Believe in Who? A 2nd Take on TD Jakes

Perhaps you heard about last week’s Woman Thou Art Loosed conference from Bishop TD Jakes. The Dallas-based pastor stood before 25,000 women and gave a double cure for the diagnosis of  feeling stuck. Here’s his solution: Believe in God. And believe in yourself. “Believing in God is not enough because I also want to remind you that the Bible said the demons believe and tremble…We do good in believing in God. Some of us were raised believing in God and if you got that part real good the enemy comes along and tries to destroy the ability to believe in yourself. He will show you all kinds of reasons to make you think that you don’t have it … He is always throwing up something in your face to get you not to believe in yourself.”

You know, we could talk about the theological error of claiming that belief in God isn’t enough (Mk 9:23). And we could agree it is a false solution to say that we just need to believe more in our sinful selves (Rom 7:18). And we’d be exactly right. But, if we were being completely honest with ourselves, I wonder how many of us would admit that – deep down – this is just how we feel? (…me too.) While the solution behind  the “believe in yourself” message isn’t true, it describes a problem that is very real – we feel stuck. We hear the truth about who Jesus is and what He’s done for us and we try so hard to live in it. But we’re overwhelmed by our own unworthiness, inadequacy, and doubt.

There’s a huge disconnect between what we know and what we feel. We try to move forward but we’re stuck in the past. We try to believe God’s Word, but we’re paralyzed by fear. We try to change our feelings but only end up wallowing in them even more. Before we realize it, self-therapy crowds out sound thinking, and what we feel takes over what we know. What woman out there can’t say this about her experience?

But while the problem of feeling stuck describes reality, the “believe in yourself” solution is just not true.

Here’s the simple truth that will breathe life into our flat-lined joy and transform our shattered self-image: You can’t change you by focusing on you. Our self-nature is the very thing keeping us chained up to ourselves. We can only change by focusing outside of ourselves on Another.

The same death-to-life miracle that first saved us, is how God transforms and changes us. Galatians 3 says it this way: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? The same way we first received Jesus – empty-handed, with nothing in and of ourselves, trusting in His love, goodness and power – is the same way we are changed in our day-to-day lives. (see Col. 2:6) Why? Because “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13…incidentally what Paul says two chapters before Phil 4:13)

God knows how utterly futile and frustrating it is for the “self” to change the “self.” Romans 5:10 says “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Major Ian Thomas describes why this is so life changing: “This…saves a man from the futility of self-effort. It relieves the Christian of the burden of trying to pull [herself] up by [her] own bootstraps! If it were not for this divine provision, the call to Christ would be a source of utter frustration.” (The Saving Life of Christ) The “believe in yourself” solution claims that we’ll thwart Satan’s scheme to “destroy the ability to believe in oneself” when we focus on the “I” of verses like Phil 3:14: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But ironically, your enemy’s No. 1 tactic against you in your Christian life is to get you to do just that – focus on yourself! The true solution for our weary souls is a counter-intuitive cure – Look away from yourself and look at Him. We can’t change by focusing on or believing in our own hearts. Let’s face it – it’s only a matter of time before they deceive and fail us. (Jer. 17:9) But when we see Christ – all that He is, has done, and promises to do – we will be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

In the classic book, Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives this simple answer to why we are “morbidly preoccupied” with ourselves: It’s because we’re “are not sufficiently occupied with Him. It is our failure to know Him and His ways as we should know them – that is the real trouble. If we only spent more of our time in looking at Him we should soon forget ourselves.” (88) So how do we do that? It starts with changing our internal dialogue. I know this is long quote but it’s just too fantastic to trim down! Here goes: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself…And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.” (20-21)

The medicine for our souls is to turn away from ourselves, to forget ourselves, and to fix our focus on the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, and remember Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. (Gal. 2:20)

Popular though the “believe in yourself” message of people like TD Jakes may be and empowering though it may sound, true freedom comes to the woman who comes to God with nothing but hope in His transforming, resurrecting grace and knows she is nothing but an object of His undeniable, irrevocable love.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

~Hebrews 12:1-3


Katie McCoy is the editor of and is pursuing a PhD in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not reading for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and is currently a political news junkie. Connect with Katie on Facebook or Follow her Twitter!