Why ‘Imposter Syndrome’ Is a Good Thing

Christians, celebrate that Jesus makes you free

Do you feel like a phony? Do you think that if people unearthed your background, your education, or looked closely at your skill set, they would find you are not as fabulous as you appear?

If you do, you may struggle with “imposter syndrome,” a disorder originally called “imposter phenomenon” by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in the 1970s. In Clance’s writing, she determines that while most people wouldn’t declare themselves “imposters,” when hearing of the syndrome or phenomenon, they would say, “That’s exactly what I feel.”

Imposter syndrome is the sense that we aren’t worthy of our perceived success.

“Even though they are often very successful by external standards, they feel their success has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort; they are afraid their achievements are due to ‘breaks’ and not the result of their own ability and competence,” wrote Clance. “They are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success can not be repeated.”

I struggle with “imposter syndrome.” In my mind, I have been an imposter mother, an imposter teacher, and am an imposter marketing and communications expert. (Shh. Don’t tell my boss.) However, it occurs to me that if I think I’m an “imposter Christian,” I am exactly right. I need to accept “imposter syndrome” for what it is: truth. Ultimately, embracing my imposter status is for my benefit.

The way I see it, Christians are imposters. The Christian life predisposes us toward “imposter syndrome” because all we are is because of what Jesus did for us. We can’t do it on our own, and we aren’t worthy.

Believers should accept “imposter syndrome” with humility and thankfulness because we know that we’re not worthy of the grace we have received. Non-believers who think Christians are self-righteous imposters might be surprised to know we are imposters, Christ-righteous imposters — joyfully so. Let me explain.

Living as a Christian ‘imposter’

Though I grew up in the faith, it wasn’t until college that I understood that the whole of the Gospel was outside of me. Before then I struggled when I “felt” I wasn’t close to God. It was humbling and a relief to learn that my salvation wasn’t dependent on my works, feelings, experiences, or even my failings. It depends on Jesus Christ. I am nothing.

I was listening to BBN when the announcer shared “on this day in Christian history” tidbits. One was from the year 1828 when evangelist David Marks rode his horse into an Ontario town gathering to preach. He asked the audience what they wanted to hear him present, and one man yelled, “Nothing!” And so this is what Marks preached:

God created the world from ‘nothing,’” he said. “He gave us laws in which there is ‘nothing’ unjust. But we have broken God’s law and there is ‘nothing’ in us to justify us.

“There will be ‘nothing’ to comfort sinners in death or hell. But, while Christians have ‘nothing’ of their own in which to boast, we have Christ. And in Him, we have ‘nothing’ to cause us grief, ‘nothing’ to disturb our peace, and ‘nothing’ to fear in eternity.”

(Robert J. Morgan, On This Day, Nelson, 1997)*

Marks said it well. The God of the universe, the Creator of heaven and earth and all things on the earth, including mankind, established rules or laws. Breaking those laws has consequences — death and damnation. Abiding by those laws grants you eternal life and glory.

But no one — and this is a fact, not “imposter syndrome” — can obey those standards perfectly.

All of us have sinned, and sin separates us from God — and, therefore, keeps us from eternal life. Before Jesus came and died on the cross, people of faith dealt with their sin guilt by sacrificing animals and presenting them to God.

But because Jesus — who was both God and man — sacrificed himself by dying on the cross to take away the sin of the world, anyone can choose to accept His one-time payment for our sin.

Anyone can embrace the “imposter syndrome” of the Christian life.

This is why

I want to highlight part of what Dr. Clance said of the phenomenon on her website:

“… they are afraid their achievements are due to ‘breaks’ and not the result of their own ability and competence. They are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success can not be repeated.”

We can be certain as believers in Jesus Christ that our relationship with God is “not the result of [our] own ability and competence.” But the best part? Though we cannot bring ourselves to God on our own merit, we do not need to repeat success, which Dr. Clance indicates is part of the worry in “imposter syndrome.” Because Jesus died once for all, which includes us, we have no need to repeat the process. We simply trust in what Christ did for us.

We do not need to fear.

Why is “imposter syndrome” so tormenting to those who suffer it? It is the fear of being unable to perform as expected, it is the fear of being found a fraud, or it is simply the fear of being unqualified.

But as a Christian, I know I am nothing, I deserve nothing, and I can do nothing to earn God’s favor. But the resulting “imposter syndrome” doesn’t make me fear — because the gift of salvation I have through Jesus Christ is mine for all eternity. I cannot lose it; I do not have to repeat an action to keep it. I do not fear.

Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love provided a way for me to be right with God. Perfect love makes me thankful that since I can’t earn my way into eternal life I can’t fail my way out of it, either.

And for that, I embrace “imposter syndrome” as a believer in Jesus.

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Originally published on May 27, 2020, in Koinonia Publication on Medium.com

Photo by Christian Gertenbach on Unsplash

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