The church in the West has a secret that is often exposed but no one talks about. The secret is this: We have a lot of people who are part of churches that are terribly wounded and broken, but act like they have it all together and are experts in Christianity.
To be fair, preachers, leaders, and bumper stickers tell us this all the time. They say things like Christianity isn’t for the perfect, it’s for the broken or the church is not for perfect people. But life in our churches gets lived out in such a way that at least some look like they have every aspect of their life together: marriage, kids, ministry, etc.
This became abundantly clear to me the further I moved away from Christianity as an event (Sunday morning service, prayer meeting, revival meetings) to Christianity as a lifestyle. The less we gave ourselves to meetings and the more we met in each others’ homes, dealt with each others’ children, and became transparent with each other, the more we began to see issues. It wasn’t that we were bad people, where we had come from we were thought of as the cream of the crop. In reality, it was that we had lived at such a distance from each other that our issues could hide beneath the surface and not have to get dealt with.
Why does this happen? I believe it’s a subtle mix of good intentions and fear. Many fear being outed for the things in their past and the things in their present. The fear of what others would think of us if they truly knew how bad things are keeps us from being honest about our situation. Others, I think, truly believe in some spiritual form of “fake it till you make it” and put up a clean front so they aren’t a bad testimony. They try and clean up the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. This is a deception, but I know well meaning people who have attempted to do it.
If I don’t mention it, someone will write in and remind me about pride and hypocrisy. These are real, too, though I don’t think we start there. I think we start in some mix of fear or good intentions and then over years of acting, we develop pride and hypocrisy around the image we present to others. This last version of us is actually worse than the broken version of ourselves that we are so unwilling to show others, but we feel protected. As Jesus says, the last state of this person is worse than the first.
I say all of this as a Christian who has had dirty little secrets of my own. My intent is not to cast stones, but to say this: We are way more broken than we let on and it’s killing us. The unconfessed sin and double sided lives that we lead are letting issues fester within us in the dark, but they affect how we live life in the world and short circuit the life God desires us to have. Even if no one in our church knows, it’s still affecting the church.
The good news is there is an answer for this trap. It’s called living in the light. It’s a hard, sometimes painful process where we begin to live close enough to other believers that they can truly know us and we can truly know them. When we see issues in each others’ lives, we talk through them. We pray for each other. When we see issues in our own lives, we confess them to those believers living closely with us. This is the process Jesus gives us to be transformed:
But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
This, friends, is the open secret…something so good and not hidden at all, yet few people know and practice: God wants us to come into the light with the real issues of our lives. When we bring our true selves into God’s light with other brothers and sisters, that’s where healing can occur. We can’t force others to go there, we can only go there ourselves and hope others come with us. As others see us learning to truly love and be honest about our own junk, they begin to believe it’s possible for themselves.
My hope is you are beginning to believe it is possible for you. Christianity needs it.
Yesterday I spent some time talking about the issues of pride within house churches. In that post I suggested that receiving the love of God and letting that free you from comparison drives out pride. Today I’d like to focus on a practical method of dealing with pride: confession.
If, when I talk about confession, you start to see pictures of confessional booths and men with collars, you’re probably thinking of the wrong thing. When the Protestant Reformation happened, Luther and his allies announced that all believers were priests and therefore you didn’t have to to a priest to get forgiveness of your sins. But the unfortunate side effect of the Reformation is the practice of confession was all but lost to Bible-believing church.
The apostle James, who as the brother of Jesus obviously believed in direct access to God and the priesthood of all believers, encourages believers to confess their sins to one another because it results in both spiritual and physical healing (James 5:16). At least one aspect of spiritual healing that confession offers is the ability to be healed of our pride. If we are honest with ourselves about our sin, it’s hard to be judgmental towards others.When we expose the darkness in our own hearts to another human being, it becomes much harder to create masks of greatness that feed our pride. If we do, we have brothers or sisters that aren’t deceived by the masks we wear.
Now this is a bit of a chicken and egg sort of problem: Does confession create humility or does humility cause someone to confess their sins to another person? I would tell you the answer is “Yes!” Obviously humble people confess their sins to others, but there are times when confession becomes an act of the will and true humility is birthed in the heart of a believer afterwards. It’s both/and. I can tell you, though, that those who are transparent and honest about the weakness are generally some of the more humble people that I know.
