“I’m Not That Guy”

reese-witherspoon-mugAccording to TMZ (hey, it’s a low-information age) actress Reese Witherspoon and her husband was recently arrested for a DUI. As part of her apology for threatening the arresting officer she wrote, “The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am.” On March 23, 2013 a Lincoln, Neb bus driver lost his mind and assaulted a passenger with brutality not often seen outside of an MMA match. In mitigation, his union rep “told 1011 News she has seen the video and that, ‘It does not accurately reflect who this man (Fischer) is.’”

It’s the “I’m Not That Guy” defense and that is code for, “I was not at my best” or “I wish I hadn’t done that” or “I don’t intend to act that way.” That this defense seems to be finding traction, as they say, says something about our culture. It says that it matters less what you do than how you see yourself (self-image) or how you want others to see you or what you intended to do.

Perp: “Yes, officer, I know I murdered those two people, but that’s not who I am.”
Cop: “Really? Who are you”
Perp: “I donate money to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, I recycle, I drive a hybrid. I’m basically a good guy who made a bad decision in a split second.”
Cop: “So, are you saying that you didn’t actually murder those two people over there?”
Perp: “Well, yes, I did murder them but I really regret it now and because, on balance, the good I’ve done outweighs the bad, I don’t think that my whole life should be ruined because of one bad choice ”
Cop: “Do you have a way to restore life to the two people whom you murdered?”
Perp “No. ”
Cop: “If you chose to step in front of a moving train, would there be consequences?”
Perp: “ Yes. ”
Cop: “If you jumped off of a building would there be consequences?”
Perp: “Yes.”
Cop: “Then why shouldn’t there be consequences for your actions in this case?”
Perp: “Because I will it to be so.”
Cop: “Come along peaceably now. We’re going to central booking.”

It’s not riveting dialogue but you get the point. We like to think that reality is endlessly plastic but it isn’t. There are limits. Choices are consequences. There are laws at work that no creature can revoke. The “I’m not that guy” defense seeks to evade the consequences but it doesn’t work.

David found out that he was that guy. The prophet Nathan prosecuted him for his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband. “You are the man!” (2Sam 12:7). There were consequences:

Thus says Yahweh, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’ (vv. 11–12)

The account goes on to say that Yahweh afflicted “the child Uriah’s wife bore….” Not “Bathsheba” but Uriah’s wife—nice little dagger that one. Yahweh took that child from David and Bathsheba. David was that man.

The bus driver is that man. Reese Witherspoon is that woman because Adam was the first man and we are all in “the first Adam.” (Rom 5:12–21). We were there, in him. We sinned in him and we continue to sin in him. According to Romans 7, as read by the confessions and most the Reformed interpreters, we remain “that man” until we die.

The proper response to sin and shame is not to deny it but to own it. There are three things necessary to know that in this life we may live and die blessedly: First the greatness of our sin and misery, second, how we are redeemed from all our sins and misery, third, how we ought to be thankful for such redemption (HC Q/A 2, paraphrased). Christ became “that man” for us. We can confess that we really are “that guy” because Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be sin, that we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). Our sin and our sins have been imputed to him and his righteousness to us. The righteous shall live by faith (Rom 1:17). We live by faith, not by sight. We are not what we shall be, but what we are now is “that guy” who, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, has been redeemed from the eternal consequences of his actions.

The only way to own our actions and their consequences is by grace. When we deny them, when we pretend not to be “that guy” we’re pretending to present ourselves to God on the basis of our own, “perfect and personal obedience” (WCF 7.2). Jesus already did that as the substitute for all those who trust him.

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  1. Generally agreed, but certainly there is place within a legitimate defense (in terms of sentencing) that makes a distinction between motivation, the deed itself, and whether or not something is a repeating pattern.

    Some kid who tries pot in college and gives some to a friend should not be treated the same legally as a professional drug dealer even though it is the same basic crime. I think one could make such a natural law defense. This is why a drunk driver who kills someone and a planned murderer ought to be treated different even though it is the same result.

    • I think Dr Clark’s purpose was meant to point to human depravity. Plus let scripture point to how God views any type of sin. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10, 11 ESV) The point I see in this blog it’s to point that these people are sinners. They are being dishonest when they say ” That’s not who I am” when in reality that exactly who you are.

  2. It’s like my wife and I say after reading or watching “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” We want to identify with Peter, Susan, and Lucy, but at the end of the day, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all Edmund.

  3. Even the masses in jail have the idea that they are, deep down, good people who had reasons for what they did, it isn’t until they see the depths of their own depravity that they can truly accept the forgiveness of our perfect God.

  4. RSC, thanks

    You say we must know ‘first the greatness of our sin and misery, second, how we are redeemed from all our sins and misery, third, how we ought to be thankful for such redemption (HC Q/A 2, paraphrased)’.

    I still don’t understand

    The first two are facts to know in our heart and mind. The third is a stated obligation. Sometimes we are told we ARE grateful (which, on a bad day, can be like being told to believe two impossible things before breakfast) and sometime we are told we OUGHT to be grateful which puts us slap bang under the guilt of breaking the first commandment – not much freedom or deliverance here

    As I say, I remain confused – but at a deeper level. Did Jesus come to bring good news, or a reminder that we could but were not keeping the first commandment?

    • Richard,

      We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone. We are being sanctified by grace. Having been freely accepted there are consequent stipulations. If someone gives me a house freely, that would mean that there are no prior conditions. The giver, however, has a right to saw, “Having given you this house I will that you respond in the following ways.” No Christian can deny that we are under such consequent obligations.

      To deny those is antinomianism.

      That is why the Reformed Churches confess:

      86. Since then we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why should we do good works?

      Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing,1 and also that He be glorified through us;2 then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof;3 and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.4

      1 Rom 6:13. Rom 12:1, 2. 1 Pet 2:5,9,10. 1 Cor 6:20. 2 Matt 5:16. 1 Pet 2:12. 3 Matt 7:17,18. Gal 5:6, 22, 23. 4 Rom 14:19. 1 Pet 3:1, 2. * 2 Pet 1:10.

      That ought is moral and logical. It is not causal or instrumental in our justification.

      Another way to put it is to say that relative to justification we are not under the law but we are under the law as the norm of the Christian life. We ought to keep the law. We ought to delight in the law. We ought to love God with all our faculties and our neighbor as ourselves. The entire Christian tradition has affirmed those oughts. All confessing Protestants affirm these oughts.

      It is outside the Christian faith to deny these oughts.

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