How Studying the Bible Taught Me to Be Original

How studying the Bible taught me to Be Original
God created each of us to be original, with unique talents, personalities, backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses.

It was my high school senior year, and Halloween was soon approaching.

My crew of friends from the soccer and basketball teams and some of the cheerleaders knew it would be our last one altogether, so we wanted to make Halloween an all-day event. We decided to get costumes with a science fiction and comic theme.

We drove to Universal Studios where I picked up a Star Trek uniform, as my other friends decided on Star Wars and Marvel comic costumes. Our plan was to attend school the next day in full costumes for all our classes. Reluctantly, I proceeded to go through with this plan. 

Upon arriving at school in full “Starfleet” wardrobe, I nervously looked for the rest of my friends, only to discover each decided to back out of the plan. I ended up being the only one in costume for the rest of my classes that day.  That day, I discovered what it meant to be original.

What Ray looked like in his mind.

I felt uncomfortable, distressfully awkward, embarrassed, and lonely at times. Yet, the unexpected happened. Different classmates and teachers throughout the day expressed new respect for my “boldness”, unorthodox creativity, and the humor in it all.

They expressed wishing they too had joined in with my costume debacle that turned into daring originality. Needless to say, I confronted my friends later that evening when we went out together for Halloween. They finally joined in with their costumes.

Each of us is an original

God created each of us to be an original, with unique talents, personalities, backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses.

However, when we ignore or even reject the originality God designed us to have, we can miss the path our lives were meant for in ultimately fulfilling the purpose for which God destined us.

25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.

That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Galatians 5:25-26 MSG

To be original – to think, believe, and live differently than our peers, culture, or the world around us — can be daunting or difficult, yet inspiring! The Cambridge dictionary defines “original” as”not the same as anything or anyone else and therefore special.”

I’ve learned from studying the Bible that to be original means to simply be ourselves – not having pretense and no longer pretending or performing to become someone we were never meant to be.

Rather we should grow into who God created and destined us to be. This is what studying the Bible propelled me to do and become. 

Most of my life, I’ve drawn my confidence and security from trying to fit into the crowd, to please people, or to live for acceptance and validation from others. As much as I thought conforming to the culture and crowds around would help me be more secure, I found myself more unhappy, unaware of what I truly believed, and uncertain of the purpose I was meant to live for.

be-original-pull

This all changed during my freshman year at UC Berkeley when a friend in college asked me to study the Bible. That’s when I would discover that my life was meant for something far greater than being ordinary or to fit in with those around me – that God had an original, special destiny in mind for me.

There are 3 ways studying the Bible taught me to be original — to experience and live for God’s personal purpose for my life. 

Think different: be original, not ordinary

By trying to conform to popular opinion and culture, I was aiming to be ordinary, not original.  This was in complete contrast to God’s vision for me and the vision he has for every individual.

Studying the Bible changed my thinking from worldly and secular thinking to spiritual thinking.  This meant deciding to make the Word of God my standard when it came to determining my priorities, decisions, and especially how I would build relationships. 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2 NLT

When I decided to no longer live by what was prescribed as “acceptable” or celebrated by the culture around me but rather live by what God and the Scriptures defined as truth, it transformed my thinking.  

There were 3 truths that my friends showed me from the Scriptures that completely changed my thinking in the following core areas:

  1. Think differently about priorities:  Pursuing what’s highly valued in the eyes of the world was leading me to lose my life and identity spiritually. (Luke 9:24-25)
  2. Think differently about greatness:  Living to make others greater is how God defines greatness rather than living to make myself great. (Luke 9:48)
  3. Think differently about relationships: Loving people based not on how others treated me but on how God has loved me is the key to depth in relationships (John 13:34-35). 

My outlook on life, my personal priorities, and how I built relationships became completely different because of studying these Scriptures and other similar ones in the Bible. 

Just as it changed my thinking and guided me to become who God envisioned me to be, the Bible is the guide to becoming original, providing the truth to discover the very identity God destined for us.

To be original begins with discovering your identity, and your identity is found in God.

26 From one man, Adam, he made every man and woman and every race of humanity, and he spread us over all the earth. He sets the boundaries of people and nations, determining their appointed times in history.

27 He has done this so that every person would long for God, feel their way to him, and find him—for he is the God who is easy to discover!

28 It is through him that we live and function and have our identity; just as your own poets have said, ‘Our lineage comes from him.’

 Acts 17:26-27 TPT

In hindsight, after my friends showed me Acts 17:26-27, I learned that the reason why God orchestrated for me to move to the Bay Area from Los Angeles was not because of my college choice or a coincidence of circumstances.

Rather it would be the only time and place at that stage in my life at which God knew I’d be most open and receptive to learning about him and the Scriptures.  

Reflection Questions

  • Do you believe God orchestrates and determines your times and places, so you can discover your identity through building a relationship with him?
  • Have you been settling for an ordinary life by living to conform to popular opinion and culture?
  • Is your identity based on deep conviction and certainty about God’s purpose for you?  Or is your identity circumstantial, dependent upon crowd approval, status, or achievement?

Live different: build a conviction, not a constituency

As my friends studied the Bible with me, I quickly realized that the Scriptures weren’t just meant to be read, but to be lived. I was a religious person who had no intention of actually changing or obeying the Bible.

My friends showed me John 8:31-32, helping me understand for the first time what it meant to have personal conviction — to hold firmly to a belief, especially truth from the Bible, regardless of my circumstances or emotions. It was the only way to build a real, dynamic relationship with God, rather than a religious, stagnant one.

