Have you heard of the “imposter syndrome”? It is a term coined by psychologists in the late 1970s to describe high-achieving individuals who were marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. It is really another chain of fear. Let me describe how this fear manifests itself in our spiritual life.
Depending on the church you grew up in, your family-of-origin dynamic, or even your present day experience in a community of believers, we generally develop some standard in our lives that we feel we must live up to in order to be accepted by the community. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like spiritual progress. I like encouraging each other toward maturity. There is nothing wrong with helping each other move forward as our minds are being renewed.
The subtle way this can go awry is when we rely on keeping the standard as the basis for our acceptance with God and our community. We so often put the cart before the horse. Even if we don’t say it out loud, our attitude is, “You keep the standard, you arrive at some level of righteous living, and we will accept you.” But true spiritual community is just the other way around.
True Jesus-following community starts with, “I will shower you with love, acceptance, and forgiveness no matter where you are in your Christian walk. And because I love you, I will invest my friendship with you in ways that help both of us move toward Christian maturity.” The love and acceptance come first.
This kind of community frees us from the fear of the impostor syndrome. When we rely on others’ opinions of us for our spiritual self-worth, we live in fear of “being discovered”. We live in fear of those around us finding out we are not all we were cracked up to be. We have flaws. We have besetting sins. We have personality disorders. We are not perfect.
But when your opinion about yourself comes from what God has already done for you through His grace, then this is what you learn. You are deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, totally accepted, and complete in Christ. And the sheer beauty of grace is that we are not any of those things because we deserved it or earned it by our merit. No, we are all of those things because God gave them to us. Just receiving and not earning is such a freeing experience.
You are loved because God loves you. You are forgiven because God forgave you. You are pleasing to God because He made you righteous. You are acceptable to God because He paid the price for your sins. Nothing else is required to gain His acceptance. Christ already paid the price. And you are complete in Christ.
So dismantle the chain of the fear of being “found out”. The more I discover about you and the more you discover about me will be the building blocks to a friendship that moves both of us forward into experiencing all that Christ promised in a life set free.