I never thought much about the terms “extrovert” and “introvert” until I got married and wondered why my spouse and I were so different. Take Sunday, for example: the most social day of our week. My husband is the pastor, and we are often meeting visitors after services. He seems to thrive on this type of interaction—plus, he’s really good at it. The idea of walking up to a group of new people and joining in on their conversation energizes him.
I, on the other hand, have often found refuge by extended stays in the restroom. This way I can avoid the awkwardness of meeting new people and running out of conversation topics, while also not appearing selfish.
It would be easy for me to excuse this choice to avoid meeting people with the explanation that I tend toward introversion. But is it okay for me to shy away from people because it makes me uncomfortable?
You may have noticed a major emphasis over the last few years on discovering your personality type or Enneagram number. Much of this research has been incredibly helpful. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your personality (and the personalities of those around you) can enable you to better relate to those unlike you.
Christian proponents of tests like the Enneagram affirm their value to diagnose our weaknesses and encourage us in Christlikeness. “The strength of the Enneagram is that it exposes where we might need healing and what vices might be causing division with others and even within ourselves,” John Starke writes. “As Christians, we use the Enneagram as a tool to find healing not by becoming our true selves but by finding ourselves more truly in Christ.”
But I’ve noticed another side to this well-intentioned journey of self-knowledge. Sometimes, instead of using our personality-test results as a tool, we can almost view them as an infallible declaration of who we are and how we will act. Even worse, we can use them as an excuse for sin.
Myers-Briggs Made Me Do It
It’s tempting to think the reason I didn’t want to meet new people was because it’s simply not in my makeup. But that wouldn’t be entirely true. Often, I don’t want to because of sin. I don’t like feeling awkward, so I can try to pass my selfishness off as “just part of my personality.” Yes, it’s uncomfortable for me to open up, reach out, and welcome people into my life. But that doesn’t mean I can ignore God’s command to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31).
Personality is a gift from God—as much a part of you as your hands or arms. But while personalities are designed by God, something happened thousands of years ago that adversely affected all personalities. We call it the fall of man. Because of the fall, all humans are now marked by sin, and what God has given as a good gift we’ve often turned into a tool for rebellion.
Instead of using our personality-test results as a tool, we can almost view them as an infallible declaration of who we are and how we will act. Even worse, we can use them as an excuse for sin.
Having Myers-Briggs tests results that declare us shy or bold, rational or intuitive, relational or solitary can, used wrongly, lend legitimacy to our sin. Will an extrovert take their test results as a free pass to be boisterously loud or blunt in conversations? Or will they prayerfully ask God to make them quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19)?
If your Enneagram results reveal you’re prone to suspicion, does this mean you will never ask God to give you a love that believes all things (1 Cor. 13)? Or if your results reveal you are a people-pleaser, will you ever seek freedom from the bondage of this vice? Or will you resign yourself that you’re stuck with the fear of man because that’s what the test reveals (Prov. 29:25)?
If you are not a confrontational person, what will you do with the scriptural command to exhort one another daily, lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13)?
If being with others drains you mentally and emotionally, will you reject the “one another” requirements of Scripture? Are we all called to evidence the fruit of the Spirit? Or are you only required to evidence the fruits of patience, peace, and joy if your Enneagram number reveals a propensity toward them?
In short, does personality ever excuse sin?
In Christ, There Is Neither 1 Nor 9
Given the pervasive presence of sin, is there any hope that our vastly different personalities could ever bring glory to God? Yes! Within the church, God has blessed his people with a variety of diverse gifts in order to build up the whole body (1 Cor. 12:4–31). We can rejoice in our unique characteristics and those of the believers around us. We can also affirm that, for the Christian, neither sin nor personality is ultimate: redemption is.
In Christ, God has made us into a new creation and is changing us to be like Jesus. We “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:10).
Even now, God is at work to redeem your personality for his glory. He has created you to glorify him and love others with the unique strengths and weaknesses of the personality he’s given you.
If you are a bold extrovert, you can use that aspect of your personality to champion your own plans, or you can prayerfully and unapologetically mobilize people for gospel ministry. Or perhaps you’re incredibly shy and introspective. You may feel intimidated by the bold leaders around you. Yet God has given you a quiet personality perfectly suited to reach out to those struggling with pain nobody else seems to notice.
What’s more, when we are joined to Christ, the unity we share with other believers allows us to say, “Here there is no extrovert or introvert, no Enneagram 1, 5, or 8 with a 7 wing, but Christ is all and in all!” (cf. Col. 3:11). It’s not as if our personality differences disappear or cease to matter when we become Christians. But the unity we enjoy in and because of Jesus makes our personality differences pale in comparison.
While personality tests can be a useful tool to help me better understand myself and others, and so love and serve those around me with greater thoughtfulness, they can never replace God’s Word.
Rather than measuring our conduct against our personality-test results, let’s be sure to measure ourselves against Scripture. God commands every believer to be patient, to show hospitality, to exhort, to be slow to anger (1 Cor. 13; 1 Pet. 4:9; Heb. 3:13; James 1:19). He doesn’t tell only extroverts to show hospitality. And he doesn’t tell only introverts to be slow to speak.
In Scripture, God displays a plan for pervasive holiness—for all of his people. The Bible’s commands provide a better benchmark for our hearts and lives than any personality test. For instead of focusing mainly on who we are, Scripture focuses on who Christ is. Instead of telling us how we’ll naturally act like our type, Scripture promises supernatural strength—the Spirit at work in us to empower us to act like Jesus Christ.
Granted, the way we live out these commands will look different from one believer to another. But the response to each command should be the same for all: faith-filled obedience as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s help—not our personality—for strength.
My personality doesn’t excuse my sin. Instead, God can use my personality for his glory and for my usefulness in his kingdom.