Identity Sabotage

The Troubling Tenets of Expressive Individualism

For decades, the culture of the United States has grown increasingly secular. Fueled by a postmodern worldview, the political, educational, and religious institutions within the nation have promoted policies and behaviors concerned with the self, or the manifestations of expressive individualism. As individuals look within themselves for subjective answers to issues of morality and identity (including race, gender, and sexual orientation), the biblical God and Holy Scriptures are suppressed as the true means of objective, ultimate authority. This essay will examine identity sabotage, the troubling tenets of expressive individualism, and demonstrate a Christian apologetic to show the truth of a biblical worldview… and how the gospel of Jesus Christ, not self or sociology, saves sinners.

Expressive Individualism is Identity Sabotage

Expressive individualism was first coined by American scholar Robert Bellah in 1996 where “each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realized.”1

To properly understand expressive individualism, we need to first unpack the notion of the modern “self.” Theologian and professor, Carl Trueman, defines the self as a “deeper notion of where the ‘real me’ is to be found, how that shapes my view of life, and in what the fulfillment or happiness of that ‘real me’ consists.”2 To begin making the connection between the self and expressive individualism, Trueman continues, “The modern self assumes the authority of inner feelings and sees authenticity as defined by the ability to give social expression to the same.”3

Restated simply, as long as an individual acts on the outside what the individual feels on the inside, the individual is therefore an authentic person. As Joe Rigney has excellently written on the topic of emotional sabotage,4 this definition is the beginning of unpacking identity sabotage. Further, expressive individualism has arguably sparked the sexual revolution, which has accelerated since the 1960s counter-cultural revolution, or “optimistic humanism.”5 This series of events can be seen as benignly “making a lifestyle choice,” but the rise of expressive individualism has curved in upon itself, where identity is defined and praised by sexual desire. With the declining influence of Christianity in the twenty-first century, Carl Trueman writes of transgenderism,

The trans person who was born male but claims to be a woman is to be lionized because that is an act of courage and honesty whereby the outward performance is finally brought into line with the inner reality, despite what society might say about such. All of this derives from authorizing—indeed, valorizing—that inner voice of nature and then expecting or even demanding that the outside world, from the public square to the individual’s body, conform to this.6

The subjective nature of pursuing internal feelings for definitive answers about identity sharply conflicts with the authority of God’s Word. In Jeremiah 17:9, the LORD God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” This passage indicates individuals cannot discern their own internal motives without the assistance from an external source of objective authority such as God’s Word.

How Identity Sabotage Impacts Culture

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor offered exceptional analysis of the modern secular age and the culture of emotion-based authenticity. He saw it as the normative modern notion of selfhood in the West, realizing our humanity on the “inside” rather than surrendering it to the “outside” (society, tradition, religion, etc.). He wrote, “each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from the outside.”7

This sentiment gives rise to postmodern secular thought, where subjectivity and lived experience are exalted above objective truth. While society is deconstructed and reconstructed through varying degrees of cultural Marxism, the pursuit of God is still deemed authentic but aims to make Him the ultimate question mark; a spiritual quest of perpetual searching, never arriving at the destination: the resurrected Christ as revealed in the Bible. 

However, the search for God eventually ends as long as an individual rests in the “social imaginary of expressive individualism,” unknowing of their newly constructed consumer identity that is “almost parasitic.”8 There are several character qualities that benefit individuals and societies from taking heed to our inner selves, including the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Although these qualities serve as helpful guides in building a better self, even a biblical self, the qualities themselves cannot provide the single offering that encompasses our identity. Only the born-again life, transformed by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit can serve as a complete identity with objective answers to life’s ultimate questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny (John 3:3-6).

