The autonomy expressed by the phrase “You do you” can often just describe the freedom we all have to choose what we like best: Golf or basketball? Sportscars or minivans? The beach or the mountains? This catchy phrase might be used in these scenarios without cause for concern.
But when the phrase “You do you” is applied to moral decisions, there lurks an underlying worldview that is antithetical to biblical truth. We see the manifestation of this ungodly worldview in statements such as:
- “My body, my choice.”
- “I decide what gender I am.”
- “As long as there is consent, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
- “No one can tell me what to do with my life. Therefore, physician assisted suicide is perfectly acceptable.”
These statements have the hidden premise that each person is free to live by their own moral standard—an idea that is known as autonomy.
Before we consider the idea of autonomy, consider 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 which reminds us why we need to carefully evaluate how moral evaluations are made in the world around us and examine everything in light of Scripture: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul defends his ministry and confronts the false teachers. There were those who criticized Paul—attacking him in many ways, saying he was unimpressive in person and that he was not Spirit-empowered, but only operated according to the flesh. In these verses, he responds to their criticism using military language to describe the Christian life—words like weapons, warfare, fortresses, and taking prisoners.
He says the Christian life is war! We are in a battle, and we need to recognize it! But what is crucial is that we recognize that this battle is not physical. We are in a spiritual battle. The weapons we use are not physical, and the enemies we defeat are not flesh and blood.
We need to combat the ungodly worldview that we encounter all around us with the clear truth revealed to us in God’s Word.
We learn this from Ephesians 6 where the only offensive weapon listed in the believer’s armor is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The Bible is the right weapon for this spiritual war.
Warfare against these seemingly lofty arguments raised up against God’s authority requires great vigilance. We must be on our guard. The lies in the world around us come from those in powerful positions, but when they are exposed as contrary to God’s Word, they must be rejected and put under submission to Christ.
With that in mind, let’s consider one of the “lofty things” of this world that is actually a lie that has been raised up against the knowledge of Christ.
What is the Lie of Autonomy?
The word “autonomy” comes from the Greek words “auto” which means “self” and “nomos” which means “law.” Someone claiming to be autonomous is declaring that they are “a law to themselves” or that they are “living their own law.”
On the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy we find this definition:
Moral autonomy, usually traced back to Kant, is the capacity to deliberate and to give oneself the moral law, rather than merely heeding the injunctions of others. Personal autonomy is the capacity to decide for oneself and pursue a course of action in one’s life, often regardless of any particular moral content.1
The lie of autonomy is applied when people make their own moral judgments with the belief that no one else has a right to tell them what is right or wrong. People make decisions about things like gender ideology, the decision to have an abortion, or physician assisted suicide, based solely on what they think or feel is right for them.
As you can see, the idea of autonomy has far-reaching consequences in moral judgments.
If it is true that people are accountable only to themselves, then this opens the door to all kinds of opinions and actions that are contrary to God’s Word.
While we do have the ability to make a multitude of decisions each day, do we, as human beings, also have the right to define our own ideas of what it means to exist? Do we decide the meaning of the universe and what it means to be alive in it? Or who gets to be alive in it?
Let’s take a closer look at the evidence around us and in God’s word that argues against the lie that we are morally autonomous.
What Truth Contradicts the Concept of Autonomy?1. The physical world argues against your autonomy.
We need to first recognize that reality—our daily existence in the physical world around us—shows that we are not self-sufficient, that we cannot determine so many things about our own existence.
Let’s consider some observable facts. You did not determine the timing of your birth, the parents who conceived you, or the body you were born into. You are not in control of the sun coming up each day, the air you breathe, your heart beating, or the operation of your organs, blood cells, and other internal functions. We are really in control of very little.
James 4:14 says, "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away."
James says that our lives are like a vapor—like the breath we breathe out on a cold morning that is there for just a moment and then gone. In light of eternity, we are on this planet for a very short time.
We are reminded in Isaiah 40:7-8 that we are just like the grass that withers: "The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass."
We cannot control the beating of our own hearts or the function of our livers, so how can we have the audacity to say that we can determine the meaning of the universe or the mystery of human life?
God put Job in his place when he began to question why the Lord would bring trials into his life. If we ever claim that we know anything apart from the Lord or have self-sufficiency, we should respond to God as Job finally did: “I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:3b, 6).2. Your sin nature argues against your autonomy
Just as we cannot escape the physical laws of the world around us, there are spiritual realities that we cannot escape. One of these spiritual realities is that each and every person is born as a sinner and is a slave to sin. This is true because Adam, the first man on earth, chose autonomy rather than submitting to God’s command. His sin, described in Genesis 3, infected the whole human race. This is explained for us in Romans 5:12: "Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned."
The reality that we were each born sinners comes with a consequence—sin has power over us.
While we may think that we have the freedom or ability to do what is right or good, the reality is that without the true liberty that comes through the saving power of Christ, we have no such ability to escape bondage to sin.
Not only this, but we need to understand that sin has infected our very thinking so that even if we think we are doing what is good and best, sin has corrupted us so that we don’t know what is right. As Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."
Because we are corrupted with a sin nature that is bent toward sin, our thinking has been corrupted, and we are actually slaves to sin. Therefore, following our own way and being a law to ourselves is utter foolishness. We are not free or wise enough to choose our own way.3. God's nature argues against your autonomy.
