Imagine a society where everyone was free to express themselves however they wished. Where they was nothing standing between you and the things that most strongly resonate within you. A world where there are no obstacles between you and your deepest darkest desires. Bear in mind however that the same rule is applicable to every other person in this imaginary universe. If someone wanted something, they just took it. In this universe, a man who hates being told “No” and would just not take that for an answer is free to sleep with a woman without her consent and that is fair game because he is being true to himself as one who would not be denied. Would the consequence of this be self actualization or chaos?
From a legal perspective, every democratic society recognizes the right to “be one’s self”. It does this by providing citizens within it with a range of rights (Right to life, religion, dignity) key of which is the right to expression. The caveat to these rights is that it stops where the rights of another person or the rights of society as a whole begins. This means in exercising your own rights within the societal framework, the rights of persons other than yourself ought not to be infringed, compromised or jeopardized. Hence the law grants no man the right to “unreservedly express himself”.
Society however gets to decide the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not in terms of self expression. What kinds of self expressions are permitted would vary from society to society depending on the nature of the government having rule over it and the dominant belief systems of its citizens. Right and wrong, fair-play and illegality, morality and immorality would accordingly be decided by these factors.
Today, there is a lot of emphasis on “letting people be themselves”. This idea that we let people do whatever they want with their bodies and their lives especially if they do it within the bounds of what society says is permissible self expression. The issue with this line of reasoning is that what we as human beings most often call our truest selves is our sinful nature, that part of us that is forever in conflict with the laws of God (Romans 8:6–7). Now, a society is only as good as its men and if men are inherently sinful according to scripture (Romans 3:20), it flows logically that their distinctions between right and wrong, permissible and prohibited self expressions would naturally be in conflict with the dictates of the laws of God.
Secondly, there is a tinge of hypocrisy in this “be yourself” propaganda. For example, we all do not like jerks. (Yes, we as Christians love them with the love of God, but do not necessarily like being around them. Yet, we do not applaud the jerk for “being himself”). We do not applaud the racist for “being himself” and blatantly advocating his position/views no matter how innocuous they might be. The pedophile or serial killer is not allowed to be himself for obvious reasons. Nobody would dare to make the argument that they were born that way and as such should not be persecuted for simply acting out what is in their genes. They are deemed the scum of society and are held accountable for their actions.
The message of Christianity on the other hand is not one of “being yourself” but of being “born again” (John 3:3–5). This inherently sinful human nature has no place in the kingdom of God and has to be put to death on the cross of Jesus Christ (Romans 6, Galatians 2:20)to enable us have a godly nature, one capable of bearing what Paul calls, “fruit of righteousness” (Philippians 1:11). It is only in this that man can find his true self, in fulfilling those good works he has been ordained to in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10). “Old things” have to indeed pass away and ALL THINGS have to become new when one is in Christ (2Cor 5:17).
Does this mean that “self” dies in Christianity? Yes and No. Yes because that selfish, sinful, arrogant portion of self is what needs to die, leaving the purest and most pristine part of self to find expression and carry out the God-ordained purpose for which it was created. The true self is buried within the sinful self and until the latter dies, the former cannot emerge. So in this sense, self does not really die, it only becomes more refined.
Point is, even society understands it cannot have everybody being themselves. It in fact demands that certain people (rapists, pedophiles, terrorists, serial killers) either change (by reformation in prison) or risk being ostracized from society. In order words, society feels there is no place for these kinds of people to “be themselves” within it.
You and I understand that there are people with awfully terrible attitudes, beliefs and dispositions that should not be encouraged or applauded to stick to their guns. The fact that society regulates self expression shows it does not trust people expressing themselves, the implication is that they tacitly acknowledge there is some sort of potential for something fundamentally wrong and inherently dangerous resulting from expression of the human “self”. Something that Christianity picks up on and provides the ultimate solution for in the cross of Jesus Christ such that it is no longer a case of “being yourself” but one of “being in Christ” and only by being in Christ does one find their true self.