Adulting: Your True Self by John Burke


At Gateway Church in Austin we started a new series called Adulting: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.


Growing up physically and intellectually do not guarantee we will grow at the same pace (if at all) emotionally and spiritually. Charting a path of growth towards becoming our true selves requires that we take an honest look in the mirror. Are you ready?

Next Steps:

Discussion questions for your life group or family dinner are here.

Video from the Message by John Burke (23 minute mark):

Notes from the Message by John Burke:

In this series we’re talking about becoming emotionally and spiritually healthy people. We assume that if we grow up physically and intellectually, we will automatically grow up emotionally and spiritually…but it’s just not true.  Physically you have to eat, sleep and exercise and you naturally grow up physically.  Intellectually, our school system trains us to grow intellectually every year.  But emotional and spiritual growth we somehow assume will just happen, but it doesn’t just happen. If you never fed your body, never exercised or rested, your growth would be stunted.  Well, same is true emotionally and spiritually, yet how many people assume they’re becoming emotionally or spiritually mature just because time is passing?

Many Christians falsely assume that years in church or years studying the Bible equals emotional and spiritual maturity. Yet it doesn’t—how many Christians are still controlled by people pleasing, pride, self-promotion, envy, insecurity, defensiveness, anxiousness, easily hurt feelings, lack of confidence in identity? The reason we say No Perfect People Allowed is the hope of growing up—but growing up means we stop pretending we’re perfect and don’t need to grow emotionally or spiritually. Growing up means we care more about what God thinks than what others think—so we can be honest with ourselves.

Growing up means we care more about reality than pretense. Growing up means we care more about who we are becoming than how we appear. That’s what we’re going after these next four weeks. We’re gonna look honestly at ourselves—without a need to defend or excuse or prove ourselves, because Jesus came to lead us toward emotional and spiritual life and freedom.

Jesus said: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Today we’re going to look at how to grow up into a secure identity. Because very, very few people emerge out of their families of origin emotionally whole or mature.

An Assessment

So to get started, let’s do a little assessment. This comes from a book I’m basing this series on called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Consider the characteristics of emotional infants, children, adolescents, and adults and you do a little self assessment.  Now, it’s possible to be an emotional adult in some areas, yet act like a child in one area that got stunted—just identify where you might need to grow up, so you can chart a path toward greater freedom and life—remember that’s God’s goal for you.


  • Look for others to take care of them
  • Have great difficulty entering into the world of others
  • Are driven by need for instant gratification
  • Use others as objects to meet their needs


  • Are content and happy as long as they receive what they want
  • Unravel quickly from stress, disappointments, trials
  • Interpret disagreements as personal offenses
  • Are easily hurt
  • Complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge, become sarcastic when they don’t get their way
  • Have great difficulty calmly discussing their needs and wants in a mature, loving way


  • Tend to often be defensive
  • Are threatened and alarmed by criticism
  • Keep score of what they give so they can ask for something later in return
  • Deal with conflict poorly, often blaming, appeasing, going to a third party, pouting, or ignoring the issue entirely
  • Become preoccupied with themselves
  • Have great difficulty truly listening to another person’s pain, disappointments, or needs
  • Are critical and judgmental


  • Are able to ask for what they need, want, or prefer— clearly, directly, honestly
  • Recognize, manage, and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
  • Can, when under stress, state their own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial • Respect others without having to change them
  • Give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect
  • Appreciate people for who they are— the good, bad, and ugly— not for what they give back
  • Accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses and are able to freely discuss them with others
  • Are deeply in tune with their own emotional world and able to enter into the feelings, needs, and concerns of others without losing themselves
  • Have the capacity to resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that consider the perspectives of others

To become mature is a lifelong journey, but it only starts with a map and the first steps forward. The first step is a secure sense of self. Who am I?

Too often our thoughts reinforce a false self. So We’re told to “Put off our old selves…put on our New Self”

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 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; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:20-24 

So there is an Old Self and a New Self (the True Self God created us to be) and we must understand the difference—what is our New, True Self God desires for us?

Most people read “righteous and holy” and think God wants to make them into something they’d hate. We fear if we trust ourselves fully to God we’d lose ourselves and have to become a nun or priest or missionary or someone we wouldn’t want to be—when reality is God wants to help us become More of Yourself than You’ve ever imagined.

Righteous means “right-related” to God, yourself, and others. “Holy” means set apart for a special purpose. He created you unique, and your true identity comes from God—it’s that place where you’re fully secure, fully confident, fully loved, fully valued…and you come alive. Your true self is where you’re finally comfortable in your own skin, with your looks, abilities, limits, challenges, gifts. Your true self is where you feel free, with no fear of anyone’s judgement, no need to defend or prove yourself—you’re secure! Free and full of life.  That’s God’s goal. Can you imagine it?

