All people are desperate for a savior. I know this because I see the ebb and flow of our culture. As it continues to conjure up new ones, people run to them in droves. It never ceases to amaze me how the masses can be manipulated and wooed by such insane people and notions. America has a surging new religious movement. It’s called self-actualization. I say ‘new’ because of the incredible emphasis on this idea in the present day, but, of course, there is nothing new under the sun. Every ‘new’ cultural religious movement is just warmed-over idolatry, and, like this one, usually includes self-idolatry at its core.
Within this new religion two specific ‘denominations’ can be identified, of course there are probably many others, but these two are definitely the most prominent. Each employs a plethora of ‘prophets,’ but have one primary figure leading the charge. The two are extremely diverse, but the heart of each finds its root planted firmly in self-actualization. Both are equally as dangerous as they blind all followers from the truth of God and from the true gospel.
1. The Church of Gaga: ‘Born this Way’ Self-Expression
Millions have embraced Lady Gaga and worship at the altar of her music and message. They do not look at her as a savior, nor does she call anyone to look at her as such. She does, however, serve as a prophetess who promotes one in everything she does. She has been able to build an enormous congregation, based by-and-large upon the fact that the savior she promotes is one that the masses are more than willing and elated to embrace: self.
Her message is that the savior humanity desperately seeks actually resides within one’s self. All we have to do in order to receive that salvation is to dig down deep, discover who we really are, and actualize and celebrate what we find. This is the central message of her most recognized and ‘meaningful’ song, “Born this Way.” Whatever we discover as we search our hearts and desires has to be good “’cause God makes no mistakes.” Salvation ultimately comes through self-exploration and maturity comes through the ability and boldness in expressing and celebrating what one discovers. This is why she is the queen of self-expression, herself. This is why she seems to redefine her image with every interview and concert. Call Lady Gaga a lot of things, but you simply cannot call her boring. Her version of self-expression has attracted so many people…especially young people. Her message resonates with them, and she justifies their joining this pursuit. Freedom, after all according to her message, is found when we discover who we are deep down and follow our hearts, no matter what that means.
2. The Church of Osteen: Prosperity Gospel Dream-Actualization
Just as many people have embraced Joel Osteen’s version of self-actualization. Where Lady Gaga is clearly anti-Scriptural in her pursuit, though, Osteen’s version offers a much more deceptive variation. His claims the title of “Christianity,” claiming to tout the Savior and the salvation found in the Scriptures. But make no mistake, his version of religion is just as false as Gaga’s…and just as dangerous. Why do I say that his religion is simply a different variation of the first? Because they both promote the same savior: self-actualization.
People are just as elated to find that the savior resides within the individual with this brand. Osteen simply offers God as a means to actualize what is deep down within a person. He promotes Jesus as a cosmic genie who is around to enable us in the realization of our dreams. Jesus, in this view, sacrifices himself in order to enable us to experience all that we want out of life. He came and died so that we can experience our “Best Life Now,” in other words. I look in, from time to time, on Osteen’s twitter account (and others like him), and the word dream tends to be a central theme. His call to ‘faith’ in Jesus provides the key to him helping us achieve our own vision of what we believe our lives to be…or should be. This is self-actualization. Where Lady Gaga urges followers to actualize self through expression, Osteen urges followers to actualize self through the realization of their deepest dreams for their lives. Both prophesy about the same savior, they just use different display cases in their visions.
What does the Bible say?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9
Every person is desperately seeking a savior. But, as Romans tells us, people naturally reject the truth of God that he has revealed about himself, and have chosen to worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18, 24-25). And the chief idol we long to worship is self. Both the Lady Gaga’s and the Joel Osteen’s of the world offer salvation through that pagan pursuit. Whether it is through expression through the celebration of sin and ‘uniqueness,’ or the expression of our deepest dreams and longings for our lives, both simply offer justification to our desire to celebrate the sin we find and long to express within our fallen and deceitfully sick hearts.
The only true rescue and salvation comes in the only true Savior, Jesus, who is the only one who accomplished all that was necessary for our salvation. As the only one worthy and capable of this, he lived the perfect life that we all, every one of us, failed to live. In this he fulfilled God’s standard for us, which is moral perfection and holiness. He then willingly, obediently, and sufficiently died on a Roman cross. In this he fully and completely satisfied God’s wrathful, eternal punishment that we rightfully deserved for falling short of God’s standard. We know God the Father was satisfied because Jesus rose from the dead 3 days later. He became the curse for us so that the curse could be lifted from us and our relationship with our Creator restored. He offers himself as Savior through earning what was necessary in order to stand as a substitute for those who receive his rescue through faith.
The power of the gospel comes through the transformation that takes place within the redeemed man through the power of the Spirit. That desperately sin-sick heart is replaced with a new heart. Although the struggle with sin continues, the Spirit brings conviction and empowerment in the believer’s struggle, setting his affections on God and his hope on the day when Jesus will return and do away with sin once and for all.
None of this is chiefly for the actualization of our sinful desires and dreams. All of what Jesus has done serves to bring about God’s intentions and plan to have for himself a people from every tribe, nation and tongue who will be his people and enjoy him forever in a perfect kingdom. He has done this so that His glory will become the focus on his people for all of eternity, not to allow us to promote our own in the here and now. He receives glory and worship and we receive restoration in our relationship with him and the opportunity to experience life in his presence for eternity! Jesus changes our hearts in a way that enables us to continue an adventurous pursuit of self-expression, but grounded in our identity as His children, in Christ, and as worshippers! He also replaces our dreams of living out our deepest (sinful) desires and replaces them with Kingdom dreams, experiencing eternal life in the presence of God’s blessing and restoration. Where those sinful desires and dreams always used to leave us unsatisfied, in Christ we now find full satisfaction and truly abundant life. In Christ we realize that our best life can never be now because we join all of creation in groaning in anticipation of Jesus’ return and restoration. As rapper Shai Linne says in one of his lyrics, “If you’re living your best life now, you’re headed for Hell!”
The truth is, our greatest need is not the expression of what we come to find in our hearts, but rather a rescue from the sinfulness of our hearts through Jesus. False gospels come in all shapes and sizes, even sometimes carrying the label “Christian” with them. Be careful to weigh every message you hear with the authority of God’s Word, in which he has revealed himself and the only hope of rescue that HE has provided.