boldly speak the truth doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit.  If that propensity to take care of yourself doesn’t fall into the ground and die, it will not bear much fruit. This paragraph could go on for a long time, but you understand what kinds of things I am talking about. 

Don’t Prematurely Define
     So what am I particularly encouraging you to do?  What does it look like to let these things fall into the ground and die that they may sprout up bearing fruit (or sometimes never sprout up again, though usually this is not true)?  Well, the first thing it looks like is not defining yourself or others by them in a way that prevents them from ever “falling into the ground and dying”.  If you want to give yourself “a personality”, let it be your current personality or your behavioral definitions.  Don’t say, “Well, I AM an INTJ ” as though this defines your eternal nature.  Say, “Currently, I am an INTJ or I’m acting like an INTJ or my behavior lines up with INTJ”.  Save the “I am…” statements or the “you are…” statements for times when God has spoken and qualities have gone through fire.  In order to see personality traits “fall into the ground and die”, we must let them fall.  We must release the self-protective controls of our premature definitions of ourselves and others, the boxing that narrows and limits the movement of God in our lives and theirs.

     But this is difficult to do because of how greatly we vest false security into the premature personality distinctions.  But oh, how destructive this is. For instance, when a person has a propensity to be very social but becomes very uncomfortable with being alone, instead of dealing with what is wrong between them and God that makes them sinfully anxious, fearful, or bored when alone, that person will just call it a personality trait.  Instead of facing difficult sin in their heart, mind, and desires, they “personality”-it.  So let’s talk about the ways we do this.

     One usual mechanism is when a person hates that they lack certain qualities, they deal with this insecurity by saying that their personality does not possess that quality instead of through interaction with God. This involves one of two things.  If the lacking of the personality trait has nothing to do with sin in their lives, then they should find security through how God views them, that He loves them as they are with that personality or even further, that He love them no matter how they act. But instead of experiencing this interaction with God, they employ the false security of personality distinctions (and often then become quite protective of them).  This robs them of true affirmation from God.  On the other side, if the lack of the quality is related to sin, then the person should never put it in personality at all.  They should explore with God why they lack that quality.  Saying it is “just their personality” robs them from fullness.
     Let me give some examples.  Let’s say a person truly is a more sanguine individual, but others criticize them for their loudness and funness.  They should find their security of their personality in seeing God look at that quality and say, “I love this about you!”, not in some personality test that justifies their existence in the spectrum of humanity.  In the second category, let’s say a person acts very sanguine and is afraid of being alone; much of their overly-social, talkative behavior actually stems from an evasion of the pain they feel inside and is actually seeking pointedly to avoid interaction with God, which is a part of why they feel so scared being alone.  This individual should not cover their sin propensity by defining themselves as a “talkative person”; rather they should allow the Holy Spirit to take them through transformation of their talkativeness.  Remember again, that our leaning is to believe that all behavior is motivated by evil until it has fallen into the ground and died.

     Another function of false security through personality distinction that is actually quite destructive to relationships is when someone defines their personality as lacking a quality they actually desire and are made to possess.  Someone who struggles with being analytical decides they are not a thinker but just a feeler.  Someone who struggles with being social decides that they are the quiet type that doesn’t really interact with others.  They then decide that others are the ones who have these qualities.  Others are the ones with the analytical minds and others are the ones with good social skills.  Oh, the amount of hatred that flows towards self and others (and God) when these kinds of things are established!  Often people are torn inside over “lacking this quality”.  They hate that they can’t relate to others as well or that they can’t think as clearly or observationally.  There are so many emotions of self-hate concealed in the “personality distinction” and there then flows so much envious hatred of others who “are that personality” and then at God for making it all so. Oh, this is not to be dealt with via surrender to premature personality distinction discovered through angry observation or personality exams.  This is to be dealt with through prayer and the Word of God.  This is to be dealt with by talking to Jesus about the quality you lack and seeing what He says about it.  Does He say that it’s okay that it isn’t there and why does He say that?  Or does He say that He actually has that trait for you but it is not there for such and such reasons?  So much relational hate is actually locked into people by these personality distinctions that are “meant to help people.”

