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Enneagram: Understanding and Leading Your Internal Parts

Enneagram: Understanding and Leading Your Internal Parts

Editor's note: Are you a fan of the enneagram? It's fascinating! More Than Your Number, a brand new book by Beth and Jeff McCord digs deeper in and helps us, through our fundamental identity in Jesus Christ, explore how God continues to redeem us from the inside out. Enjoy this excerpt!


Especially in moments of stress, our internal fog can obscure healthy paths before us. We often do not understand ourselves or why we do what we do. Many people live unaware of why the fog comes, how it consistently derails them, or how to humbly and healthily lead their own souls through it. Even though the same things happen to them over and over, they are always a little shocked at the negative effects of their unawareness. They feel helpless to lead themselves, often thinking that doing so is some sort of self-help nonsense. After all, Jesus is all we really need, right?

But what if Jesus wants to help us respond to the Spirit’s leading so we can align ourselves with truth? He does — and that is why when we say “lead ourselves,” we don’t mean “be our own saviors.” Only the grace found in the gospel can transform us. Even so, as Christ does this transformative work through His Spirit, He intends for the fruit of self-control, which is being divinely nurtured and matured within us by His Spirit, to spur us on toward this transformation. He is not just enacting change upon us, apart from us. Rather,

He is transforming us through our very lives, even the resistant, stuck, or foggy parts of them.

Through His work in us, we can understand and welcome our conflicting internal emotions instead of experiencing shame or anger over them, which leads us to either reject them or react negatively to their overwhelming influence. By grace, we can instead accept, listen to, and lead the parts that make up our own internal worlds, reminding each of them of what is most true in the gospel. In other words, when we learn to become aware of and lead our internal parts, we do not bypass the work of Christ; they are integral elements of that very work.

But is this work biblical, or is it just a religious spin on a worldly idea of self-appreciation and self-help? Paul pondered this line of questioning in Romans 7:15:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. — ESV

The New Living Translation of the first few words of this verse expresses the whole of the matter in a way all of us can relate to: “I don’t really understand myself.”

Because of Adam and Eve, we are born into fallenness. And along the way, we each choose sinfulness. These two factors contribute to our inability to clearly understand ourselves. The psalmist referred to this when he said,

My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.Psalm 40:12

This state of being keeps us from “seeing” clearly in the fog around us. But we weren’t meant to stay there.

Christ is actively redeeming all things from humankind’s fallenness, and we are invited to be included in this ongoing process of redemption. This means that though we will never fully arrive on this side of the fall — that is, have complete clarity on and self-control over every internal part in every situation — we can develop patterns for welcoming and rewelcoming the ongoing work of Christ in these fallen places, even when we fall yet again.

Scripture calls this being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1–2). This is a present-tense process, which indicates that we will constantly, actively need to be renewed. How can this be okay? Shouldn’t we finally get it right? Remember, the heart of our Shepherd never tires of us. Especially in our foggiest moments — in our fallenness and sinfulness — He actually draws closer.

David seemed to already understand this nature of God, as well as his own lack of awareness of his internal world and its parts. He expressed his own journey into the vast, dense fog within himself by saying to God,

You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.Psalm 139:13–15 ESV

If you are a Christ-follower, you are probably already familiar with this passage. Its most common modern application references the wonder and beauty of God’s formation of the trillions of coalescing variables that make up the body and brain of a precious, unborn child being developed in her mother’s womb. So many miracles happen in this environment, sometimes minute by minute. This is certainly an accurate way to apply these verses.

But we can also think of this in much broader terms than just the body or the brain. Specifically, we can also ascribe to God the unfathomable number of less-observable aspects of His creative genius. If you’re a parent, you’ve already had a front-row seat to the divine development of these other “inward parts” —  that is, the completely unique characteristics, personalities, and dispositions that accompany our children at birth. Yes, most babies are blessed with the same set of internal organs and outward extremities, but each is also uniquely, “intricately woven” by God into his or her own distinctive self. We often fail to acknowledge that this weaving is more complex and miraculous than mere sinew and synapses.

  • All your parts, including the unseen parts of your internal world, reflect the beautiful and gracious complexity of God’s handiwork.