Here is an important fact to remember: there is a God, and you are not Him. Consider some of the particular roles that God performs which make clear that He is the only true authority in life.God is Creator.
"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him" — Colossians 1:16
It is no surprise that the world promotes an evolutionary concept of the existence of the world. If one admits that God is the “author” of this world, then He has authority. The word “authority” comes from “author,” and the way to reject the authority of God is to deny that He is the author of our lives.God is Sustainer.
"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." — Colossians 1:17
Since God sustains our lives each moment, from the beating of our hearts to holding all the atoms of the universe together. Any thought that we could live apart from Him or without respect to His commands is arrogant foolishness.
God is Sovereign.
"I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." — Job 42:2
Flowing from the fact that He is Creator and Sustainer, God is Sovereign over all things. He not only sustains our lives, but He controls all things.
"Because if God is sovereign, meaning that His freedom is absolute and extends over His whole creation so that He has the power and the ability to choose whatsoever He will. If God is sovereign, then manifestly no creature can be autonomous because to be autonomous is to be a law unto yourself and to be a law unto yourself precludes the possibility of anything or anyone reigning sovereignly over you." — RC Sproul2
God is Judge.
"Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness." — Psalm 96:13
Those who think they operate independently of God must remember this, they will stand before God one day and He will render judgment according to righteousness. Not what they may think is right and wrong, but according to what He has declared is right.4. Your redemption argues against your autonomy
Those who have believed the truth of the Gospel, that God sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, will do well to dwell frequently on the high cost of their redemption: the very blood of Christ. As 1 Peter says 1:17-19 says,
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
Since you have been redeemed, you should live in the fear of God, you should walk before Him in holy reverence, joyfully submitting to His commands. The high price that was paid for your redemption means that you belong to Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 6:20, Paul concluded his warning against immorality with this reminder to the church in Corinth: "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."
Believer, you are not autonomous because you have been redeemed and now belong to God! Live like that is true!
How Should you Respond to the Concept of Autonomy?Rejoice in submitting to the law of liberty
The reason that the world embraces the idea of autonomy and rejects God’s law for their own is because they see God’s law as restrictive. They believe that God’s laws steal their happiness and life would be better living under their own personal moral code than under God’s moral judgments.
But in reality, God’s ways are good. They are a blessing—He knows best. He is our Maker and He has given us the owner’s manual. When we follow His commands, life goes well. The Psalmist who penned Psalm 119 also recognized the beauty and delight of God’s Law. Rather than being a burden, God’s Law is a source of rejoicing!
"Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors." — Psalm 119:24
"O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." — Psalm 119:97
"How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" — Psalm 119:103
"Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul observes them." — Psalm 119:129
The Proverbs often remind us that following God’s law instead of our own way will result in less trouble in this life.
"In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death." — Proverbs 12:28
"Good understanding produces favor, But the way of the treacherous is hard." — Proverbs 13:15
"The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness." — Proverbs 11:5
Do you know individuals who have rejected God’s commands and have seen their lives torn apart? Marriages full of anger or selfishness that end in grief and misery. Lawbreaking that ends in incarceration. Self-seeking hedonism that eventually leaves one alone and miserable…
Believer, rejoice in God’s Word and His commands. They are a manifestation of God’s love to you. There is no greater joy in this life than walking in obedience to Him. And there is nothing for which you will be more thankful when you stand before God than having lived a faithful life of obedience and hearing from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”Recognize the lie of autonomy and tell the world of God’s authority
As you have opportunities to interact with those in your workplace, your neighborhood, or your family who tell you, “You do you. I’ll keep doing what works for me,” you can explain that because God is their creator, sustainer, sovereign, and judge, they must submit themselves to Him. This is a fundamental aspect of evangelism that cannot be ignored.
We warn people against the practice of sin not because we hate people, but because we want their best in this world, and we want them to avoid facing God’s wrath against them in the future. The gospel message we proclaim starts with the fact that there is a God in heaven worthy of all glory and each person has failed to live in perfect obedience to Him.Reject personal autonomy and live like you are redeemed
Now while we may not actually say the words, “You do you,” when it comes to the moral issues in this life, the danger for us as Christians is living as though we believe in moral autonomy. We must avoid what some have called “practical atheism:” living as if there is no God. There may be assent to the reality of God, but in your day-to-day life, you live as if you are all that matters.
The way this fleshes out is when you make decisions or face difficulties and, instead of going to God in prayer, you push forward on your own. For all practical purposes, you act the same as an atheist would in certain areas of your life. You can check all the boxes on a theology quiz, sing the hymns along with everyone else, but when it comes to particular areas of your life (e.g., marriage, work, personal finances), decisions are made based on what YOU think is best, not the careful application of principles from God’s Word.
Christ is now Lord of your life. To be Lord means to be Master. We must submit every area of our lives under the authority of Christ. Every decision, every evaluation, every word that we speak must be in submission to God’s law, the law of liberty.
Go back to Proverbs 3:5-6 and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”
 See https://iep.utm.edu/autonomy/#:~:text=Autonomy%20is%20an%20individual's%20capacity,a%20number%20of%20different%20arenas. Accessed on August 15, 2023.
 See https://www.ligonier.org/posts/we-not-autonomous. Accessed on August 15, 2023.