“Will the Real You Please Stand Up!”


ImageI have been in Christian Leadership for well over thirty years and have embraced the notion “That We Are Always a People in Process.” This statement has always been a reminder for me that on our journey in Christ we embrace the understanding that our goal is not about me attaining perfection. Instead, it is the understanding that I am making progress toward conforming into the image of Christ. I have come to appreciate that it is having the right goal that determines whether one is processing forward in their “True-Self” or if they are regressing in their “False-Self.”


What is the True-Self and False-Self?

The teaching of the New Testament that gives dynamic description between the mystical engagement of our life and the Christ’s life has often times been misunderstood which gives place for the wrong thing to be put to death. Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ but of Christ’s living in him (Galatians 2:20). David G. Benner asks the question this way: “But which part of us is to be crucified and which is to be alive in Christ? What is the relationship between me and Christ who lives in me? After all, Christ is described as living in me; so there must be some “me” that survives the crucifixion. , then, does this tell us about the goal of the Christian transformational journey?[1]


The whole idea of there being a true-self-in-Christ emphasizes the fact that there are true and false ways of living. Think about all the different strategies that a person thinks when they are in a situation in which they feel the need to accuse someone else in order to shirk personal responsibility, or one attempts out of insecurity to control the outcomes to situations in life that they attempt to manipulate others to do what they feel makes one feel better about oneself. Basil Pennington suggests that my false-self is made up of what I have, what I do, and what people think of me. It is constructed out of false attachments.[2]


Pennington suggests that Christ’s temptations in the wilderness were temptations to live out of his false center. First the tempter invited him stones into bread. But Jesus said no to the invitation to establish himself on the basis of doing. Then the tempter invited him to throw himself from the top of the temple into the crowds below, so they immediately recognize him as the Messiah. Again Jesus rejected the temptation. He chose not to base his identity on the acclaim of others. Finally the tempter offered him all the kingdoms of the world. But once again Jesus rejected the offer, refusing to find his identity in possessions or power.[3]

Jesus knew who he was before God and in God. He could therefore resist temptations to live his life out of a false center based on possessions, actions or the esteem of others.[4] There will be some who struggle with this perspective because the tendency is not to view Christ in His earthly mission as being both Divinity and Humanity. Matter of fact in North American Culture the same battle that has raged for two centuries of groups over emphasizing one part of the incarnated Christ over another has led to various heresies.

Merton suggests that at the core of our false ways of being there is always a sinful refusal to surrender to Gods will.[5] Thus my reluctance to find my identity and fulfillment in Christ leaves me vulnerable to living out of a false center. In a sense it creates a form of idolatry in which I create a self of my own making because I begin to obey a god that I create in my own image.


I am called to be in relationship with Christ and in my true self I am completely content with who I am in Him. In my false self I am disconnected due to my sin. Ignatius of Loyola suggests that sin is ultimately a refusal believe that what God wants is my happiness. When one no longer chooses to understand God through a distorted lenses and begins to perceive as good and as One who is for me it is only then that one can fully surrender.


The journey for a Christian is transformational and the goal is to become whole and holy in my true self in Christ order to become a great lover of Him who is our champion. A Champion in the Eastern World was one who fought on behalf of another who could not fight for themselves. Christ is our Champion on the journey.


Ministry and the False Self

Will Hernandez presents Henri Nouwen’s idea of what a true “minister” of Jesus is when  Hernandez writes:


“Nouwen has described ministry in terms of a willingness to lay down one’s life for others— not necessarily in a literal way but as a matter of identity. He has stressed that if a person is to lay down his or her life, that person must have a real “life” to lay down. This correlates directly to the most concise definition of ministry Nouwen has ever articulated in his writings: ministry is all about “the giving of self.” The big question is: “What ‘self’ do we give to others— our true self or our false self?” The reality is we can only minister out of who we genuinely are. What enables us to minister with real depth and effectiveness is living out of our center, where our core identity is deeply lodged.”[6]