Conversely, the construction of the “consumer self” drives people away from religion, aided by a consumerist culture. The scaffolding in the culture of the modern self includes the influence of social media, driven by edited images that fail to represent the areas of our lives that need fine-tuning and redemption. Charles Taylor saw this image-driven social imaginary as the common understanding among society that makes room for a shared sense of legitimacy (or authenticity).9

Identity Sabotage Goes to Washington (and Canada)

As crossover happens among institutions, there is growing concern over political arenas operating outside their God-ordained jurisdictions (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2) and imposing legislation that conflicts with God’s Word and affects the practices of the church. For example, Canada introduced a conversion therapy bill that unanimously passed the House of Commons and the Senate, becoming law on January 8th, 2022. On the surface, the law it is meant to outlaw conversion therapies, but the language of the bill is so broad that it effectively bans preaching and teaching of biblical sexual ethics.10

In response to the passage of the bill/law, churches around the United States and Canada preached God’s standard for sexuality the next Sunday, with the main text being 1 Corinthians 6. The bill presents a challenge to the Canadian church as well as evangelism efforts writ large, given that one of the calls of the Christian is conversion. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ gave His disciples final instructions to fulfill the great commission prior to His ascension (Matthew 28:19-20). Conversion is not therapy, biblically speaking; it comes with discipleship and is the remedy for all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

A similar piece of legislation exists in the United States, called the Equality Act. This bill also includes ambiguous verbiage around the usage of gender identity, which parallels a rejection of God’s created order in Genesis 1:27. Given the rise of the modern self and the allowance of inner feelings generating identity, this creates a paradoxical paradigm for secularists.

Apologist and philosopher Os Guinness wrote similarly about the grand paradox of freedom. He summarily stated that our society values so highly our freedom and all that it represents (including the freedom to cast off restraint), that we cannot see that the greatest enemy of freedom to be freedom itself.11 Twentieth-century historian Arnold Toynbee wrote in his twelve-volume Study of History that societies and civilizations pass through five stages: genesis, growth, times of trouble, the universal state, and disintegration. According to Toynbee, civilizations start to decay when they lose their moral fiber. They “die from suicide, not murder.”12 

Societies that strive to be on the cutting edge of inclusivity open themselves up to all manner of identity sabotage, including cultural and moral relativism, with no objective standard for measuring truth. When everything is permissible, unrepentant sin can and will likely abound. When objective truth is suppressed, subjectivity reigns. This is the case in Paul’s letter to the Roman church when he said people, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” because mankind prefers to “exchange the truth of God for falsehood,” to worship and serve the creature (self) rather than the Creator God (Romans 1:18, 25).  

Perhaps it is wise to understand truth, not as an abstract concept, but as a Person (Jesus Christ). We have the revelation of God’s written word, which is truth that we are sanctified by (John 14:6; 17:17). Jesus is the living Word, full of grace and truth (John 1:14-15). Apart from repentance, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says, 

“For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” 

Perhaps the notion of the modern self manifested throughout decades in the form of expressive individualism has been the deluding influence, the identity sabotage, especially as individuals continue to wrestle with answers to this life and the hereafter.

Secular Identity or Biblical Identity

As we continue to understand identity sabotage and the impact on the modern self in a growing secular society, nothing but cycles of subjectivity and lack of viability exist in such a worldview. Conversely, the believer’s identity in Christ offers objectivity and assurance that transcends temporal secularism. Christians rest in their sanctification, fueled by the Holy Spirit as He conforms them to Christlikeness.

A survey of selected Scriptures is warranted to bolster our understanding of biblical identity: In the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he writes “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The best attempts of the modern self cannot transform an individual spiritually (not physically) into something new; the sin remains, as well as the sting of death when it comes. 

In the apostle Peter’s second letter, he writes that believers in Jesus Christ have become partakers of the divine nature. He relates our identity as intricately connected to God by the gift of salvation through His son (2 Peter 1:4). A Christlike identity does not remain solely earthly. 

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that our unity with the resurrected Christ has become our new identity (Romans 6:4-6). Our “old self has been crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). A repentant, Christlike identity is free from sin and will experience resurrected life forever. Paul makes a similar comparison to believers being “alive with Christ” in Ephesians 2:5, and in Romans 8:29 believers were predestined to become “conformed to the image of His Son.” 

Because of this, all Christians united with Christ possess every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). The modern self has nothing outside inner self-actualization to offer, and that actualization is conclusively subjective and headed down the path of sabotage. Believers in Christ have assurance of salvation since “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). This assurance joins itself with a heavenly inheritance, and as Pastor John MacArthur points out, “Every believer has been made an heir of God, our Father” and “We will inherit eternal salvation, God Himself, glory, and everything in the universe.”13 No earthly identity can make such promises with grand assurance.

