Pretenses of perfection diminish the Gospel
In 1 Corinthians 15:9-11, Paul writes, “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Paul did not seek to hide the most terrible thing he ever did. Instead he speaks of it in several of his letters and even at one point calls himself the chief of all sinners.
Why do we try to hide our failures? Why do we attempt to show a false picture of ourselves to others? We are the same as the Pharisees who Jesus said were “like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
We’re attempting to hide the fact that we are “filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29-32). When faced with the true condition of the human race it is not difficult to understand why we are under a sentence of eternal death.
We Christians have committed these same acts. Yet we attempt to “whitewash” ourselves and, in doing so, merely add hypocrisy to the list. We are normal people. We have committed the same sins as the rest of the world, and there is nothing that will ever change that. Instead of attempting to whitewash ourselves we must see that “by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Any difference in us is not our doing. It is by the grace of God. We are ordinary people. We are not called to be strong, wise, perfect, or even respected people who are better than the rest of the world. Instead “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that he may nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor. 1:27-31).
This is our calling: to boast in the Lord. We are normal people whom God is working in and through to accomplish His will. Who we are is a result of God’s work, and so any attempt to show a false picture of ourselves is a rejection of that work.
Instead, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
I once heard a Christian comedian say that he was a Christian because “it is the only religion that would have me. Other religions have all these rules… Christianity looks at humans and says, ‘You stink!’ Oh well, come on in.” This is true. Instead of handing us a list of rules and telling us to follow them and He will love us, God loves us as we are and has arranged a way for our sins to be forgiven.
We Christians must stop pretending to be more than we are. We are ordinary, sinful people. The only difference between our sins and those of the rest of the world is that ours have been forgiven by the grace of God. We still have a responsibility to labor to become more than we are. But it is absolutely necessary that we always remember that the work God is doing in our lives is His doing, not our own, and we have nothing in ourselves to boast of.
It was because he understood and accepted this work that Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I but the grace of God with me.”
- Warner T. Richardson