TITLE: Portraying Ourselves Like Christ
By Colin Woekel
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I was recently involved in an outreach outside of a highschool in Los Angeles. We walked near the school handeding out free sodas to students who were willing to talk with us briefly about their lives. I approached a group of four students, two girls and two boys, and struck up a conversation. The ringleaders name was Anthony, he was 13 years old.
It was obvious from the beginning that they were all smoking pot, although they seemed relatively sober at the time. I was supposed to follow a short survey which was designed to ease the conversation into the afterlife and God, but decided just to wing it. I asked the group what they believed happened after death, and was answered with four shrugs. Upon pressing the question further, Anthony decided that he would simply stop being. The others disagreed.
At this point, I explained to them my belief that there is a part of my being that will not, and can not, die. I pointed out a tree, and explained how, when it falls, it will be dead. They agreed that there is no part of a tree that exists beyond the physical body of the tree. When I told them that I felt like I was more than a tree, that I was more than just a body, but that there was a consciousness that animated my body, they agreed. Even Anthony knew that he existed at a higher level than the tree, and he began thinking about this fact.
I asked the original question again, this time they all admitted that they had never really thought about the afterlife, and that they supposed there must be some place where they ended up after death. I asked if they thought that all people would go to the same place. Would murderers be mixed with saints? The consensus was that no, there must be two separate places where we would exist in the afterlife. One place would be reserved for “good” people, and one for “bad” people.
The students, especially Anthony, were not stupid. It was obvious to them that I was speaking of heaven and hell, even though I was not using those terms. I asked how they thought it would be determined who would go where. After some discussion, they decided that it had simply to do with how “good” or “bad” a person had been. Someone who had done more “good” in their lives, they explained to me, would go somewhere basically “good” after death. When I asked for specific instances of this, they mentioned that Priests would go to the good place, and that murderers and people who abused drugs and alcohol would go to the bad place.
I asked if they knew people who were “bad”, specifically people who used drugs. They all laughed, and pointed to Anthony, and he pointed right back to them. Our conversation turned to drugs, and I was able to share with them how I had struggled with the abuse of marijuana and alcohol in my life. Knowing by this time that I was a Christian, they found this confession shocking.
The conversation turned to those they knew whom they considered “good”. They did not really know anyone like that except for priests and people who seemed to live their whole lives at churches. “It’s frustrating, isn’t it?” I asked, and continued “When I look at people who the world considers good, I feel lost. I feel like there is no way that I could ever measure up to their standards. They are just too perfect.” With this statement I had found some common ground. They took turns agreeing with me, and it was obvious that they viewed me differently than they had at first. The simple knowledge that I was not perfect was all they needed to feel as if they could relate to me.
Four young people stood before me who had been cut off from the church because the church had made itself out to be better than they were. It broke my heart to realize that the modern Christian tends to segregate him or herself from those whom they are called to reach out to. These four lost sheep admitted to me that they felt like they could never be Christians, because they quite simply could not be good enough.
If being good was one of the criteria for being a Christian, than they would have been right. There is no way that they, or anyone who has ever lived, can be good enough to reach God. The bottom line is stated in Romans 3:22-24 (NIV): "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." If this passage is not clear to you, then there is no scholar on earth who can make it so. It says, plain as day, that there is no difference in people. Faith is for all who believe. It says that everybody has sinned, and it does not differentiate between sins. There are no levels of separation from God. God’s grace is one size fits all.
Before this point in my life, I had always understood that wearing a mask to hide my sins was detrimental to myself. I also realized that this kind of dishonesty could seriously hurt the body in which I was involved. What I failed to realize was that portraying myself as anything but what I was, and that is a rotten sinner, was more than detrimental to those unsaved people who saw me. We are called to attempt to be like Christ, but that does not mean we should profess that we are when we are not.
It is true that many people view Christians as hypocrites. I will be the first to admit that in my case, they are right. I do not practice what I preach. The fact of the matter is that no one can. What, then, can be done to better our image? I think that the only way is to embrace our hypocrisy. We need to announce to all the fact that what we preach cannot in its entirety be practiced. Paul makes it perfectly clear in his letters that he is in no way perfect, but that by the grace of God, he carries on.
In the 12th chapter of Second Corinthians, Paul explains that he knows a man who had an incredible encounter with God. He says; “I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.” (2nd Corinthians 12:5-6). Keep in mind that this is coming from Paul, the one person who could have claimed responsibility for setting up the Christian church. Just after this, he admits that he has a “thorn” in his flesh, or some kind of weakness in his life. He prayed three times for God to help him overcome this weakness, but God did not. Instead, God answered him and said; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd Corinthians 12:9).
As someone who grew up in the church, I have always known that God’s grace was sufficient to reconcile me to Him. I was even taught at a young age that God could use my shortcomings for His glory. Neither of those statements, however, encompass all that is being said in 2nd Corinthians 12:9. What God says is that his power, which is perfect, is made perfect in our weakness. If we are not willing to expose ourselves and give up our weaknesses, then it sounds to me like God’s power can never be used perfectly through us.
As my conversation with Anthony and his friends continued, I was able to present to them a Gospel that they had never heard before. They had always been taught, not through sermons but by the words and actions of the Christians that they knew, that in order to be a Christian you had to be good. Because of this, they never even considered Christianity an option. What God was able to show them through one lousy sinner and three simple verses (Romans 3:22-24) was that He loves them for who they are, and wants them as they are. I shared with them my belief that it was not necessary for them to stop smoking pot in order to become a Christian. “All that matters,” I told them, “is that you admit to yourself and to Christ that you have a problem, and that you have faith that He rescued you from that sin when He died on the cross.”
How often do we forget this simple fact? The fact that although works are a great thing, they have no bearing on our salvation. How many times have I shoved a shortcoming into my closet and prayed for it to go away and keep quiet? I do not like people to know what I do wrong, and often times I find myself going to great lengths just to keep things hidden inside. I like to feel safe, and to know that others respect me, but God calls us to confess our sins. God calls us to let him use our shortcomings as fuel for his grace. God calls us to lay down our pride so that we can truly be nothing more than a vassal for his power. I do not know that I will ever be able to completely relinquish my pride. I do know, however, that it is something we all need to strive to do.
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