Build a Spiritual Immune System

Although the notion of expressive individualism appeals to our inner feelings, arguably our hearts, Christians ought to build a spiritual immune system in order to discern the claims of secularism. Not only do immune systems fight off viruses and bacteria, the elements that cause widespread harm in the body. Immune systems also keep healthy elements operating at peak levels, especially when fueled with essential nutrition. If individuals are fueling their minds, eyes, and ears with biblical, healthy content, especially the Word of God, they are building a strong immune system.

The biblical worldview has an enemy, Satan, and he continues his schemes, deceptions, and the blinding of people’s minds (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is one of the “bacterial” elements that a Christian immune system must fight against, including the promotion and affirmation of finding the “real me” within, the feelings-oriented identity. By contrast, when a Christian’s decision-making ability is informed by God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, the biblical “immune system” is strengthened with a desire to feed on more godly resources.

To aid our grasping of a godly identity and building a practical structure for discerning our times, Scripture reminds us that the church is the only earthly institution that Jesus promised to build (Matthew 16:18). This knowledge helps us understand the limitations of the false gospel of expressive individualism while believers make it their aim to fulfill the Great Commission in every sphere of influence that Jesus has given to them. 

Allegiance to the Self or the Savior

To handle false claims, ideologies, and worldviews, the apostle Paul asserts, “We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raise against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Much of the identity challenge involves allegiance. Our allegiance will either be to the self or to the Savior, and we build certain “kingdoms” based on that allegiance. 

Additionally, we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15); however, at times there is the lack of willingness by the other party to listen to scriptural truth. Emotional frustration, anger, and name-calling can result from speaking truth, regardless of the tone. Yet, Jesus encourages His followers, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:11, 12).

Practically, building discernment (a spiritual immune system) around these issues and others is a noble task. Biblical counselor Jay Adams says that discernment is the process of distinguishing truth from error through the sieve (or filter) of Scripture.14 As well, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says to test all things and hold fast to what is good. Believers in Christ already possess discernment; however, this is an area that can utilize more growth. Through knowledge, desire, and prayer, Christians can grow a new pattern of regularity in discerning the times.15

Prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit are especially fundamental to building a strong immune system of discernment. God has given believers the Spirit of truth to discern spiritual things (John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 2:14), including identity. So then, it would behoove believers to know their Bibles, the authoritative whole counsel of God in its proper context and apply it to their everyday lives. Adams recommends journaling or recording statements and claims that believers read about or hear on a podcast. He says to write down the topic and mark what seems questionable. Then, test the claim by searching the Scriptures and write down how to help others with the findings.[16] This form of apologetics discipleship can be utilized by all Christians who are called to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. Whether planting seeds or watering, God gives the increase and conversion (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).


Identity sabotage comes from the worldview of secularism and had strengthened the notion of expressive individualism in societies and the church. When individuals look to inner feelings as their authority for identity, it results in lived experiences anchored to subjective views of reality. Biblically, this ideology can be viewed as a false gospel, similar to how the Galatians dealt with Judaizers imposing the Mosaic Law on their region of churches. Paul, personally teaching them the gospel and serving alongside them in ministry, expresses his surprise over them “turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). 

Yet, through building a discerning “immune system,” believers in Jesus Christ can rest their hope in the clear and simple gospel while girding up the loins of their minds to bring down arguments that exalt themselves above the knowledge of God (1 Peter 1:13; 2 Corinthian 10:5). This discerning approach serves the Christian as a strong framework for fighting against the subjective self, the lies of antichrist culture, and advancing the gospel among the nations (Mark 16:15; Colossians 1:23).