Yet David didn’t just point out the fact that he had parts he didn’t understand. This was only the first step on his journey to becoming aware. He also invited God to help him see these parts accurately, as well as help them become aligned to God’s ways.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. — Psalm 139:23–24 NLT

We tend to read this in a modern context and assume that David is asking God to know his “heart” as a singular thing. In our culture of extremes, this is how we see people and the world. “This guy is good, while that guy is bad.” “This viewpoint is perfect, while that viewpoint is garbage.”

But pay attention to David’s prayer: “Point out anything in me that offends You.” This speaks to the fact that David assumed there was more than one part of his heart that needed God’s interventional care. He didn’t just say, “Fix my heart in one fell swoop!” Yes, that would be great, but David seemed to know that there was more than one thing going on inside him. He also seemed to know that he could seek God’s help in learning to recognize those parts for himself, which is why he invited God to “point out” what was going on in all the parts of his internal world, even those that were repeat offenders.

We’ve already acknowledged that we all have areas of repeated offense, but discovery of these parts is not recovery from their patterns. Stepping on a scale is a very important component of beginning healthier patterns toward physical fitness, but merely weighing yourself doesn’t cause you to lose weight. There has to be more than just the knowledge of what needs to change. We must walk a continual path so change can occur consistently and incrementally.

As we learn to understand and lead our parts closer to Christ by the strength He affords us, the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting of transformation within us — but He doesn’t do it without us. An ancient quote often attributed (though unproven) to Saint Augustine sums it up nicely:

“Without God, I can’t. But without me, God won’t.”1

In other words, God desires relationship, and relationships require mutual participation.

Much of the “change” language Paul used in Ephesians 4:21–24 tells us that we should constantly be tending to our internal parts.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy. — NLT, emphasis added

Take note of the active, present nature of these verses. “Throw off” and “put on” indicate something you are invited — even compelled by grace — to do today. Right now. In this very moment.

In moments of misalignment, if you believe you are only one thing (“I’m just an idiot,” “I have good reasons for incessantly screaming,” or the like), throwing off whatever seems “bad” leads you to condemn, shame, or ignore only one thing: yourself. This is “all or nothing” thinking.

But since you are intricately, miraculously, wonderfully woven as a whole person with multiple parts, there are elements within yourself that can be identified and shepherded when they become misaligned. You are of infinite value to your Father, and your heavenly Brother, Jesus, has not only died to redeem you but also lives to constantly intercede and advocate on your behalf. This frees you to focus on your misaligned parts not so you can condemn them, but rather so you can understand them and once again become aligned with the grace and truth of the gospel.

Welcoming Our Parts

Many people reach a point when they realize that while a part of their soul wants to fully embrace Christ’s call to continual newness in the gospel, other parts keep protesting, acting out, or otherwise going to war against them — and against God. We often end up hating these parts of our inner selves for their constant troublemaking.

This divided feeling also makes some of us feel unsettled, unsure, or ashamed — and we don’t know why we keep experiencing these same pitfalls. In fact, knowing that these derailments are coming and yet not being able to avoid them only erodes our confidence even more. Even if we know at our core that we are the Beloved Child, why is there such a disconnect between what we believe and how we react in certain situations? Why is there so much distance between what we know to be true and what we experience in our internal world?

  1. A variation of this quote was cited in Robert Edward Luccock, If God Be for Us: Sermons on the Gifts of the Gospel (Harper: New York, 1954), 38.
  2. Groundbreaking work by Richard Schwartz speaks to this concept in his development of Internal Family Systems, the role of which we will reference in later chapters. Richard C. Schwartz and Martha Sweezy, Internal Family Systems Therapy, 2nd ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2020).
  3. For Enneagram enthusiasts who utilize the Tritype®, the three types that make up your Tritype are equally important. But for the sake of this book, we will only be focusing on the types directly connected to your main type.
  4. In his paradigm of Internal Family Systems, Richard Schwartz uses terms

Excerpted with permission from More Than Your Number by Beth & Jeff McCord, copyright Beth McCord and Jeff McCord. 

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Your Turn

The heart of Jesus, our Shepherd, never gets tired of us, all the parts of us. He continues to draw near to us even when we fail and fall. Keep answer His call to renewal! ~ Devotionals Daily


Should Christians Use the Enneagram? (Beth & Jeff McCord)

Take an assessment here on Your Enneagram Coach.

Be sure to listen to the Enneacast Podcast with Jesse Eubanks, author of How We Relate.

Watch this video on A Different Approach to Enneagram with Beth and Jeff McCord.