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Transcending Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: Turning Water Into Wine

Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson |

A Canadian psychologist who burst onto the scene a couple years ago has written a self-help book entitled, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Jordan Peterson's book became the number one bestseller on Amazon in the United States and Canada earlier this year. David French of National Review considers the book a "beacon of light" that can "help a person look in the mirror and respect the person he or she sees."

Interestingly, Peterson has given some recent lectures related to certain historical events recorded in Scripture. This begs the question: Can Peterson's insights into human nature make it across the bridge into the supernatural realm of Christianity? In order to drill down a bit on this intriguing question, consider Christ's first miracle when the Messiah turned water into wine. (John 2:1-11) The Lord converted the natural element into something richer and fuller. What if a similar thing happened between human reason and "sanctified" reason, and between earthly principles and heavenly revelation? In other words, does God still turn water into wine?

While psychologists over the past century have identified a plethora of man's internal struggles, these professionals have been unable to provide anyone with a new heart. No matter how many improvements we make in our attitude and habits, we still find ourselves significantly broken and messed up on the inside. After two decades of seeing 20 people a week as a clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson is fully aware of this universal dilemma. And it propels him to plumb the depths of science and human nature mining for physiological and emotional resources within man to help offset our subjective shortcomings.

In his book, Peterson's first rule for life offers this instruction: "Stand up straight with your shoulders back." He uses lobsters to illustrate his point and describes how the chemical serotonin goes to work inside a lobster to make it stretch out and look bigger when it wins a fight. Peterson believes good posture in human beings tends to play out in a similar way leading to greater confidence, better health, and more success in the workplace.

Now hold this rule and its implications up to the light of Christianity. Serotonin is natural, whereas the power of the Holy Spirit inside every Christian is supernatural. (John 14:17) God's power makes a believer "strong in the Lord," (Eph. 6:10) and provides the confidence for a Christian to honestly say: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13) This isn't self-confidence or self-esteem, but rather, "Christ-confidence" and "Christ-esteem." The Savior doesn't come to live inside a person in order to improve self, but to reign as Lord. (2 Cor. 13:5) In fact, Christianity doesn't improve self one bit; instead, self gets dethroned by the Creator of the universe. (Colossians 1:15-17)

Such a radical transformation led the apostle Paul to declare: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20) This phenomenon is absolutely huge! And it means that a Christian is not "the improved version" of his or her former self. Do you see how this life-changing dynamic actually flips the entire enterprise of self-help on its head? Christianity is diametrically opposed to self-help because the Christian life isn't rooted in self. This explains why those who feel all-sufficient rarely, if ever, sense a need for Christ.

Like the other 11 rules on his list, Peterson's second rule offers a creative way to improve self. Rule 2 says: "Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping." It reminds me of these lyrics from Whitney Houston's famous song: "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." Loving yourself helps you feel better about you, and who doesn't enjoy that feeling? That is, unless you discover something deeper.

True and abiding joy is found in loving the Savior and serving others. "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) The supernatural love of God flows within your soul only after you are converted through faith in Jesus Christ. Prior to conversion, self is on the throne of man's heart. And so by nature, self tends to be the primary object of our love, devotion and efforts. But what if you could be freed from obsessing over both your successes and your failures? Sounds pretty incredible, right? Actually, it sounds a lot like New Testament Christianity where water gets turned into wine.

Whenever self improves, self gets the credit. But when a soul is converted, self is crucified. (Romans 6:6) And all the credit for the new life goes to Jesus. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17) Self is gone; Christ has come. And this is why the Bible isn't a self-help book. It's a love letter from heaven to God's children. And among other things, it describes how God transforms a believer's life once the Lord comes to live within you. Those who receive Christ as Savior (John 1:12) are suddenly justified, forgiven, born again, saved, and redeemed. The "new birth" (1 Peter 1:3) occurs on the front end of a person's relationship with Christ when you "repent and believe the good news." (Mark 1:15)

Self-help principles and man-made rules cannot make you holy. And neither do the God-ordained laws of Scripture. Rules never produce righteousness. The supernatural power and grace of God, however, can pull off this amazing feat. At the same time, the old pattern of being dominated by sin and self is an ever-present threat to a believer's progress and peace in Christ. The old way of thinking and living is like quicksand in the lower region of our soul. So beware. Christians are instructed to resist sinful and selfish urges as we "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

Jordan Peterson, like many in his field, continues to study human nature while teaching people how to improve self. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit keeps working supernaturally through the good news of "the Gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16) You see, Jesus didn't come to earth in order to bring us more rules; the Savior came here to turn water into wine.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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