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December 05, 2018

Imposter Syndrome and the Christian Life

How do you start reading the Bible?

Have you heard of the imposter syndrome?

The imposter syndrome is the name our culture has given to the constant feeling that you do not belong to your own community or that your accomplishments are illegitimate. Far from humility, this is an irrational state of paranoia that causes us to think of ourselves more as we think less of ourselves. I sometimes experience this and maybe you do too.

I like how one writer defines it: “Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” And she goes on to describe three major manifestations she has noticed of the imposter syndrome:

1.) Feeling like a fake

2.) Appealing to luck

3.) Minimizing an accomplishment

Perhaps we feel these in our work, but maybe many of us also feel the imposter syndrome in relation to our own faith and salvation. If this is you, meaning you have every reason for assurance and you still feel like an imposter, I want to show you how Christ redeems each manifestation of the imposter syndrome.

When it comes to your Christian life, do you…

… Feel Like a Fake?

When I was a graduate student, I felt like a trespasser. I wondered if the school had mistakenly accepted me. Looking at the other MA and Ph.D. students, I noticed how much they could read, how much literary theory they could recite, how many books they had on their office shelves. I was not one of them, I thought, I hope no one finds out!

Eventually, I talked to another first-year MA student whom I looked up to, and he revealed to me that he felt he was the imposter.

Do you feel like a fake or a fraud in your Christian life? Perhaps you look at other Christians and see how they keep up a daily Bible reading plan, or how they know Greek and Hebrew words, or how they display joy and sincerity seemingly all the time. Maybe you think to yourself, I am not one of them, I hope no one finds out!

If this is how you feel, remember that Paul had more “reason for confidence in the flesh” than anyone (Philippians 3:4). But he counted his outward markers of belonging “as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). Why? Because it kept him from understanding that true worth and belonging is found in Christ.

What makes you a real Christian is not your own perfection, but Christ’s perfection. If you feel dismayed by your inability to match the apparent perfection of others (though no one is perfect), know that weakness does not mean you are a fake Christian! Instead “boast all the more gladly of [your] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [you]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

… Think of Your Salvation as Good Luck?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

I experience a kind of imposter syndrome when I meet a Christian who lived a significant portion of their life as a non-believer. I feel like I have less to offer others than those who have “spectacular” testimonies. These believers, as I see it, have made a conscious choice to believe in God. They once did not believe, but now they believe.

These choices are highlighted by their cost. Some people have had to leave behind jobs, friends, and family to follow Jesus.

Conversely, I was born into a Christian family. I went to a Christian high school and college. I owe so much to my parents for raising me up in the Church, and for teaching me to be unashamed of the Gospel. Where was my choice in my salvation? What sacrifice have I had to make in following Christ? Was all of this just good luck?

But, of course, these questions and thoughts place me at the center. These questions imply that my works make my salvation any better or any worse. On the contrary, it is Christ’s perfect work that defines the worth of my salvation.

I am not a Christian today because I chose God, or because my family chose God for me, but I am a Christian because God chose me. And this was not random chance, nor abstract fate, nor sheer luck. God’s choice to save me, Christ’s choice to die for me, was a well-planned, intentional act of grace and love.

…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

… Doubt the Completed Work of Christ’s Atonement?

Maybe you are not so worried about whether you are a fake or a real Christian, but your imposter syndrome causes you to worry about whether you are really saved. Have I done enough?

I’m categorizing this worry into the third manifestation of the imposter syndrome, which is to minimize an accomplishment. What someone would normally mean by this is minimizing an accomplishment of one’s own. However, I also see this kind of imposter syndrome as we wonder if we have done enough to be saved. For in wondering this we live with a minimized view of Jesus’s accomplishment on the cross.

Let me scratch the surface of how much Christ accomplished for you on the cross: Jesus not only took on the penalty for all your sins (1 John 4:10) but also gave you his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) that lives on forever as he sits at the right hand of God after his resurrection and ascension. Thus, when God sees you, Christian, he does not see a blank slate needed to be proven by good deeds. He sees the full glory and righteousness of his perfect, holy, living Son, Jesus Christ.

For those Christians who worry about their salvation, know that Christ died for all your sins. Know that Christ gave you his righteousness. And when you worry, don’t feed your worries by asking: Have I done enough? Instead, calm the storm inside you by rejoicing: Christ has done it all!

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Moving from Imposter Syndrome to Imitation

Therefore, the way out of the paranoia of imposter syndrome is to focus on Christ and to imitate him. Imposter syndrome paralyzes us because it focuses inward. It tells us we are not like others, and we never will be. But the Bible shows us a different way to live. A way to look outward, to Christ, and in doing so finding perfect peace for the present and future.

As quoted above, Paul notes that God “predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son.” This verse shows us how we grow: As a part of God’s glorious plan, we are to acknowledge our difference from Christ so we can begin to conform to his image. This process acknowledges that we are not there yet. Consider also 1 Corinthians 11:1 in which Paul writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” And 3 John 1:11 which says, “Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.”

The message of the Bible is clear: We are not perfect but having been saved by our perfect Lord Jesus Christ we are to focus on him and to imitate him. Do you know the peace that comes from believing in Jesus Christ?

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

[Photo Credit: Unplash]

Davis Wetherell

Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He recently managed article content for Open the Bible. He has taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. Check out his blog.
Davis Wetherell (MA in English, Marquette University) is a writer and editor. He recently managed article content for Open the Bible. He has taught college classes on literature, rhetoric, and composition. Davis has a heart for writers and loves to serve them. Check out his blog.