Image Credit: Unsplash

Show 15 footnotes
  1. Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 19, Kindle.
  2. Ibid., 18, Kindle.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Joe Rigney, Leadership and Emotional Sabotage: Resisting the Anxiety that will Wreck Your Family, Destroy Your Church, and Ruin the World (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2024).
  5. Os Guinness, The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How it Changed America Forever (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 11.
  6. Trueman, Strange New World, 42, Kindle.
  7. James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 85, Kindle.
  8. Ibid., 86, Kindle. 
  9. Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 37, Kindle.
  10. House of Commons of Canada, “Bill C-4,” Accessed April 24, 2022.
  11. Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 18-19.
  12. Darrell Harrison and Virgil Walker, Just Thinking: About the State (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2021), 139.
  13. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), Location 51984, Kindle.
  14. Jay E. Adams, A Call for Discernment: Distinguishing Truth from Error in Today’s Church (Memphis, TN: Institute for Nouthetic Studies, 2021), Chapter 5, Kindle.
  15. Ibid., Chapter 6, Kindle.
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Nate Schill

Nate Schill is a teacher of Apologetics and serves as Elder and Admin at his church. He holds a M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Liberty University and is a D.Min. student at the same institution. He writes essays at and lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.

One thought on “Identity Sabotage

  1. Let’s face an ugly truth. Critical Theory with its immediate derivatives, Post Modernism, Deconstruction and alike are some of the true children of Christendom. They might be considered to be the black sheep of Christendom’s children, but they are its children nonetheless. How do we know? Church History tells us so.

    Read about how the Puritans severely persecuted and even martyred fellow Christians who thought or acted differently. Look at how the Puritans were involved in race-based slavery. Study how America under Christendom not only institutionalized race-based slavery, it fought a war over it. And though we might want to brag about our abolitionists, Black abolitionists soon learned about how many Northern White abolitionists still believed in white supremacy.

    Then watch the timeline of American History to see how long it took for Jim Crow to set in after the Civil War. White Supremacy still reigned supreme in America under Christendom. But Blacks were not the only non-white race several persecuted in America under Christendom, Native Americans were ethnically cleansed from the land. And that, in combination with what happened during slavery and Jim Crow, meant that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, which included women and children, were murdered with impunity. And the suffering and marginalization didn’t end there. It also continues today.

    In Europe, there were inquisitions because of and wars over religion. Imperialism and colonialism in the name of religion and violent anti-Semitism. And the suffering and marginalization didn’t end there.

    Don’t we yet realize that what we have today with what was listed above and the problems that come from expressive individualism are the results of dragging out the monsters from under Christianity’s bed which kept grabbing at the feet of and pulling under those children who would venture off the bed in the middle of the night. Do we still yet not understand how Critical Theory with its immediate derivatives, Post Modernism, Deconstruction and alike became the black sheep of Christendom’s children? American’s treatment of people of color may not have been as bad as the Nazi’s treatment of Jews, Slavs, and dissidents, but at least Germany can now face its past infinitely more honestly than White Christian America has ever been able to.

    That is why Taylor’s analysis of today’s idea of selfhood

    realizing our humanity on the “inside” rather than surrendering it to the “outside” (society, tradition, religion, etc.)

    would be more accurately described as

    surrendering what we feel on the inside to an outside authoritarianism

    Do we see the black-white worldview here. Either we are to be true to ourselves or true to what others want us to be. We don’t look at the below description of expressive individualism to see the truths and falsehoods that are contained in it:

    as long as an individual acts on the outside what the individual feels on the inside, the individual is therefore an authentic person

    There is a truth in that statement. To act differently from how we feel because of outside pressure can mean that we are not being honest and authentic. And that should concern us church rats who are constantly trying to please our peers in the pews and from the past. On the other hand, we don’t ask about being authentic the kind of question that one of my favorite childhood heroes would ask:

    Are they friendly authentic people?

    What did the old rock song by the Byrds which quoted the Scriptures say:

    To everything turn, turn, turn
    There is a season turn, turn, turn
    And a time to every purpose under Heaven

    And so isn’t there a time for being authentic and a time to doubt whether being authentic is worth it?

    There is one other point to make. We religiously conservative Christians over use deduction. We try to find the magic assumption key that will unlock the secret that totally discredits that with which we disagree. But those children of Christendom which were previously mentioned have been partially based on observation. That means that they contain some truth. And so in many cases it comes down to our use of deduction vs their use of induction, our logic vs their observation. And the disparity between the two all too often discredits not just our logic, but our faith too in the eyes of others. Critical Theory with its derivatives, Post Modernism, Deconstruction and alike are partially based on current observations and history. Such doesn’t make those ideologies infallible, but it does mean that they have more truth in them than our use of deduction allows us to admit.

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