Give Up Your Public Self

Yesterday on the blog, Dr. Juli Slattery invited us into pursuing sexual discipleship as a means of combating the world’s messages on sexuality. There’s so much to learn in this area—much more than a blog post can cover!—which is why I’d encourage you pick up Dr. Slattery’s book Rethinking Sexuality. It’s an in-depth look at how believers in Jesus can reclaim sexuality in a broken culture. Today’s post is an excerpt from that book. You can get your own copy of this amazing resource this month for your gift of any amount to support Revive Our Hearts. I’m reading it right now . . . and I can tell you, it’s definitely one you’ll want to pick up. —Hayley Mullins, True Woman Blog Content Manager

A few years ago, the rug was pulled out from under me. A pastor I regularly listened to and had gleaned from was dismissed from his church for multiple sexual indiscretions. This man was a dynamic preacher of God’s Word, so much so that I frequently recommended his podcast feed to friends and family members, including my children. While it’s nothing new to learn that a spiritual leader has had a moral compromise, I was caught way off guard when I heard what this pastor had done. I wondered, How could a man preach God’s Word so powerfully and faithfully while engaging in sexual sin? I remembered his preaching on sexual immorality, calling those who were living together outside of marriage to come forward for repentance and help. The front of the church was filled with hundreds of couples under the conviction of his words. At the same time, he was privately engaging in porn and multiple affairs.

This man’s life represents an extreme example of a struggle to which each of us can relate. We have a public testimony, representing ourselves as Christ-followers, and we have private struggles that keep us entangled in sin, doubt, fear, and secrecy. Hiding is part of being human in a sinful world. As children, we learned that there was an “acceptable me” that people would embrace and there was an “unlovable me” that would be rejected and shamed. We learned not to pick our nose in public or tell people what we really thought about them.

Our drive to achieve, to maintain control, to avoid conflict, to defend ourselves—doesn’t each of these find its origin in this negotiation of our real selves versus the selves we allow others to see?

While this tension plays out in many areas of our lives, it thrives in our sexuality. Why? Because sexuality often represents our deepest shame, our unspoken fears, our most private wounds and passions. Even the topic of our sexuality has been deemed inappropriate, private, and perhaps shameful. From the earliest ages, we were taught to view sexuality and nakedness furtively. Our parents called our genitals “private parts” and told us not to touch them. This sets the stage for sexuality to thrive in secrecy and hiding.

Our hiding becomes particularly acute when sexual feelings, experiences, and trauma overwhelm us.

Hiding is what we do with sin, with shame, and with overwhelming pain. We compartmentalize to survive. We learn to present well to be accepted. No one had to teach us to hide. The problem is that hiding takes on a life of its own, preventing the integration of what we believe into who we are.

No More Hiding Behind a Public Self

While Christ died to bring us into truth and set us free from hiding, traditional Christian communities seem to do the opposite. It’s fine to be honest about the sins Christ saved you from, but once you’ve joined the church and identified yourself as a Christian, it can feel as though you’re not allowed to struggle. So we live with this conflict. There are some problems that are acceptable to confess to (such as occasional road rage or binge-watching a television series), but others you just know you could never publicly admit (such as cheating on your spouse or dealing with same-sex attraction). So with one part of your heart, you affirm biblical sexuality, but with another part, a secret part, you reject it.

Sexual discipleship often gets derailed because we sense this tremendous, uncomfortable tension between our public selves and our private selves. How can we talk about God’s design for sexuality when we are secretly battling our own sexual issues, secret pain, and questions? Perhaps this conflict is so great that you discourage conversations about sexuality or engage in them with an unhealthy or judgmental perspective. We simply don’t know how to resolve the tension between our aspirations to affirm God’s truth and the secret stream of lies that keeps us in bondage.

Because of the belief that Christians are supposed to look whole and holy, we expend a great amount of effort trying to live better lives. Our “spiritual selves” scold our “carnal selves” for falling into the same sin again and again. Or our “together selves” shame our “broken selves” into staying silent. We vow not to go down the road of temptation or give voice to our struggles. The problem is that our vows don’t work. Our self-control gives out; we get tired and overwhelmed and can’t fight the secrets lurking in our souls. We protect our private selves because of fear. We fear rejection and abandonment. We fear that we will lose the love and approval of people we care about (and even of people we hardly know!). We may fear disappointing God and losing His love. Ironically God knows all of our secrets. He longs for us to be honest before Him, no pretending. He continuously invites us to live with integrity, to walk in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).

Integration happens when we stop hiding, when we no longer have our private selves and our public selves. Just us chasing after God’s healing and redemption. When we ask the Lord to tear down the wall between who we truly are and who we want people to think we are, we give up a reputation and instead leave a testimony. Your reputation is what people think of you; your testimony is how they see God working in you.

Giving Up Your Public Self Brings Freedom—and Power

I spent many years of early adulthood concerned about what people thought about me, even what they thought about my spiritual walk and ministry. This was a burden! I would sometimes stay up all night, worried about how I might have offended someone or concerned that another person thought ill of me. I’d beat myself up for days because of a misspoken word or a perceived failure. When I let go of my reputation and started being honest with others about the unflattering parts of my story and my heart, I experienced profound freedom. More importantly, my relationships, my family, and my ministry became less about me and more focused on the work of God through me.

The apostle Paul wrote a profound truth that not many of us take seriously. He said that God’s power was more evident in his (Paul’s) weakness than in his strength (2 Cor. 12:9–10). In other words, God would be more glorified in Paul’s life because Paul was the chief of sinners, a frail man who struggled with loneliness, temptations, and physical weakness (see 1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Tim. 4:16–17; Rom. 7:21–23; 2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t really believe that God’s power is more evident in our struggles, at least by the way most of us live. We try to hide our frailty and faults, thinking that God can use only the strong and healthy parts of us.

What is the weakness or sexual struggle you try so hard to hide? Maybe you sincerely believe that if others knew, it would hurt the name of Jesus Christ. What Paul is saying is that if you really want God’s presence and power in your life, don’t hide. Admit and surrender your weakness so that other people can witness God’s work and love in you. Sexual sin isn’t unforgivable; it simply has such a foothold in us because it is the sin we feel compelled to keep hidden, out of the healing light of God’s truth.

Giving Up the Public Self Shows God’s Redemption

Something profound happens when our stories intersect with Jesus’s forgiveness and redemption. It’s not enough for us to just be “authentic” for the sake of authenticity. If reality television has taught us anything, it’s that raw humanity is pretty ugly! We are free to be honest about our private selves only as we surrender our sin, our brokenness, and our weakness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. The “ugly me” becomes beautiful when it brings me to repentance and dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that this is how we overcome the Enemy:

"And they have conquered him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Rev. 12:11).

The problem is that we don’t like the last part of that verse about not shying away from death. If God is to redeem our stories, we cannot hang on to our own lives; we must be willing to die. I’m not just talking about a physical death. I’m referring to the death of the public self, that portrayal of us that we want everyone to see and to believe is the true us.

The world doesn’t need to see flawless Christians who keep God’s sexual standards perfectly. What they most need to see is broken people who are no longer ashamed of their weakness but to live to brag about a God who loves them. The culture will be most greatly affected when it witnesses the testimonies of limited, fallen people who have a miraculous power to love, extend grace, and pursue purity. They don’t need to see you and me; they need to see God living through you and me. The world needs to know your redeemed story.

About the Author

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery

Dr. Juli Slattery is a clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and the president/co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry devoted to reclaiming God's design for sexuality. In 2020, Juli launched, a platform designed to help Christian leaders navigate sexual issues … read more …

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