 Paul says, As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don’t even trust my own judgment on this point. 4 My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.
– 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 

There’s an incredible freedom when we are free from the judgment of others—even if they do judge us—we don’t even judge ourselves, but we trust God’s judgment—about our worth, our value, and about our deeds, motives, and actions. There’s freedom there.

Our True Self is not based on our deeds, motives, or even actions. God wants us to base our Identity and Security on WHO He created us to be, not what we do.  The Old Self, the Thought Bubble Self, bases its Identity, security, and worth on what we do or what others think or say.  If we feed the Old self, that human centered insecure identity grows, if we feed the new self that God-centered secure identity grows.

The Book of Ephesians

The book of Ephesians has a lot to say about your New Self—your True Self that God wants to grow up into.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  – Ephesians 2:8-10  

Salvation means being set-right with your Creator—it’s not a result of what you do, did, or didn’t do—it’s a gift from God by Grace. Grace means something you didn’t earn or even deserve. God sent Jesus to pay for all our wrongs, so he could be just and still forgive us and take us back—though we don’t deserve it. Why does He do this? Because you are His Masterpiece—did you catch that? God’s unique creation—His work of art. God didn’t make a mistake when He created you—You are a Masterpiece in His eyes!

But so much of our sinful behavior comes from dark thoughts of False Identity—trying to feel secure, loved, valued based on what everyone else says. To grow up and stop acting like kids emotionally, we must die to what the world says, and base our Identity on what God says. Then out of that security and confidence, we can better love ourselves, so that we better love others in unselfish ways.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3

God wants you to have inner strength, a deep rooted feeling of being loved by Love Himself, to have a power within based on the unimaginable breadth and depth of God’s great love for you—so great you can’t imagine it…but as you feed your soul on this truth, your Identity will be made complete. Can you say that, “I lack nothing, I need nothing, I don’t need to defend myself, I don’t need to blame others, I don’t need to prove I’m good, or selfless, or important, or anything—I’m complete” When you truly feel that way, You’re Identity is mature…with all the fullness of Life and Power that comes from God.  And notice, none of this is based on you…at all!! It’s based on God…what He says is true.

What We Can Learn From Jesus’ Temptations

We all face 3 temptations that will attack your sense of identity and try to manipulate you out of insecurity to sin against God and others. They’re the same temptations Jesus faced in the desert. It’s fascinating because these temptations come at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He gets baptized, and God the Father affirms his Identity. A voice from heaven says, This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” Matthew 3:17

Then Jesus is led into the desert for 40 days of fasting and preparation, and when he gets weak, satan attacks his Identity in the same 3 ways he attacks yours with these Thought Bubbles—Think about which ones tend to work best on you—so you can reject the lie and feed your soul with the truth.

Temptation One: I Am What I Do (Performance)

The devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4: 3). 

Satan means “accuser” and notice how all temptation starts with accusation “If you’re the son of God…prove it.” God just said He was, but evil attacks identity. Ever heard that Thought Bubble? “If you’re a real man…prove it by (fill in the blank). “If you’re a woman worth loving prove it by…(what?).” The accusation is against your True Identity—who God says you are.  And the aim is to manipulate you into doing something that’s outside God’s will or timing.  For Jesus, he was fasting until a certain time—he was hungry. Nothing wrong with meeting that need, but it wasn’t God’s timing.

Do you find yourself under accusation trying to get you to prove your worth or identity based on what you do? Some of us have set our sights on performance, accomplishments, to make a name for ourselves. If I can just hit that next target of success – that next level of income, that magical amount in savings, that coveted title on my office door, that next level of accomplishment. Then I’ll be somebody. Then I’ll feel good about myself. That’s just propping up a False Identity.

This is where I’ve struggled the most over the years. I could never accomplish enough—when I questioned if I was accomplishing enough fast enough, I’d start to sink emotionally. It caused me to red-line and at times use people as a means to my goals of accomplishment. It had a root in my family of origin, and next week I’ll share more about how I discovered that. But I had to exercise against lies that I was worthless if I was not doing more. I had to learn to be still, quiet, rest in just being loved, valuable to God, even if I didn’t perform.

Here are some signs you get your Identity from performance. If you feel extra good about yourself when things are up and to the right, but when you don’t perform or the metrics go south—you feel horrible about yourself. If you feelings of worth fluctuate with external circumstances—like net worth, title, accomplishments—good sign you need to shed that Old, False Self for a New, secure Self. Jesus quotes Deut 8:3 of what God says is true), and you have to do the same. Quote the truth and push against the worry or performance anxiety that says “you are what you do,” and rest in what God says. Then you’re free to do good for right reasons.

