3 Reasons “To Thine Own Self Be True” is a Crock

This is the third post on the ‘S’ word – a SERIES ON SIN.

To read the first post – “the one where I get caught speeding” – click here.

To read the second post – “the one where we battle a headless zombie snake” – click here.

As you read, please remember, this series seeks to point fingers at no one but its author.

“To Thine Own Self Be True.”

When Shakespeare penned the now-infamous line spoken by Polionius to his son Laertes in the play Hamlet, the playwright unwittingly initiated a seismic impact on the Western understanding of truth and personhood.[1]

Ironically, what Shakespeare intended to be a tongue-in cheek indictment against the speaker’s very own character has morphed into a modern maxim on the significance of personal integrity.

“To thine own self be true” (i.e.: look out for your own interests) has now come to mean “be true to yourself.”

Today, society tells us the most charismatic and authentic individuals are those who are “true to self.” Pop stars croon for us “to be real” in song lyrics. Psychologists push titles about inner-acceptance both in academic circles and on mainstream bookshelves.[2]

Personal integrity and authenticity is indeed a trait the Bible encourages among believers. But “being true” in Scripture is linked to seeking after God’s glory – not our own.

Jesus says as much in John 7. Jews who doubted he was the Son of God were confounded over Jesus’ teachings. They accused him of falsehood because he never studied the Scriptures the way they did.

Jesus’ response to them was NOT: “I can’t help but teach what’s in my heart.”

Jesus’ response to them was NOT: “I’ve gotta speak my mind or I’m not being real with you.”

(All variations on the principle “to thine own self be true.”)

Instead, listen to Jesus’ words in John 7:18. He says: “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” 

Basically, Jesus says: “You know I’m legit because I am not seeking my own glory.”  Jesus redefines the world’s standard for personal integrity. According to the Son of God, the real test of authenticity is when we seek the glory of the Father, not our own.

In fact, Shakespeare’s axiom is, at its very core, the polar opposite of biblical authenticity, because it places ‘self’ at the center of the equation. This is the age-old struggle with sin – the fight to put ‘self’ as the center of reality. But true authenticity recognizes that the center of reality is God.

John 7-8 draws out some more insight about truth – What is it? Where does it come from? How do I get it?

1.      If you want to know truth is, you gotta know the One who IS Truth (John 7:28)

Jesus tells us in John 7:28: “Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, ‘You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.”

The Father is true. Basically, if you want to know truth, then you have to know the One who is Truth. He is the truest form of authenticity because he is at the center of his glory.

2.      If you want to know where truth comes from, you gotta bear the Spirit of Truth (John 7:38-39)

Still in the context of opposition, Jesus said these words in John 7:38-39: “ ‘He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the HolySpirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Believers who possess the Spirit of God within them are given the unique ability to discern truth. The Spirit reveals truth to us. You could think of it like a built-in truth detector.

How does that even work? It’s all about the heart, as Jesus said. As sinners, our hearts don’t work right. The thoughts, emotions, and responses that flow from them are tainted because the source is tainted. But in salvation, God renews our hearts and through the Spirit “rivers of living water” flow from us.

3.      If you want to know how to grasp truth, you gotta accept Christ (John 8: 26-21)

In the following chapter, Jesus reveals to his doubters that he is, in fact, Truth Incarnate. He says in John 8:26: “I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.”

One of the most cherished axioms of all time – by Christians and non-Christians alike – is quoted a few verses later. John 8:31-32 says: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Truth is not an elusive reality changing from person to culture to era; truth is an eternal, unchanging Person who reveals himself in the work of His Son. And it is only as we abide in Him and listen to his Spirit that we are given increasing measure of His truth to understand the depths of the human heart.

That is being free. That is being real. That is true authenticity.

And we can never hope to be real without Him.

Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

About melissa deming

Melissa Deming is a freelance writer transplanted from Texas to Pennsylvania with her husband of ten years, Jonathan, and two-year-old identical twins, Zacharias and Jonah. The family serves at a Southern Baptist church plant in Pittsburgh - Living Faith Community Church. Melissa is a regular correspondent for The Southern Baptist TEXAN newspaper and Crossroads magazine of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. She is also the creator and author of HiveResources.com - a site designed to sweeten a woman's walk with Christ through devotional articles, book reviews, and giveaways. Melissa holds a Masters of Divinity in Women’s Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC, and a B.A. in Journalism from Texas A&M University.