This is why in a leader’s own development and spiritual formation it is essential that one maintains a strong personal interior life. It is the conviction of this writer that false self-behavior has manifested in many leaders lives as some form of co-dependency. Though those of these next series of blog articles that I am writing is dealing with the spiritual core of spiritual formation as a journey it does have implications that manifest  at the psychological level. The greatest form of denial is not to perceive the integration of these two disciplines. I have presented a list of the traits of the True Self and False-Self below:[7]


                 TRUE SELF                      FALSE SELF
  • Authentic Self
  • Unauthentic self, mask
  • True Self
  • False self, persona
  • Genuine
  • Ungenuine, “as-if” personality
  • Spontaneous
  • Plans and plods
  • Expansive, loving
  • Contracting, fearful
  • Giving, communication
  • Withholding
  • Accepting of self and others
  • Envious, critical, idealized, perfectionistic
  • Compassionate
  • Other-oriented, overly conforming
  • Loves unconditionally
  • Loves conditionally
  • Feels feelings, including appropriate, spontaneous, current anger
  • Denies or hides feelings, including long-held anger (resentment)
  • Assertive
  • Aggressive and/or passive
  • Intuitive
  • Rational, logical
  • Child Within, Inner Child; ability to be childlike
  • Overdeveloped parent/adult scripts; may be childish
  • Needs to play and have fun
  • Avoids play and fun
  • Vulnerable
  • Pretends always to be strong
  • Powerful in true sense
  • Limited power
  • Trusting
  • Distrusting
  • Enjoys being nurtured
  • Avoids being nurtured
  • Surrenders
  • Controls, withdraws
  • Self-indulgent
  • Self-righteous
  • Simplifies
  • Complicates; is “rational”
  • Wants to be real, connect, experience, create and love
  • Wants to be right, control and win.  Tells us the opposite of what we want and need.
  • Non-defensive, though may at times use ego defenses
  • Defensive
  • Connected to its Higher Power
  • Believes it is Higher Power
  • Open to the unconscious
  • Blocks unconscious material
  • Remembers our Oneness
  • Forgets our Oneness; feels separate
  • Free to grow
  • Tends to act out unconscious often painful patterns repeatedly
  • Private self
  • Public self

Here is the heart of the matter when it comes to leaders in process. If the goal of the leader is anything other than that leaders conformity to Christ behaviors become very cyclical and over time a leader will become lost in the lie of their own false self. The infection of this is only toxic it is at times cloaked with a religious fervor that is more about a leader receiving a sense of self importance from the need of recognition that comes from exterior achievement which is at the expense of the need to control and criticize others under the guise that they are the victim. It happens in churches, it happens in corporations and it happens in marriages.

I have entitled this first blog article The next four articles in this series on Leadership and Spiritual Formation will be entitled “Pasteurized Pastors and Low Fat Folks” speaking of the essential need for authentic spiritual formation in leaders and in the Church. Please feel free to give me any comments or feedback you may have concerning this article.


[1] David G. Benner, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friends and Direction. (Illinois: Downers Grove, IVP, 2002) p 37.

[2] Basil Pennington, True S/False Self. (New York: New York, New Directions, 2000)

[3] David G. Benner, Sacred Companions, p 38.

[4] Ibid, p 38.

[5] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. (New York: New York, New Directions, 1961).

[6] John Piippo Blog, http://www.johnpiippo.com/2012/11/the-false-self-is-disconnected-self.html citing  (Hernandez, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension, Kindle Locations 792-798)

[7] Charles L. Whitfield, M.D., http://www.toddlertime.com/mh/interest/true-false-self.htm

About PastorAl

Al Soto has been married to his incredible wife Valerie for 30 years and they have five sons and one grandson. Al has been in Local Church Ministry for 35 years as both as a Lead Pastor, Associate Pastor, and for five years as a Regional Overseer for his denomination. He has a BA degree from LIFE Pacific College and is currently completing an MA in Leadership & Spiritual Formation from Vanguard University. He currently resides in Lincoln, CA where he is the new Lead Pastor for one of the Campus locations for Bayside Church. He continues to coach High School Football for the Lincoln Fighting Zebras for the Junior Varsity Program and is facilitating Leadership training and coaching as well as facilitating Spiritual Retreats. His hobbies include Golfing and Scuba Diving as well as he is a veracious reader. His Life Statement is “Real Success is Helping others to Succeed!”
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