Temptation Two: I Am What Others Think (Popularity)

Some of us are aimed at pleasing people, but it’s the wrong target too. Satan invited Jesus to throw himself down from the highest spot of the temple so that the angels would rescue him and people would believe in him. “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you.’” Matthew 4:6 

Again, Satan makes starts with an accusation “If you are the Son of God.” He knew Jesus was the Son of God, and He knows you are a Child of God with great value—but those accusatory thoughts are designed to manipulate you out of insecurity to sin trying to please people. For Jesus, the temptation was to get people to see his Identity without having to suffer on the cross.

When you’re Identity is based on what others think, it will feel like death to disappoint them—it will feel like losing yourself to let them down. Like Jesus, you must die to people pleasing—because the other side of it is Life and Freedom of who God says who you truly are. Paul said it this way:

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
– Galatians 1:10

Some of the signs that you need to grow up is if you feel a lot of shame. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt is good if you’ve done something wrong. The Holy Spirit will convict you and you’ll feel guilty if you lie—the purpose is so that you’ll tell the truth. That’s good guilt—to correct a wrong action. Shame is not about an action but about Identity—you feel worthless or horrible or condemned as a person based on what others think. God wants to set you free from that kind of shame based Identity. Jesus answered by quoting scripture—what God says is true—you need to base the truth about who you are in what God says in His Word, not what others say or think.

Temptation Three: I Am What I Have (Possessions)

Jesus was taken to see all the wealth and power of the earth. The devil basically said to him, “Look around you at what everyone else has. You don’t have anything. How can you think you are somebody? You’re a nobody—follow me and you’ll have it all.” Satan plays on issues of fear and insecurity based on comparison. “Look at the house she lives in…if you were really worth something, you’d have a house like that…envy driven out of insecure identity.. “Look at what he has…you’re not worth much unless you make more, or have more, or drive more… He tries to tell you your Identity is based on what you have or don’t have compared to others.

But God wants us to grow up—to get rid of the Old Self and all these thought bubbles of accusation against our true identity. We must Put on the New Self—growing up in security in who we are until we don’t need anything or anyone to do, say, or approve for us to feel complete, confident, loved, valued…secure. That’s emotional, spiritual health—that’s Life and Freedom. So here’s an exercise you can do.

In Biblical times, a person’s name meant something. I remember when we were naming my son, we got one of those etymology books—that tell what their names mean. We picked Justin—which means “Upholder of Justice, the One who does right.” But we had picked another name until we found out it meant “Smelly Hair.” We decided telling him “You are the One who does right” would serve him better than, “You are the one with Smelly Hair.”  A Name is an identity to God. Jesus means salvation. There’s an amazing thing Jesus says in the book of Revelation about your Identity—your True Self:

To those who are victorious, I will give…each of them a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. – Revelation 1:17-18, 2:13, 17

This is an amazing picture. One day, the living God who revealed his Identity in Jesus, will reveal to you your true Identity that only He knows. He will give you a white stone with a New Name written on it. It’s a picture of that day, when you stand before the One who Created You—the One who loved you enough to lay down his life to give you eternal life. In his presence, you will finally really Know who you are—you will know Your Name. You will never again feel insecure, unsure, lacking, ugly, stained, incomplete, worthless, needy, unloved—because you will know yourself as God knows you. And did you notice, this Identity, this Name, is known only between You and your Creator “Known only to the one who receives it” – He made you unique. No one else was created to reflect something about God’s Image like you—God only knows your name. And that’s why you will never find yourself apart from Him.

You don’t have to wait for that day to grow up more and more into the Identity He has for you. Find a white stone and a maker to create a reminder that Who You truly are is known only to God and one day in His presence you’ll fully know. Consider one word or one idea that God says is true about Your Identity that you need to feed on—to fight against the lies and accusations. Write it on this white stone and use it as a reminder to grow up into your True Self.

Showing 2 comments
  • Fabio Mesquita

    I believe that our attitudes speak for us, I also try to know myself forever to understand what the other is feeling or need is a technique that I use more is not easy because we are always wrapped in thoughts that are sometimes not the best for us and for The one next to us.
    I mean that when we do good with the heart, surely Jesus is present.
    Very good your article
    Thank you

  • Marcie Pittman

    One of the most helpful sermons I’ve heard. I’m buying the book! I really appreciated the clarifications of the temptations of Jesus–I actually get those now! And it would be difficult to say which one of these is my most difficult temptations as it seems all apply. Thank you so much for researching this and putting it out there in such a usable format.

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