When people are insecure, they can express it in very different ways, depending on their temperament, values and conditioned habits, all often shaped by past experiences. In some, insecurity looks like meekness, compliance and always assuming blame. In others, it looks like bravado, defiance and never admitting wrong. In one person, insecurity moves them to avoid attention if at all possible; in another, it moves them to demand as much attention as possible.
We’re all familiar with insecurity, but what’s making us feel this way—and how do we get free from it?
What Is Insecurity?
Insecurity is a form of fear, and God does mean for certain things to make us feel insecure.
If we walk out on someone’s second-story deck and notice the wood is rotting, we should feel insecure. If we live or work with someone who’s dishonest or abusive, we should feel insecure. If we’re riding in a military convoy along a lonely Afghan road through Taliban territory, we should feel insecure. When we first come under conviction of sin and realize we’re under God’s wrath because we’re not reconciled to him through Christ, we should feel insecure
God designed insecurity as a warning that we are vulnerable to some kind of danger. It instructs us to take some protective action.
But in the current American vernacular, what we typically mean by “insecure” is not just a circumstantially induced fear, but a fear so recurrent that we refer to it as a state of being. We talk of “being insecure” or we might say so-and-so is an “insecure person.” And what we mean by insecure is feeling a significant lack of self-confidence, or a powerful fear of others’ disapproval or rejection, or a chronic sense of inferiority.
But what are we afraid of? What danger is this kind of insecurity warning us against? It’s telling us that our identity is uncertain or threatened.
Where Do You Find Identity?
Our identity is who we understand ourselves to be at the core. It’s our essential self. Or it’s what we want to believe (and want others to believe) is our essential self, even if it’s not who we really are.
Where does our sense of identity come from? This is the crucial question, the pinnacle of the problem. How we answer it decides whether or not we will ever be free from being insecure.
And it’s not primarily an intellectual answer. We all know that we can “know” the right answer, but not know the right answer. We answer this question from our heart, because our identity is tied into what we really love, what we really want, what we really believe offers us hope. In other words, we always find our identity in our god.
Our god may or may not be the god of our creed. We may say our god is the Lord, but that may not really be true (Luke 6:46; Isaiah 29:13). Our god is the person or thing we believe has the greatest power to determine who we are, why we’re here, what we should do and what we’re worth. Our god is what we can’t help but seek and follow, because we believe our god’s promises will bring us the greatest happiness.
What Does Insecurity Say?
So when we feel insecure because something threatens our sense of identity, it is telling us something about our god. This makes insecurity a mercy, though it almost never feels like a mercy. It feels like inadequacy or failure or condemnation. It weighs us down and makes us feel vulnerable and uncertain.
That’s why our response to this kind of insecurity is often avoidance. We try to reduce our exposure to people or situations that stir it up, or we try to assuage it by seeking various forms of self-affirmation from others, or we try to escape into other things—often habit-forming or addictive things—that dull or distract or fantasize away our identity-fear, at least temporarily. Or all of the above.
Fleeing insecurity is the right idea, but these kinds of avoidance are almost always fleeing in the wrong directions. Or to say it another way, they are almost always pain-killers, not cures. They do nothing to address our identity-related fear.
God designed insecurity to be examined in order that we might escape danger. That’s why it’s a mercy. This kind of insecurity is a God-gauge in our soul. It’s reporting to us that something is wrong with what we hear God or some other god telling us about who we are. Either a true belief is being challenged and perhaps refined, or a false belief is finally being exposed.
The Invitation in Insecurity
Exposure. We hate exposure, which is why we tend to avoid rather than examine our insecurity. We fear taking a good look at our identity because we’re afraid the gauge is going to confirm our worst fears about ourselves: inadequate, insignificant, failure, condemned.
We know instinctively that “nothing good dwells in [us], that is, in [our] flesh” (Romans 7:18). And we know that our souls stand “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). We still carry the fall-induced instinct to cover our shame in front of God and everyone else (Genesis 3:8–21).
But, believe it or not, insecurity is not only a warning; it’s also an invitation. When we feel insecure, God is inviting us to escape the danger of false beliefs about who we are, why we’re here, what we should do and what we’re worth, and to find peaceful refuge in what he says about all those things.
The more we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we find it is the end of insecurity—not the perfect end in this age, but the increasing and ultimate end.
- Have we sinned and sinned greatly? In Christ “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
- Do we feel like orphans, strangers and aliens? In Christ we have been adopted by God to be his children and are now members of his household and heirs of all things with Christ (Ephesians 1:5; 2:19; Romans 8:17).
- Do we feel like miserable failures? In Christ, almost incredibly, every failure will work for an ultimate good (Romans 8:28).
- Do we feel weak and inadequate? In Christ God loves to choose the weak and foolish things because, when we are weak, he promises that his grace will be sufficient for us—so much so that we can learn to boast in our weaknesses because of how they showcase his strength (1 Corinthians 1:27–31; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10)!
- Do we feel insignificant and unimportant? In Christ we were chosen by God (John 15:16), who purposefully assigned us a unique and needed function in his body (1 Corinthians 12:18).
Christ is now our identity—that’s what it means for us to be Christians! But in Christ we do not lose our true, essential selves; we become our true, essential selves. In Christ we are born again and become a new person, which is why in the coming age he will give us a new name (Revelation 2:17). So much more could be said.
Lay Aside the Weight
But if those promises are not satisfying to us—if we need other people’s approval to feel validated, if we find criticism or rejection debilitating, if we see a pattern of regularly disobeying Christ because we’re trying to escape or demand attention, or if we are caught in habitual or addictive sins through which we seek relief from our fears—then our insecurity is telling us we have an idol problem. We have a false god that needs to be knocked down, a sin-weight that must be laid aside (Hebrews 12:1).
Avoiding it will not free us from it. God wants us to examine it, even though we fear doing so. But we must not listen to our fears, for they don’t tell us the truth. If we come to Jesus with our sin desiring to repent, he says to us:
- I will not condemn you, for I was condemned for you (John 8:10, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
- Come to me, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
- I will love you forever and unfailingly (Psalm 103:17).
- I will fill you with peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:6–7).
- And I will make you more secure than you have ever dreamed (Psalm 27:5; 40:2).
There is an end to insecurity and all the fleshly striving it produces. It ends in Jesus. Let us bring all our insecurities to him and in exchange take his light burden of grace (Matthew 11:29–30).