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Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

Our Limitations of Honesty

August 5th, 2016

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18, ESV)

I commonly hear people speak about “authentic Christianity” or “genuine honesty,” or some similar thought – that we must have a perfect Christian experience and a perfect Christian community, or, as the thinking goes, everything we are about is false.

All such words simply promote a spiritual legalism, a legalism not of personal righteous acts – and always legalism requires someone’s own interpretation of what those acts consist of – but a legalism of experiences that imposes on others what some individual, who considers him or herself more pious than others, thinks the spiritual life should consist of.

I have admired the writing of such men as Keith Miller and Elton Trueblood who have advocated a new community of honest Christians. Who can disagree with that? But the problem is that they (Miller more than Trueblood) lack of perspective of our true reality, that sin and dishonesty goes deep within us all. We will not, nor can we have, true honesty in communion with other Christians until we are in heaven. The best we can attain to is an effort in ourselves and in our churches as the Spirit leads. The complete prize awaits our completed redemption.

C.S. Lewis observed in his first chapters of Mere Christianity the limitations of our efforts at morality, a being honest and kind toward one another. Even as the church is described there are elements that both attract us and repel us. He wrote:

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, “advanced,” but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity. (C.S. Lewis)

This is the problem, that the sin in us goes deep and we each have our favorite parts of redemption and our less favorite. There are problems within us that God must fix that we do not even consider symptoms of evil.

Our limitations are felt not just in personal morality but also in being completely open with one another. We are closed for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact of having been hurt by others in the past – many who claimed to be our friends and our fellow Christians.

But more to the point, perfect honesty with one another is never commanded in scripture – at least not in so many words. What is taught is patience, forgiveness, love, tender-heartedness, understanding, and humility, but not perfect honesty: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:32).In heaven is where honesty will be – when we perfectly know as we are perfectly known (1 Cor. 13:12). But here on earth, though God is making a new humanity, the practical matters that are commanded relate to making and keeping peace.

So, as wise Solomon advises us in Ecclesiastes, leave room in the exercise of your Christianity for the grace of God and for the possibility that you have misunderstood some things. Do not be “overly righteous” as though you and you alone, after so many centuries, have understood and identified the perfect Christianity or the perfect Christian experience and community. Thank God for the insights he allows you to have, but leave it all in his hands.

Authentic Christianity retains an element of humility, that perhaps we do not even know, and will never know this side of heaven, what perfect Christianity looks like.

Authenticity in the Faith , , ,

The Need for Honesty

August 2nd, 2016

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

It can be argued that the essence of the Christian experience is a new honesty with oneself. We are able to see our sin for what it is, to see our hearts for what they are, because the grace of God in Christ allows us to do so. Whatever we find there – and there will be very dark discoveries for each of us – we may trust that the grace of Christ can handle. Paul demonstrated this type of honesty when he lamented, in the utmost honesty, his own puzzlement and moral failure. His words have echoed in every honest heart since then.

Yet, strangely enough, there is a lot of dishonesty in the church today. It shows itself in different ways, but behind it is an attempt at self-justification, self-righteousness, and self-credit for being a good person.

The legalist is certainly a prime example of blatant dishonesty, a personal man-made religion that lacks the authentic self-examination necessary – even if it is called Christianity. Fault-finding with others is a common way we seek to avoid honesty with ourselves. So long as I can find someone more unrighteous than me, then I can feel better about myself without help by the grace of God.

Fundamentalism seems to be another common way people can continue to wear a mask. I am careful here because it is wrong to say that every fundamentalist is fundamentally dishonest. That is certainly not true. There is no conflict between believing the Bible and being an honest, humble, and self-searching believer. In fact, true belief in the Word of God should result in exactly this type of authentic self-searching, for this what we see in those in the Book.

Yet there is a type of Fundamentalism that uses issues, such as “Science vs Scripture,” to mask the issue of personal repentance and faith – even if it is entirely inconsistent biblically to do so. I know some Christians who think the only important argument of the Word of God is whether the days in Genesis 1 were twenty-four hours. Yet their very method of arguing the point, the nature of their character, reveals someone who remains an emotional infant in some way.

In both of these cases the issue is not whether we should uphold personal righteousness – we should! Nor is the issue whether or not the Bible speaks authoritatively – it does! But the issue is that they have used an important issue as a smoke screen to mask a dishonest soul. Of course, there are other ways Christians do this as well – such as attention to some church procedure, arguing vociferously about whether something the church decided to do was right or wrong, or was done in the right or the wrong way, or just some one who is upset with something that happened in church. The ways that we can use unimportant things as smoke screens to hide what is not happening in our hearts are endless.

Keith Miller, in his classic book, The Taste of New Wine, addressed the amount of effort we put forth to appear happy, successful, and content. We teach our children to smile through the pain, and though there is something good in not complaining all of the time, there is also the danger of living in blatant dishonesty, thinking that if we appear happy and well adjusted, then that is all that really matters. He wrote these memorable words:

The result is our churches are filled with people who outwardly look contented and at peace but inwardly are crying out for someone to love them … just as they are – confused, frustrated, often frightened, guilty, and unable to communicate even within their own families. But the other people in the church look so happy and copntented that one seldom has the courage to admit his own deep needs before such a self-sufficient group as the average church meeting appears to be… Consequently our modern church is filled with many people who look pure, sound pure, and are inwardly sick of themselves, their weaknesses, their frustration, and the lack of reality around them in the church.  (Keith Miller, The Taste of New Wine, pp. 22,27)

Honesty alone is not a solution to this problem. Faith also is required that Jesus is the answer to my need. But these two – honesty and faith – are essential and inseparable parts of the Christian experience, so much so that it can be truly said that you cannot have true faith in Christ without true honesty about your need.

But honesty must start the journey, it must be the first leg of the pilgrimage to heaven. Without an honest assessment of the need of our soul, we can hardly come to faith in Christ. And even as we follow Christ – especially as we follow Christ – we need to develop the attribute of honest, authentic, soul-searching. We need not turn into morbid self-absorbed people to do so, that is not what i am advocating. But we need to be honest.

The trait of those who are honest is, first, that they receive the grace of God in Christ. They are like the tax collector who beat upon his chest in the temple, saying, “Be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13) And then they trust that God has heard their cry and that Christ has accepted them. This dual realization – that I am a sinner and that Christ loves me anyway and has paid for my sin – is the heart of the conversion experience.

The other traits are that they are accepting of others, gracious, patient, inviting, and hopeful. They have found that they are accepted in Christ, and they embrace others fearlessly, knowing that they too can find God’s grace in Him.

So, what is the condition of your soul? Are you honest? Are you exercising faith that Jesus is the answer to your need?

Authenticity in the Faith , , ,