My wife and I have been making our way through Breaking Bad on Netflix. As we are approaching the middle part of the 4th, and I believe, penultimate season, I’ve actually noticed a number of “common grace” (beneficial things non-Christians display and do) and fairly biblical insights. Let me share with you one particular questions that the series raises, and then answers.
If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it all centers around Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that cooking Meth can provide for his family. Everything goes downhill from there. Duh….
His partner Jesse regularly goes to a recovery group for drug addicts. The ultimate presupposition of this group stated in their beginning session is that you need to first accept yourself and that change is not the most important thing. You have to like and accept yourself. This Oprah-esque mantra is assumed as gospel over the period of several different sessions.
Now what is positive about this is that it points us to a God who accepts and justifies us not because we clean ourselves up, but completely because of His Son who took our dirt and gave us His cleanness. Therefore we don’t first clean ourselves up to come to Him. This kooky psychiatrist chooses to forgo the “religious” way to acceptance. You shouldn’t try to clean yourselves up so that someone else will accept you. I’m with that.
But he instead opts for the irreligious way of self-acceptance or self-actualization. Just accept yourself for who you are. You don’t need to change at all. You have to like who you are despite all that you’ve done, and how much your actions have literally destroyed lives.
Jesse gives it a shot. Instead of quitting the drug dealing industry, he hops back in with more vigor, determination, and delight than before. He used to to do it for money. Now it is who he is. He tells Walt that, “I’ve accepted who I am, and I am bad. I’m a drug dealer.”
In a later group counseling session depicted in another episode, the same leader presses him to open up and share. Then he drops the bomb shell which exposes this “self-acceptance” theory of change. “Do you know why I’ve come here? I’ve come here to sell the recovering addicts in this group crystal meth. Should I accept myself? How bad is that!”
The scene is beautiful in a broken sort of way. It exposes the follies of the religious/irreligious ways of salvation and change as futile shams. The only thing missing is Jesus.
The gospel is a third way to live. We don’t change in order to be accepted. But we also don’t NOT change because we should accept ourselves and all of our sin. We’re sinful. We shouldn’t see our sin and say, “That’s good stuff. That’s me.” The gospel says that is NOT the way God designed us to live. That is not you. Yet neither accepting ourselves, nor working to change our situation before God does any good. Change isn’t primarily the problem. Self acceptance isn’t primarily the problem. God’s acceptance of us is, and can’t be bought by self work or self-acceptance.
Instead, the gospel offers us both God’s acceptance (which then allows us to say-I like who am re-created to be) and the gift of a desire to change. Not a desire to change in order to please God or others, but a desire to change because we already have God’s acceptance. And consequently the acceptance of His congregation of fellow struggling addicts.