the real you

Posted: September 14th, 2010 | Filed under: life | Tags: | 18 Comments »

“What do you want?” -Jesus; Matthew 20:21

When Jesus asks what you want, He doesn’t differentiate between your physical self and your spiritual self. He just asks. Your answer is what determines who you are. He cares about your physical life because He’s been there and understands what you’re going through. However, He didn’t experience life in a human body to make your own physical life more livable, He came to give life to your spirit. Your new life is at the expense of your physical life. It’s a process that never reaches completion until physical death.

Our life’s purpose is to know God. The more you know God, the more He asks you give of yourself. It’s only when He asks, do you find what you want. Literally and figuratively. ‘Giving of yourself‘ is not satisfied by giving your money to causes or giving your time to missions. It is not sharing the Gospel or preaching an eloquent sermon. Those are great, but they’re acts that you perform. You can perform the acts without knowing God. Therefore, they are not giving of yourself.

If you view the body as something separate from the Spirit, then you can conclude what is yours and what is not yours. That’s where you can find meaning behind the truth that your life is not your own. You can determine what is you and what is not you. The body and the mistakes it makes is not what makes you who you are. The body and the good it does is not what makes you who you are. People who are not believers can out-good believers any day. People who are believers can out-sin people who are not believers any day. Anything that you can do for the sake of the Gospel can be done by those who don’t even believe the Gospel.

Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. -Romans 12:3

The only thing that matters at all in this life is the one thing you cannot do. You cannot save yourself. If you cannot save yourself and salvation comes by faith, then you cannot have faith, or believe, on your own. It has to be given to you.

If you can do everything else, with remarkable self-control, on your own and what comes from you is no longer you, then the only thing that is left is your spirit. You can’t even call the spirit yours if you consider that it is either dead in sin or alive in Christ. If it is yours, it is dead. If it is God’s then it is alive. Your life is not your own.

Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you.Colossians 3:3-4

God gives commands He knows only He can fulfill. This means He gives commands that He knows you can’t fulfill.  He tells us to pray continually. I’ve heard people ask how this is possible and I’ve heard even more answers to that question. I believe this is possible because He sent the Holy Spirit to do it for you. Your real self, the spirit within you, is praying continually. When Jesus is talking to you, He ‘s talking to the real you. He’s talking to Himself in you. And the real you, the Holy Spirit in you, is talking back.

When Jesus asks, ‘What do you want?’, He’s conferring with the life He lives through you. If your mouth speaks the words of the Spirit within you, then what you want will come to pass.

Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you.Jesus; John 16:23

If you ask for something for yourself, then you will be told that you don’t know what you’re asking.

Jesus responded, “You have no idea what you’re asking.”Matthew 20:22

The real you, the Spirit within you, does not recognize the language of self and, therefore, does not know what the mouth is asking. You must experience the reality that you are not entitled. You are a servant to something not your own.



18 Comments on “the real you”

  1. 1 Robyn said at 11:29 am on September 14th, 2010:

    I'd love for you to go deeper here:

    "The only thing that matters at all in this life is the one thing you cannot do. You cannot save yourself. If you cannot save yourself and salvation comes by faith, then you cannot have faith, or believe, on your own. It has to be given to you."

    I really enjoy reading your blog!

  2. 2 Serena Woods said at 1:25 pm on September 14th, 2010:

    Thanks, Robyn. 🙂 I am assuming, since you're reading this blog, that you already know that salvation comes by faith. So, I'll go deeper with the part about how you cannot have faith on your own and that it has to be given to you.

    The scriptures that fed my thoughts when writing this are the NIV and ESV versions of the verse from Romans 12 I quoted in the blog:

    Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

    Here are some other verses:

    He went on to say, "This is why I told you earlier that no one is capable of coming to me on his own. You get to me only as a gift from the Father." -Jesus; John 6:65

    For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. -Philippians 1:29

    There are more verses, but I'll stop there because those are so poignant.

  3. 3 Warren Baldwin said at 11:44 am on September 17th, 2010:

    Haven't visited here in a while, but always enjoy the reading when I do.

    Your blog posts always have a lot to chew on. I especially liked the quote Robyn referred to and this one: "Our life’s purpose is to know God." Ironically, even in ministry this is easy to forget.

    Good post.

  4. 4 Andy Madsen said at 10:06 am on September 20th, 2010:

    Hi Serena,

    Your book is making the rounds among my friends. A lot of different reactions – anger, empathy, disappointment – reactions that I'm sure you're used to by now. But it's definitely creating a buzz.

