Shedding Our Chameleon Skin

by Scott Sauls August 19, 2020

People are like chameleons. We’re good at hiding.

Why do we hide? Because rejection is simply too painful to bear. The chameleon in us—or what Brennan Manning has called the Imposter—is represented by multiple “colors” or masks that we use to hide ourselves and fit in. Most of us have a work self, an at-home self, an internet self, a party self, a church self, a bedroom self, and several other selves we depend on to keep us safe from exposure and attack.

Having so many pseudo-selves leads us to become dis-integrated people versus people who are integrated and whole. In all our changing of colors to blend in, we become living pictures of what Groucho Marx supposedly said: “Those are my principles. And if you don’t like them…well, I have others.”

We want to be liked, so we seek to do whatever we think that requires. Living to be liked seems like a safe way to live.

It’s what pastor Jack Miller used to call being an “approval suck.”

I’ll admit it. I am an approval suck who really likes to be liked. I am a human chameleon who wants to feel safe in social settings, when being observed for this or that, and in every other situation. And so are you.

But how is the inner chameleon working out for us? Is it giving us firmer footing with more friends and deeper community? Or is it leaving us lonelier, more misunderstood, more ashamed, and more afraid? These outcomes may still feel acceptable for us because of what C.S. Lewis said about the risks associated with love:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

In an ideal world, the truths of the gospel will move us past the transparency hurdle, thus freeing us to shed our chameleon skin. Because our sins have been forgiven–and our chameleon hides protected–we truly have nothing left to hide. If God is for us, who can be against us? Because God has declared us to be blameless in his sight through the finished work of Jesus, we truly have nothing left to prove. With us, our Father is well pleased! Because God loves us dearly and nothing can ever separate us from his love, we truly have nothing to fear. We are his treasure! We are our Beloved’s, and our Beloved is ours!

Even still, one remaining roadblock prevents us from entering into these realities and becoming free: We are chronic amnesiacs. Almost as quickly as we hear the good news that in Christ we have nothing left to hide, to prove, or to fear…we forget it. Punctured by our own fallen condition, the good news of Jesus leaks out of us constantly.

In a moment of transparency, Mariah Carey, one of the most successful artists in the history of pop music, said in an interview that if she hears a thousand words of praise and one word of criticism, that one criticism will eliminate the thousand praises in her mind.

Can you identify with this dilemma? I certainly can.

The praises and positives slip through our fingers like Jell-O. The shaming and criticisms, on the other hand, stick to us like Velcro and can feel impossible to shake off, no matter how hard we try. The serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, also known as the “accuser of the brethren” or Satan (Revelation 12:10), is the same deceiver to us—whispering constantly in our ears, “Has God really said…” (Genesis 3:1)?

Has God really said you are forgiven, blameless in his sight, and forever loved? Surely not! We both know that you are guilty, shameful, and worthless!

The serpent hisses these lies to our hearts constantly. This is why nineteenth century minister, Robert Murray McCheyne, said that for every one look we take at ourselves, we should take ten looks at Christ. Similarly, Martin Luther said that we need to hear the gospel every day because we forget it every day. These are simple ways of saying that most of us have the volume turned up on the serpent’s voice of accusation and bondage and turned down on the Father’s voice of pardon and freedom.

We must surrender to Jesus’ interest in reversing this for us.

“Forgiven, blameless, loved…all through Christ.” Volume UP.

“Shameful, worthless, a useless burden.” Volume DOWN.

One way to turn up the Father’s voice is to practice what Scripture calls “speaking the truth in love”(Ephesians 4:15) with each other. We must, as Ann Voskamp says, “Only speak words that make souls stronger.” As the beloved, blood-bought daughters and sons of God, we must use our words to call out the best in each other versus punishing each other for the worst. To speak the truth in love is to offer encouragement—to put courage in to a soul. One of our primary resources for this is carefully chosen, life-giving words that God has already declared over us all.

Only then will we dare to come out from hiding and rest in knowing we have nothing left to hide, nothing left to prove, and nothing left to fear.

Chameleons no more.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at Scott Sauls’ blog.