The Excellent You

In this fallen world where our understanding of reality is constantly challenged and our own weaknesses undermine our efforts, how do we exhibit true excellence?

I immediately had a pit in my stomach. Coming down from the mountains in the afternoon, I knew my phone finally had service when the voicemail alert chimed. I soon heard, “Mr. Schmus, the principal would like to meet you in her office first thing in the morning.” Gulp. 

Through a comedic series of oversights colliding while I was off campus for a hastily-arranged snow day with my family, I had allowed an unsupervised club with a non-background-checked speaker to meet in my unlocked classroom—until it was discovered by the shocked principal. Not my most excellent moment.

Does the word excellence bring up accusations in your heart, or memories of times you have fallen short? Do you regularly experience the fear of being found out by others? If so, I can certainly relate.

Sometimes, even when I manage to do something well, receive a compliment, or experience success, I hear this voice in my mind that says something like, You faked them out again because they don’t know the real you! This fear of being found out destroys intimacy with God and with others, leaving us stuck in shame.

I can already hear many of you exhorting me as you read this, That’s the voice of the enemy. Don’t listen!—and you are absolutely right. In this fallen world where our understanding of reality is constantly challenged and our own weakness undermines our effort, how do we exhibit true excellence? 

I have learned through many struggles over the years that real excellence can only be found in living my true identity, resisting the counterattack of the enemy about my identity, and activating my identity by stepping out in risky faith. But this is much more difficult to do than to write.

Embracing our true identities

As Christian educators, we know what is true about us. The Scripture says that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and filled by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11). Now we no longer live as we once did (Col. 3:7), but we walk by faith in the power of the Spirit (Gal. 2:20). Subsequently, our lives manifest His fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). 

The real me is being renewed day by day and transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory!

But does just knowing this solve the problem? We still sin, right?

When we fail despite being new creations, the dilemma returns: which is the “real me” or the “real you”? We often get stuck between the head knowledge of knowing our identity in Christ and the heart experience of sin and failure. 

This is because even though we are new creations, we still have what the Apostle Paul calls our “flesh” (Rom. 7-8). Our flesh in Scripture is not simply biological tissue—the concept has in view the ability of your brain and body to remember and act all on its own.

In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard describes the problem: 
For, trained in a world of wrongness and evil, the body comes to act wrongly “before we think,” and “has motions of sin in its members,” as Paul said, which may thwart the true intent of our spirit or will by leaping ahead of it (p. 35-36).

This flesh memory—this collection of habits, conditioned behaviors, and I would add unsanctified, subconscious thinking patterns—is not the real you or the real me. The real me is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16) and transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor 3:18)! The “old me” is gone, and yet evidence of the old me hangs around in my flesh.

This was confirmed in my heart recently. I had been struggling through a season of believing the enemy about my identity, listening to his lies about the real me and what that would mean for my future. As I stood up at church, hands raised, pouring out my heart in worship, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper into my heart, This is the real you . . . you are a worshipper. And I knew He meant more than I was just someone who likes to sing in church. Worship is about living our whole lives surrendered to Him (1 Cor. 10:31). In that moment, I was undone. The lies were defeated. What the Scripture says about my identity became true not just in my mind, but in my heart and spirit.

Exposing the counterattack of the enemy

However, when we start to make progress in living out of our real identity, and not confusing who we really are with our flesh, our enemy does not sit idly by. 

We may start to think something like, If I really am who God says I am, I should be able to partner with Him to do extraordinary things! We start dreaming. We picture ourselves carrying His grace and authority into our classrooms. We imagine excellence on display in our lives in more powerful ways.

We picture ourselves carrying His grace and authority into our classrooms. We imagine excellence on display in our lives in more powerful ways.

As a teacher, I watched this happen in the life of a freshman in my Christian club. Amy loved Jesus and seemed surprisingly confident that He would use her to do significant things. She had become captivated with the crisis of kidnapped Ugandan children forced to become soldiers, and she had a vision to bring an assembly program to our school that would empower our students to make a difference. Fortunately, she didn’t understand that mere freshmen weren’t supposed to do these things. Amy stood and spoke in front of 1,700 students, leading them in a cause that was dear to her heart, and changed the culture of our school in the process.

But so often when I begin to think big, the enemy hits back. For me, this often comes in the form of an accusation of pride, Who do you think you are? Not wanting to put the focus on myself, I quietly agree and shrink back, stepping into the false humility that denigrates who I am and leaves me incapacitated. Then I spiritualize my false humility by praying, Lord, all of You and none of me! 

But, in the words of Pastor Alan Scott, "Didn’t God have 'all of Him and none of me' before He made me?"  

Instead of “all of Him and none of me,” what if He wants “all of Him in all of me?” After all, God only made one of me and one of you. He wants to shine through us in ways that are unique and reflective of His special creations. After all, God used Paul’s precise intelligence, Peter’s impulsive courage, David’s tender heart, Mary’s sweet obedience, Moses’ dependent leadership, and Ruth’s trusting loyalty. God didn’t want “none of them”—He wanted “all of them,” sanctified and led by His Spirit.

Instead of “all of Him and none of me,” what if He wants “all of Him in all of me?”

I pray you do not allow counterattacks of the enemy like this to rob you of walking in your true identity.

Stepping out in risky faith

Finally, while affirming your true identity and rejecting the lies of the enemy, you can activate the real you by stepping out in faith and taking that small or large risk when you discern the Holy Spirit is leading. 

Is the Holy Spirit asking you to lead a teacher prayer or Bible study group? Or organize a LIFT event? Are you just the person God has in mind to lead a campus prayer walk or design that bold lesson plan about which He has been whispering to you? 

On my drive to school one day, I was asking the Lord what He wanted me to do. I felt, Pray for your principal, whispered into my spirit. After fearfully walking into her office and offering to pray, I discovered that she was facing a terrible crisis all alone and desperately needed the Lord’s touch. 

Through that step on that day, I became a bit more of the real me.

Stepping out in risky faith and seeing God move cements in our hearts our identities as sons or daughters who, free of shame, step into our calling and shine His glory. 

This is the path of excellence.

Resources: Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, NavPress (2002)


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