    I'm certainly a better person for having read your words… so thank you. It's making me think about what kind of pastor I want to be, and what kind of friend I want to be when I'll find myself in a story like yours. I'm also wrestling with a lot of things that you brought up about grace, evil, and so many other things that are illuminating how I relate to God and others.

    There was, however, one objection that I kept writing in the margins of your book, in several places near the end… and it's related to this most recent blog entry, so I thought I'd ask you about it.

    I appreciate how your book is communicating some very profound things, but in a very conversational way. But one thing was glaring at me.

    I think that, in an attempt to make the Apostle Paul's words your own – in relation to the battle between what he calls 'the flesh' and 'the spirit,' you decided to substitute the word 'body' for 'flesh.' (You make distinctions between the sin done in your body, versus who you want to be and what you want to do… even making it sound as if you are a prisoner in your body.)

    (I could bring up specific examples, but you wrote your own book, so I'm assuming you at least have an idea of the places I'm referencing.)

    You have to be really careful here, making a distinction between what part of us is sinning against God, others, and ourselves. Whenever you were talking about this distinction, it made it sound as if the body was a bad thing, sort've like a prison, or something separate from the real You.

    The body isn't bad. God made it. And he will redeem and restore it.

    I don't know you, but I'm sure you already know that very well. It's just that a lot of Christians make a distinction between our embodied existence and our 'Spiritual Life.'

    That's not a Hebrew or Christian idea. That's a Greek idea. And a Gnostic one at that… a heresy that was a big problem for the early church, and is making a comeback today… where the body is bad, and what really counts is the 'spiritual.'

    I know your book is really speaking to people who have struggled with choices they have made about what to do with their bodies. It would be easy for them to feel shame and resentment about their bodies, especially since a significant part of sexual sin involves our bodies… it would be easy to feel hatred toward our bodies because it was the channel for sin… and shame.

    The last part of your book focuses a lot on reconciliation, something you've only experienced in part, something you're hoping will take place at some future date… reconciliation is a theme that I really resonate with.

    I'd be interested to know what you're learning about the reconciliation, redemption and healing that God wants to bring, not just to our relationships, but also to our body.

    I hope I'm making sense, and that I've portrayed your words fairly… I'm happy to clarify though.

    For your book, your ministry, and courageous honesty, I wanted to say, 'Thank you, and keep going.'

  5. 5 Serena Woods said at 11:59 am on September 20th, 2010:

    Andy: Your words are kind, thought out and greatly appreciated. Sometimes I wish I could be part of the conversations that originate from people reading my book and sometimes I'm glad I'm not. 🙂

    I'll do my best to tell you where my thoughts and perspective come from.

    I did feel like a prisoner. I felt trapped in my mistakes and I wanted out. I say that in my book and I say that now with intense clarity in memory. It was five years ago this past summer. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the searing pain no matter how much I heal and distance myself from the layers upon layers of deception. The pain is always there, but serves as a stark contrast against what Jesus did for me. The redemption of hope. The birth of purpose. The scars that others can see so that they'll know that I know.

    When I was feeling the hopelessness of being one person in my intent and another in my actions, I found an immeasurable amount of comfort in the words of Paul. I felt like he understood what it was to experience that almost audible rip between flesh and spirit. I felt peace when I knew I wasn't the only one who loved God, but still chose 'self'. Maybe, in the circles you are a part of or the conflicts of understanding individual perspectives, the terminology I use hits a nerve.

    In all of the nerves I've hit, this one hasn't been brought up until now.

    I know that God made us, our bodies, and made them miraculous and beautiful. However, when it comes to grasping the separation and putting flesh (bodies, self) in its place, I can think of the scripture where Jesus tells us to cut off an arm that causes sin, poke out an eye… die to self. That separation is what I'm talking about. I know that there are more figurative or mental alignments that can be put in to place concerning the graphic command and I talk about those in other writings.

    I am not mad at myself anymore. I take care of myself and view my body as more of a glove (or any other cheesy illustrative 'vessel') that the Holy Spirit moves through. However, I do not trust my body, flesh, self. I, the part that came from dust and will return to dust, have desires, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies that is embedded with sin. If I am not aware of that tendency, then I will not think it important to consciously die or suffer a loss to that part of me.