31 Jesus spoke to the Jews who had believed him. “If you obey my teaching,” he said, “you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth. And the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32 NIRV

I had gone to a private Christian school for most of my life, where I was taught that compliant moral behavior was what it meant to be a Christian. I had a reputation for being a “good guy” who was widely “respected” by peers and school faculty.

In my senior year, I decided to run for Student Council Vice President of my high school (wanting the perks of status without the actual decision-making responsibility of being president). At that time, I had a large constituency of peers and friends who vowed to support me, yet I would go on to lose the election. 

Afterward, I was distraught, only to discover that despite being popular among classmates, I did not take a stand for any beliefs or initiatives. What people really wanted was someone with a personal conviction that would bring about real change and progress for the student body. 

To become someone who could effect real change, I needed to learn how to develop personal convictions. I learned from John 8:31-32 that in order to change my life, to be freed from past sins and setbacks, I would have to apply and hold to the truth in Scripture starting with Jesus’ teachings.

be original

This was the first step in building personal conviction. Up until that point, I was so consumed with what people would say about me that I ignored any truth that would have freed me from the paralyzing fear of being different.  

My parents didn’t approve of me studying the Bible, because they believed my focus should be completely on academic and professional achievement. However, what they didn’t know was how internally weak and hollow I was, void of conviction. I also learned in the Bible studies that without having personal conviction, I wouldn’t be capable of being wholehearted about anything or anyone.

What eventually led to my parents’ minds and attitudes changing about me being a Christian was the change in our relationship – from me being resentful towards them to becoming grateful for them. My friends had shown me from the Scriptures that most of my resentment toward my dad was rooted in a deeply self-centered sense of entitlement — what he didn’t do for me or give to me, in the way I wanted and how I wanted.

By deciding to make the Bible my standard and base my priorities on the Scriptures rather than a constituency, I learned the convictions necessary to rebuild my life and deepen relationships.

My friends showed me scriptures like Matthew 6:14-15 and Ephesians 4:31-32, which challenged me on the 3 “S’s” that left no room for God or spiritual conviction: Self-righteousness, Self-centeredness, and Selfish ambition. 

After becoming a Christian, I set my mind on serving and sharing my life with my parents each time I’d see them on a school break or in phone conversations. This later changed their attitude to be more than supportive of my decision to study the Bible and live as a Christian. They saw and experienced how my new convictions from the Bible rebuilt and rekindled a close relationship with them.

One example of someone who wasn’t afraid to think and live differently was Caleb:

7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions,

8 but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.

Joshua 14:7-8 NIV

Despite being 85 years old, Caleb was just as strong, passionate, and determined to live for God as he was in his earlier years. He was wholehearted towards God, despite not sharing the same perspective and thinking as his peers, because of his deep conviction about God’s destiny for his life and people.

By deciding to make the Bible my standard and base my priorities on the Scriptures rather than a constituency, I learned the convictions necessary to rebuild my life and deepen relationships.

Moreover, by living with conviction, it led to inspiring and changing the lives of many other friends and family members in the years following. This included studying the Bible with my father and helping him discover biblical convictions to live differently and become a Christian.

Reflection Questions

  • Do you pursue popularity or personal conviction?
  • Are you willing to live and think differently based on the Scriptures rather than be the same as those around you?
  • What personal conviction does God want you to develop that would change the lives of those around you?

Change the world: become free to build the future

A huge cloud of witnesses is all around us. So let us throw off everything that stands in our way. Let us throw off any sin that holds on to us so tightly. And let us keep on running the race marked out for us.

Hebrews 12:1 NIRV

As my friends studied the Bible with me, I became increasingly inspired by the Scriptures about the future God envisioned for me. I learned that God had a unique purpose for every person and that my race marked out by God was very different from anyone else’s.

God has a specific race marked out personally for each person — providing us with different gifts yet shared convictions to finish that race. He tailored my race and destiny according to my unique qualities, strengths, weaknesses, and life experiences to specifically change the lives of others who I could relate to and find common ground (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT). 

Yet the only obstacle holding me back from running forward to the future was my past sins and the encumbering guilt that came with them.

2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! 3 When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.

4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. 7 For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.

8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.

Psalm 32:2-8 NLT

As long as we remain guilt-ridden, it’s impossible to be original, to move forward to change the world on the tailored pathway that God has set before each of us. The guilt in my life was rooted in all my past sins both blatant and subtle – the hidden secrets and self-serving choices that hurt so many relationships both past and present.

It was only through being challenged to be completely honest with God and friends that I began seeing God clearly. Only then could I become aware of the true identity God had for me and free to move forward to build the future he planned for me.

As friends showed me Scriptures like Galatians 5:19-21, they helped me identify the specific sources and sins that created the tremendous weight of guilt in my heart. I found that I couldn’t live out God’s purpose of changing the world without first changing my heart to be free of the guilt within. 

As long as we remain guilt-ridden, it’s impossible to be original.

Once I began being honest about my guilt, revealing my thought-life and hidden motives to God, and turning from these, I was able to turn to God and change. I became much lighter and freer without sin, guilt, and pretense holding me back from the new life and future God had in store.

This change propelled me to help others change by showing them how they too could become free from their past and their sins by turning to God. I finally realized the plan God had all along for me —  that by changing me, he would move through my life to help others not only change but become the “originals” God destined them to be!

Reflection Questions

  • What is the specific race or unique pathway God has set before you to pursue, different from what popular opinion or people have advertised? 
  • Are you willing to let spiritual friends engage and study the Bible with you to help you discover God’s purpose for your life and future?
  • What internal or hidden guilt is holding you back from changing and moving forward into the life and vision God has planned for you?
  • How can your personal change inspire and help others to change? To discover who God meant for them to be?
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