     Lastly, it is common for people to deal with problems they have with other people through personality distinctions. This makes life easier in a false way.  Instead of receiving the call to actually love and like everybody (as God does), instead of receiving the call to live in deep harmony with those around us, instead of acknowledging that disunity and discord stems from breaks in individual’s relationships with God (often our own), we justify difficult interaction or problems with personality distinction. This robs everyone involved of growth in God through a false oversimplification. The reason I don’t like a person with a playful spirit is not “just because I am a serious person”.  It is because of something wrong with me, something God and I need to talk about.  The reason I find myself in conflict with a person who is detail-oriented is not “just because he is choleric and I’m sanguine”, but because of issues with my heart that God wants to touch and bring freedom in.  Often, it works the other way too, where God wants to bring transformation to the other person.  But we don’t want to deal with the pain of true conflict, so we oversimplify it through personality distinctions, which then suspends the conflict within a system that justifies it, conveniently leaving us with a situation that doesn’t require anyone to change. 

What It Falling into the Ground Looks Like
     So, this is what we are not supposed to do with observations of our own character, propensities, or gifts.  We are not to prematurely define ourselves.  But what does it look like after we sign up to not prematurely define ourselves and others.  What does it look like once we are determined to let ourselves and others “personalities” go through testing and the speaking of God?  When and how can we actually define our own personality?   I will say one thing about definition first.  It is far safer to define yourself as something you are than as something you are not.  I would almost never encourage someone to do the latter.  As for the transformation itself, it is hard, but God-led.  View yourself as changeable, often motivated by sin, and beautifully in need of transformation, and then let God do it. What this looks like is very relational with God, is a beautiful process of interaction with Him and His Veracities. I am not encouraging you to suddenly become self-destructively introspective and analyze every quality you can think of, to see if it is motivated well or not.  Do not finish reading this and then question every move you ever make, assuming that it is motivated by horrific sin and then determined to change it by  your own zeal-powered temporary desperation. No, give yourself to a paradigm that does not pre-define yourself or others and be extremely open to God pointing out very regular behaviors and propensities.  Listen to His voice and take the counsel of others.  Be prepared to change in large ways.  This will involve God talking to you and you talking to Him.  It will involve sin being made evident in your heart in uncomfortable ways.  It will involve you actually changing, regularly. Let me give you some examples of what this might look like.

     In my own life, what this looks like is, very regularly, God reveals a way that I do not truly know Him, often through interaction with others.  Maybe I kind of understood the truth about Him mentally or maybe not.  But He shows me that I don’t really know Him in that way, and I see how this lacking pans out in my regular human interaction (personality).  Again, it might be a trait that is good but is motivated poorly or it might be something that is completely not supposed to be there.  For instance, I am a person who is very prone to exhorting others.  I will chase people down. I won’t let them just run off and hurt themselves, sitting in a room in self-debasing sorrow.  This is something in my life that has gone through much refinement already, and yet about a year ago, there was an interaction with some of my close friends who were sinning (meaning manifesting emotions, thoughts, and behaviors contrary to right relationship with God and others) and I felt all this fear come up in myself.  I could feel myself wanting to exhort them out of this fear, to make the sin I was afraid of go away.  God showed me ways that my strong propensity to exhort people was being motivated by negative things.  This began a process of Him refining this behavior in me that truthfully has been going since then, with focal point after focal point being highlighted.  Another example was my propensity to “forgive” people really quickly without anger, something I had worked on for years.  This was well-known by my friends, and yet one week, God showed me so clearly that this was largely related to self-abusive propensities that were actually quite unloving to everyone involved.  I had to get an entire overhaul on what it meant to forgive people, which involved a period of two months of great difficulty in relating to people when they sinned against me.  These kinds of things should happen regularly in our lives, where God reveals to us elements of our heart and mind that are actually contrary to Him but are operating quite regularly in our interaction with ours.  And then we go on a journey with Him in letting Him change our insides.  Often it involves temporary behavioral modifications.