    If you're like me when it comes to theology, I don't take personal experience as gospel simply because it's infused with self-interest and it is always an incomplete understanding. So, I'll give you this as support for my view of my inner self being separate, at odds with and temporarily stuck (like a prisoner) in a body that still sins:

    But I discern in my bodily members a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs. -Romans 7:23 AMP (also NIV is similar)

    Paul says that right after he says that when he sins, it is no longer he that sins, but the sin that lives in him that sins.

    O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death? -verse 24

    I found, still find, an amazing amount of peace in knowing Paul (and Peter and others…) understood the difference.

    O thank God! [He will!] through Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. -verse 25

    It is imperative that people understand this because it makes or breaks the ability to offer grace for the sake of the spirit within the man (woman) who sinned. If this is not understood, then compassion is more difficult.

    How can you believe someone is remorseful and undoubtedly (demonically) tormented within if you do not view them as a child of God trapped in a body of sin? ('But, you did this! How can a person, capable of that possibly be sorry?') I've heard that so many, many times. Grace is withheld as a result.

    Okay. Reconciliation? I still have only experienced it in part. The parts are growing with time, but the story is still far from over.

    With every mistake I make, I have to fight against feeling like I am poison.

    I have grown so much in all of this. I feel the intense work of the Holy Spirit and Him guiding me into scary and public places. I know purpose, I know grace and I know redemption, but I am still reduced to a cockroach when I have to deal with those to whom I have not been reconciled.

    I see them as being a part of the same Body I am a part of. I remember their friendship and their hearts and what beautiful people they are and I am sitting here in tears as I think about them and write this. I don't know what I can do. I don't know what I can say. I just hold out hope that there will be an opportunity for brokenness and healing. I keep searching myself for places where I am wrong so that this can be healed. I keep trying to be okay with us never being healed and it not causing me to nourish bitterness toward them.

    The effects of not being reconciled are localized in my sense of belonging, of being loved, of feeling forgiven. That is where I am in my healing. I have come far in this area, but still feel like an orphaned child. I am to the point where I would fight them on the theology of grace, but more than anything I want to be working beside them.

    Please continue the (public, thanks a lot ;)) conversation if you have anything else.


  6. 6 Andy Madsen said at 2:52 pm on September 20th, 2010:


    Unless you could be a literal fly on the wall, I very much doubt that you'd like to be in on most of those conversations. You tossed a grenade… you don't want to be around when that goes off.

    But, I hear you now. We see some things differently, but that's what keeps human interaction interesting 🙂

    When people I've talked to have an angry reaction to your work, what surfaces pretty quickly is a story of someone they know who was in an affair… maybe a friend or a relative. Stories that we can relate to on a personal level bring all sorts of junk to the surface – the anger is there because the memories and pain are still so real, maybe still unresolved?

    I'm sure you have to develop thick skin to be a communicator, especially when it concerns such an intensely personal issue.

    I have to say though, your art certainly helped mine. I was reading your book while preparing to preach the story of the woman caught in adultery. That story takes on new personal dimensions every time it gets under my skin. Jesus disarms the attackers so brilliantly… when he writes in the dirt, he reminds them of their nation's story, when ALL of them had cheated on God… and so no one but Jesus is qualified to throw a stone, and yet he's the only one trying to save a life, instead of taking one.

    On another note…

    If you like books on the creative process, Steven Pressfield has an amazing work called, 'The War of Art.' If you haven't read it yet, I recommend it to anyone I know who is creative.

    Do you imagine that you'll write something as a follow-up work to your first book? Just imagine what God will have taught you SEVEN years from this last summer.

    [ light and life ]


  7. 7 Serena Woods said at 3:49 pm on September 20th, 2010:

    I find, too, that those who have the most negative emotions to my story are those who have been hurt by an affair.

    A very close second are those who have not seen their worst yet. They've never been to that terrible place of really needing a Savior. Which, in my experience, affects everything else about them. This group doesn't finish the book. They get half way, get mad, and put it down.

    I wrote from the perspective of the adulterous woman here: if you want to check it out.

    I don't think the follow up has written itself yet, so I can't imagine doing one. I have, however, started and scrapped many books on different topics. I even have a fiction book started, but I think I'm afraid I can't do it again.

    'Grace Is For Sinners' literally poured out of me. I didn't know what I was going to write or what I was writing until I finished a chapter at a time and read it. I was shocked that I actually wrote it and got excited. There were points when I would be too busy to write and I felt this incessant harassment of my senses, this unbelievable nudging, …if you can imagine trying to bat away flies with honey on your head, that was what it was like. I had to write. Sometimes I'd write through the night.