I’ve talked about confession at length here on the blog, both about how confession creates brotherhood and how true transparency births transformation. There are tons of benefits in addition to keeping us humble. The first step is to find someone: another man if you’re a man, another woman if you’re a woman, and begin a regular practice of confession with him or her. If you need a model for this, you can use one we’ve found helpful here.
The point isn’t that you do it perfectly, it’s more important that you start. You may notice a difference immediately, but if you don’t you’ll definitely notice a difference in a year or two. It’s a long game to protect your soul and keep you safe from pride that so easily corrupts spiritual things.
It’s also the place where transformation happens.
Deep in the heart of every human being there is a lie that’s been rehearsed to us from as early as we can remember. That lie goes something like this: I’m not valuable. Nobody wants me for who I am. I’m only valuable to God or to others as long as I act like someone else, someone better than me, someone who has things more put together. We all believe this, to a greater or lesser degree.
We all cope with this lie in different ways. Some of us wear masks to hide who we really are. These masks hide who we are behind some kind of alternate reality. Some of them are easy to spot. Jesus called the Pharisees of His day hypocrites, a word which refered to play actors who wore masks that portrayed feelings they weren’t real. Many of us work to portray a much better image to the world around us than what is really going on. We are literally different on the inside than on the outside.
Some of us keep others at a distance. Like Adam and Eve caught in their sin and ashamed at their nakedness, we cobble together clothes for ourselves that hide who we really are. We don’t let others get close. Fear tells us that if we dropped the act and let God or anyone else see who we are on the inside, they would reject us. So we turn to things like perfectionism, business success, and even ministry to make the world think well of us, but we still live empty and broken.
But God’s design for us, the way we were designed to live and the way that is most healthy for us is totally different. Genesis 2 describes the first man and woman living together in perfect harmony with God this way: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” (Genesis 2:25). They lived transparently with each other and before the Lord, hiding nothing from either.
In our lives, this is what healing looks like. We can come to a place where God heals us and we can be totally at peace with God and others knowing exactly who we are. I’m not advocating for actual nudity, but a spiritual transparency where we no longer put on masks and we let others see us as we truly are. We let God in. We let others in. We do one of the scariest things humanly possible and trust others with the ugly realities we see in ourselves.
One of the most healing things I’ve witnessed over the last ten years has been the moments where a brother gets really scary honest about the condition of his heart. This takes mad bravery, the kind you don’t find everyday. When a brother steps up to the plate and says “This is exactly how ugly I am on the inside,” it’s usually the first step on a powerful journey to wholeness.
Why is this? Most of us want to be loved by God. The problem is we don’t believe that God could really ever completely accept us in the state we’re in. This is a problem, especially if we’re believers. Jesus died because God was looking for a way to make men right with Him and anyone who has received Christ as their Savior has been accepted by God (note the past tense). God literally loves us while knowing everything negative about us.
I know so many believers, though, that don’t believe they’ve been accepted by God. Instead they live their lives behind masks and fig leaves, hiding the ugliness they believe not even God can handle. In my life, God has helped me over and over again by sending men that I got scary ugly with in my life. These men had the audacity to not run away, to not laugh at me, to not point a finger at me, but instead they looked at me and said, “You’re stuck with me. I love you. Let’s figure out a way forward.”
Because they didn’t give up on me, over time I’ve had an easier time believing God hadn’t given up on me either. And every time I see the Father’s love reflected through another human being in my life, I have a little easier time believing that God really loves me the way He truly sees me. That enables me to let down the masks.
As I’ve let down my masks and been honest about my struggles, other men around me have found freedom to be honest about theirs. Transparency begets transparency. When one guy lets down his guard and lets others in, others seem to find the courage to be open and honest. Healing comes every time we talk because God promises to bring healing where honesty and contrition meet together: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” (James 5:16).
I’ve probably written about this before, but I’m writing again because I’m convinced that only the kind of scary transparency that we all fear with both God and people is the only reality many people will find acceptance, love, and an end to their struggles. If you aren’t in a relationship where this happens, please find someone (of the same gender) who you trust and you believe will love you regardless of your sin . Open up to them. Unburden your soul. Practice the kind of love for each other that Christ showed when He laid His life down for you.
God’s design for us is “naked and unafraid.” When we can get to this place, we can find true healing. It’s a scary kind of honesty, but it brings healing and transformation.