There is a mark of maturity that I love to see in others, in myself. What is it? Learning to accept myself and be ‘at home’ in my own skin. People who have grown past the need to impress, perform, or get everyone’s approval are so refreshing because they are authentic, have integrity, and are at peace. And, they are a rare species in our image-making culture! Bombarded by messages of who we need to be, about values that are the ‘right’ ones, about the perfect body type … too many of us try to become ‘somebody’ other than the person we really are. By the way, I am not talking about avoiding self-improvement, gaining knowledge, or growing into social grace. There is nothing beautiful in a graceless slob who revels in his ignorance! The person I admire is the one who refuses to lets people he doesn’t like pressure him into being someone he is not; who knows the healing love and amazing grace of our Father in Heaven, and thus lives authentically for Christ.
Jesus reserved His most critical words for a group of people who were full of religious zeal – the Pharisees. Our modern caricature of them fails to account for their scrupulous discipline and desire to be godly. They worked hard at learning the Law and developed detailed rules for life so that they could avoid sinning. There is much to praise in the pursuit of a holy life. We are ALL called to live that way. Yet Jesus called them “hypocrites” and compared them to nicely painted tombs that looked great on the outside but were full of death! What was wrong with them? They looked around for approval instead of up! They measured themselves against each other rather than seeking God’s transformation of the heart. Jesus anger with them was intense. “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.” (Matthew 23:25-26, The Message)
Are you making the mistake of putting on a persona that you think pleases God and/or earns the approval of other Christians?
Are you saying words you do not mean, praying in ways that are disconnected from your life and experience, refusing to deal with yourself?
Jesus tells us that the way to actually please God begins with humility. Comparing the prayers of two men, He teaches us about being real. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ (By the way, Jesus does not say this man was lying. He probably was upright and living a life that looked good. But, he was proud and inauthentic.) “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-15, NIV) The publican admitted to himself that he needed God!
The whole story of authenticity is not just in reveling in our sinfulness. God desires that we grow up in grace, genuinely at peace with His gifts and callings in our lives. Paul points us in the right direction when he reminds us that while we know who we are and where we are today, we press on in the Spirit to ‘’take hold of that for which God took hold of me.” His desire was a real holiness, one that started deep inside and changed him into a whole person. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. … our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (Philippians 3:14-4:2, NIV)
When we feel insecure, when we think we need to become ‘somebody’ that will make others (or even the Lord Himself) love us, we will be tempted to play games, put on a ‘face,’ twisting ourselves in someone unrecognizable. In those moments, we need to recall that God made us unique, that He loves us in our all our imperfection (as we see it), and that His Spirit is equipping to deal authentically with life. As we ‘die to Self’ and let ourselves be ‘hidden in Christ,’ a mysterious work begins to occur: we get real, grow up, and become people through whom God pours His love into a broken world. Does it get any better than that?
A word from the Word – “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who He is or what He’s up to. But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. … This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.” (1 John 3:1-2, 19-20, The Message)