    I did not want my book to have the other characters in it. Almost in a prideful way. I just wanted to tell what I learned. When I would sit to write, I couldn't. I couldn't complete one sentence. I found that I had no book without the personal side. I told God that 'I didn't want my book to be about them'. He replied, 'It's not.' And it's true. It's not.

    I'll finish another book.

    Thanks for the book rec. 🙂

  8. 8 Andy Madsen said at 5:32 pm on September 20th, 2010:


    I'll try to make this my last response to this entry so I don't hog all the comment space, but no promises 🙂

    I read your blog entry… it was a really good imaginative exercise.

    I'm glad you pushed through the harassment of your senses to produce the book… Pressfield calls that harassment 'Resistance.' It really is like warfare to create something.

    I had another response to your blog entry this time, and these themes come up in your book as well.

    I understand the differentiation between what we DO vs. who we ARE. We are going to do plenty of things in this life that do not reflect who God intends for us to be… and there is grace for that.

    At the same time, do you think there are some potential pitfalls here?

    Personally, I'm wondering that if we completely separate our actions from our identity, then there's a sense in which we can also deny responsibility for what we've done. We can do some real harm, but then, what if we say, 'Oh, that wasn't me.'

    Yes, it was me. Sure, it wasn't the 'me' that I like to put on display, but it was me, just the same.


  9. 9 Serena Woods said at 4:18 am on September 21st, 2010:

    It's not a flippant 'Oh, that wasn't me.' It's a tearful, 'That's not who I am!' If a person does not acknowledge the difference then there is not reason to get up after a fall and every reason in the world to judge people according to what you see.

    You can think back to your own selfish mistakes and explore the implications of what you felt and how you were able to experience freedom from the damage you caused.

  10. 10 Andy Madsen said at 12:15 pm on September 21st, 2010:

    Thanks Serena… that question was on behalf of a friend of mine who will eventually work up the courage to ask you questions on their own 🙂

  11. 11 Amy T said at 8:29 pm on September 22nd, 2010:

    this comment has been removed at the author's request. all to see here are cute little monsters. roar.

    <img src="; alt="cute monsters" />

  12. 12 Jen said at 4:41 am on September 23rd, 2010:

    Amy T, the fact that you can read the whole book and walk away with those thoughts is just weird.

  13. 13 Tara Vanguard said at 6:30 am on September 23rd, 2010:

    Jen, I was just thinking the same thing. 🙂

    I was awe-inspired at how many times Serena told us that 'their' story wasn't over yet and that being upset at the other characters would be exactly what she's saying is wrong. I double checked my own copy before writing this, but at the end she writes and I quote:

    'One of the biggest challenges for me while writing this book was to know that I am capturing a period of time and setting it in a stone that can be seen long after I'm gone. Long after the circumstance has been reconciled.

    Humanity is perfectly imperfect and when you take a snapshot of life before it has a chance to dress for the occasion, you're going to see the flaws. I've taken a snapshot of a group of people when they were not dressed for the part. It's gritty. It's unfair. Bit, it's real.

    The characters in my story, though slightly shrouded by their own obscurity and the name change, are real people with real flaws, but with real potential.'

    'The church is notoriously inept at church discipline.' <~ That's Philip Yancey from the back of the book. We ALL know it, we've ALL done it, Serena just says it. My own pastor preaches on this all the time because we don't want to be like that. It's a big enough problem that he says if you don't SEE the problem might want to step back and consider that they are PART of the problem.

    As for her not being repentant. Oh, my word. What is the first scene of the book? Did you read chapter 8? Did you finish the book?

    I can only assume that Amy may not have finished the book or is dealing with her own personal connection to pain of what affairs cause. I don't want to downplay the right for someone to speak against a literary work, but I most certainly will say something in response. Especially when I have SEEN this particular literary work transform lives to the magnitude that it has in my own obscure corner of this planet.

    I am one of those people for sure.

    I suggest, Amy, if you feel so passionaly about Serena's book, to the extent that you read her blog and voice your disapproval as much as a year later, that you take her advice, very last page, and 'read it again.'

    Serena: I know you're very busy, but I would love to see how you respond to this type of challenge. Please don't be discouraged. I'm sure you've developed a thick skin from putting your worst out there for public scrutiny, but you're a person who can still be hurt and I hope you're not.

    Love, light, grace and peace,

    Tara (who never comments, but ALWAYS reads 🙂 )

  14. 14 Amy T said at 7:34 am on September 23rd, 2010:

    Actually I don't read her blog but was recently pointed this way by a friend.

