One of my closest friends once told me: “You’re one of the easiest people to be around, yet one of the hardest people to know.” He challenged me to live a little riskier, be a little more vulnerable, to share my struggles as well as my wins.
To be honest, the challenge was both life giving and terrifying. This was a friend, someone I love, respect, and trust; and his challenge left me feeling seen and exposed, called out and called up. But the longer I thought about it, the more power the challenge held. It spoke not only to my reality, but to our reality. It touched a universal practice of the human race – a desire to be loved and accepted, even if that means presenting ourselves as better than we actually are.
The Problem We All Share
A quick scroll through social media proves this truth. You don’t have to look far to find someone (probably yourself) perpetuating this reality – framing, filtering, and deleting one’s way to the best possible version of self.
Long before social media, columnist Mary Schmich published an essay about how to live a happier life that gained viral attention and became the basis for a Baz Luhrmann song. In it she claims: “Nostalgia…is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
Twenty-some years later, we have the tools to turn the present – or rather the immediate past – into a form of nostalgia. We have the ability to fish the latest family vacation from the disposal, wipe off the fights, paint over the stress and sunburns, and recycle it as a dreamy Insta reel worth 500 likes. It’s the culmination of a desire as old as humanity itself.
The Beginning of our Problem
When Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, they birthed an innate human response to imperfection. Rather than own their sin, they resorted to hiding, blaming others, and outright denial (Genesis 3:6-13). They presented a manicured version of a broken reality in an attempt to fool one another, and God, into thinking their presentation of things was congruent with God’s design. Of course, they failed.
Our default mode is to manage our image and mask our brokenness. We think we will be loved and respected – safe – if we bury the darkest parts of ourselves.
But when we hide, we short circuit our growth and deny ourselves the chance to experience true love and acceptance. In an ironic turn of events, the move we hope will bring love only brings additional fear and shame. Once the false presentation has been made, we move from fear of being known to fear of being exposed; from shame of who we are to a deeper shame of being unwilling to admit who we are. A never ending spiral persists.
Breaking an Ancient Cycle
How do we break a cycle as old as the human race? We can’t; it’s beyond our capacity and ability. In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul asks, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) In order to break these age-old cycles, we must have help from Someone who has already broken the cycle.
Though we cannot break the cycle of managing our sin, protecting our image, and hiding our shame and guilt, there is One who can. One who has already broken the cycle and invites us to claim His victory as our own. This is the good news of Christianity. Unlike every other religion, Christianity is not a system of dos and don’ts allowing followers to achieve and maintain goodness, but a story of love and acceptance. A story of a Hero who meets people in brokenness and calls them to live a more beautiful story.
Christianity requires vulnerability and faith as it exposes the parts of us that we would rather keep hidden. It requires courage and honesty, but actually delivers true freedom, love, and acceptance.
The Power of Christian Faith
To become a Christian, one must be willing to admit weakness and separation from God through sin. No amount of self-improvement or sin management can bridge that separation, but in our admission of weakness comes the promise of rescue. God has promised that He will forgive our sin through the cross of Christ. He tells us that Jesus Christ, God the Son, will trade places with us, taking the penalty of our sin and giving to us in return His perfect righteousness.
God assures us that He has already seen the parts we are afraid to expose and has made a way forward. This is the power of Christianity: God meets us with unearned, undeserved love. It comes to us in spite of ourselves.
The longer we walk with God, the more powerful His love becomes to us because we grow in understanding both God and self. We see God as holier and more wonderful than we had imagined, and we see ourselves as more broken and sinful than we had realized. This means the gap existing between us and God is wider than we believed, and it will only continue to expand as we walk in truth. But be encouraged, the cross of Christ will span the fullness of the chasm, because God knows the depth of our sin and still offers His love unconditionally. This is the good news of Christianity.
Take Risks and Sin Boldly
When we try to manage our sin, we do not elevate ourselves. Rather, we minimize the cross and its power in our lives. Theologian Martin Luther wrote: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”
To live an honest life is to admit to myself, to God, and to others that I have failed to live up to my standards, let alone God’s. As I press into the challenge issued by my friend, the one that called me to share more of myself, I find a deeper need to press into the truth of the gospel: I have failed, but I am loved. I have disappointed, but I am treasured.
My worth is not based on what I do, but the fact that I belong to God, He knows me better than I know myself and loves me in spite of myself, and His cross will bridge the gaps that exist between us.
To learn more about Finding Freedom in the book of Romans, visit Grace Church either online or at a live campus in Central Florida.