     As shown by these examples, this isn’t necessarily a matter of years of refinement. When something is refined several times and begins to stand with healthy motivation, we can begin to identify it as a part of who we are.  However, even those things can still have more refinement in the future.  But I am rather certain, after six years of doing this, that over time, enough seeds will fall into the ground, die, and come up bearing fruit.  And over time, a true shape will form that is good.  Yet even still, may it change still more and more well into the end of my life!

     So that is with respect to interaction with self.  With respect to interaction with others, I have these final encouragements.  Don’t use personality as an excuse for why you are having issues with other people.  Let your assumption be that there is something going on between you and God or between them and God.  This is the biblical understanding of conflict, not personality. If you disagree, then I challenge you to find one place in the Scriptures where people disagree on something and someone says anything like, “Well, it’s just because I am an INFP an you are an INTJ” or “I’m the prophetic type and you’re the teacher type”.  In contrast, you see over and over again that conflict is dealt with relationally, focused on God.

     Also, when we are around someone, temporarily or as a close friend, don’t only be very slow to label them, but seek the Holy Spirit in giving them definition in the right direction.  For instance, instead of dealing with the very analytical person by saying, “Well, he is very analytical and I will just deal with him around that”, ask the Lord, “Holy Spirit, who is this person?  What do You say about them?”  Maybe God will shock you.  There is an incredible experience I recently had at a church service.  There were people on stage who were giving testimonies about how God had moved in their lives recently ; in this instance, I believe it involved physical healing.  There was a line of about three of them on stage, and one of those was this girl wearing a grey skirt and glasses, with kind of raggedy brown hair, looking mildly nervous but kind of excited.  Sitting  next to me on one side was a man in his 50s or 60s, the kind of man that radiates the joy of God from long life in Him and a younger group next to me on the other side.  On the other side was a younger group making comments about the girl as her turn came up, nothing profoundly mean but definitely defining of her as the “Straight-A, narrow-focused, type girl”; they might have even known her.  But then, the man sitting next to me leans over and says, “That girl is actually extremely creative and full of spontaneity.  She’s kind of crazy and the Lord loves it. She doesn’t even really know it very much yet, but it is there.”  I was wowed by what he was saying, so different.  He went on, “When we were praying for people earlier, I walked by her and the Lord told me about her and to look at her socks.  They were these multi-colored, crazy looking socks.  ‘That’s who she really is’, He said, and it’s coming out.”

     This is the way I want to be and I want to encourage us all to be.  I want to be one who says what births others into greater relationship with God, with themselves, and with those around them.  I don’t want to label someone as something that actually harms them at that point in their life!  I want to be someone who listens to the Lord and tells the really analytical person, “God loves your emotions and thinks they are so vivifying” in a way that frees them to be more emotional.  I want to be one who tells the person who is constantly trying to impress people by their social prowess, “I think you are such a gentle person, and I think the Lord really delights in your gentleness.”  Do we know what this does to people when we let them be who they are instead of prematurely defining them according to our own self-protecting observations instead of by what the Holy Spirit says?

     If this is really new for you, don’t beat yourself up when you use the word personality wrongly or make statements that prematurely define others.  Let it be a process with God of coming to see people the way He does, instead of by our own definitions, of placing our security and worth in Him instead of systems of the world.
     May we be ones who assume first that personality traits are related to relationship with God.  May we wisely assume that they have issue until they are refined.  And with such knowledge may we be slow to define both ourselves and others, listening to the Lord and being open to God changing us and any around us.  


  1. Wow!!!! That was so powerful. I really, really liked it, Tyler. You are such a good teacher and exhorter! Not what I was expecting at all. There was no good reason for me to avoid such an amazing blog. Love you!!!

  2. Joy to you and your path!

    I do not wish to miss your point, for my reading lead me to constantly see this as a reflection of stereotyping and type casting. Is there an additional point I have overlooked?

    I enjoyed your writing, and especially the ease with which you explored the truth around you. However, I feel called to push you in your thought here. What of the talents, the great gifts God bestows us all? Once identified, would you continue to push for a release of that trait? Or if God's trait had been found, such as teacher, protector, missionary, would you nurture that trait and strength your resolve around that purpose over personality?

    I chose the word purpose explicitly, as I feel that it might be separate from your point. But I ask.

    Peace be with you.

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