    I wish Serena would have honored my wishes and removed my comment this morning like I requested. I explained to her that I wish I hadn't posted it in the public eye, and I wish I had taken more time to formulate my thoughts in a more tactful manner.

    My point was not to "challenge" her, but to share what I took from the book, and the weaknesses I saw in the story. Obviously what a person takes from a literary art is subjective. 10 different people can read the exact same words, and all come away with something different. This was my perspective, and it was no doubt colored by my own experiences, as will be everyone who reads it.

    Now that there are subsequent comments, I doubt she will unpublish my original. It was a case of being up too late (with weary judgement) , and hitting send prematurely. For that I apologize. I don't need a response, but if Serena chooses to, I hope she will contact me privately.

  15. 15 Serena Woods said at 8:39 am on September 23rd, 2010:

    I think I should have taken some Aleve before I sat down to the computer.

    This isn't how I keep house.

    Amy, your comment has been replaced by cute little monsters.

  16. 16 StephenT said at 4:55 am on September 29th, 2010:

    Serena said:

    "If you view the body as something separate from the Spirit, then you can conclude what is yours and what is not yours. That’s where you can find meaning behind the truth that your life is not your own."

    Andy Madsen said:

    "Do you think there are some potential pitfalls here? … If we completely separate our actions from our identity, then there’s a sense in which we can also deny responsibility for what we’ve done."

    I'd like to try to share a pitfall for me:

    Pitfalls regarding license will always abound. And scripture clearly warns us to "not use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh." And while I'm sure I'm guilty on a regular basis of misusing my freedom, there is, for me anyway, a pitfall that endangers my journey far more. (and the journey of many others I suspect).

    The danger is this: Having been given an understanding that "the only accurate way to understand [myself] is by what God is and by what he does for [me], not by what [I] am and what [I] do for him." … I fail to believe it.

    I fail daily to trust just how much He loves me. I fail to embrace the fact that I have every reason and every assurance in the world to make Him my portion and my cup.

    There are times when I do believe a little better, because He helps my unbelief. In those times, deep inside, issues regarding my own license grow strangely dim. In those times I remember that it's not good theology that I need, it's a Savior, and He's done it all. In those times I witness first hand that "grace doesn't just cover me, it changes me".

    Thank you Serena, for once more inviting us, and encouraging us … to believe. And for reminding us in this post that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God."

    It amazes me how we make theology some kind of instrument to bolster our good side (empowered by the Spirit of course) and subdue our bad side. And we call it "good theology" when it actually seems to be making a difference in that regard. And all the while the sin of unbelief is still on the table, and no one wants to talk about that… because we're "believers" after all.

    "The great danger facing all of us… is not that we shall make an absolute failure of life, nor that we shall fall into outright viciousness, nor that we shall be terribly unhappy, nor that we shall feel [that] life has no meaning at all—not these things. The danger is that we may fail to perceive life’s greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to tender the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God—and be content to have it so—that is the danger: that some day we may wake up and find that always we have been busy with husks and trappings of life and have really missed life itself. For life without God, to one who has known the richness and joy of life with Him, is unthinkable, impossible. That is what one prays one’s friends may be spared—satisfaction with a life that falls short of the best, that has in it no tingle or thrill that comes from a friendship with the Father."

    … Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Sermons [1878]

  17. 17 Andy Madsen said at 7:21 am on September 29th, 2010:

    Stephen T,

    Sounds like you enjoy good theology (God knowledge) after all 🙂

    Knowledge that is personal, deep, filling, experiential, thrilling… a God-encounter… that's what I want.

    For me, there's some things standing between me and that encounter. Some of those things are obvious, other things aren't.

    But I'm encouraged by the story in John 9 about the blind man whom Jesus healed by making mud and putting it on his eyes.

    The beginning of the story says that 'Jesus saw a man' (Adam = man.)

    The last time God did something with dirt… it was the First Creation.

    Now, Jesus is doing something with dirt that is a New Creation.

    Jesus saw him first, but once he is washed, the blind man will see Jesus too.

    Something in this story is really resonating with me… hoping that God will reveal more tonight with my group of High School students.

  18. 18 Serena Woods said at 7:31 am on September 29th, 2010:

    StephenT: Your thoughts are dead on, in my opinion. Thanks for posting them.

    Andy: Jesus doing something with dirt is beautiful. 🙂

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