December 17, 2010

To Live is Christ — without layers

Every discipline has its verbal terminology. Our doctors use $500 words that describe medical conditions. Most of us need a translator when reading a legal document because legalese is as confusing as a foreign language.

Christianity has its terminology too. As a writer, I’m aware that the use of Christian terms without definitions will make eyes glaze over. There are passages in the Bible that sometimes do that to me.

Besides the complications of biblical words, some passages become so familiar that my eyes scan them, but I don’t read them with much comprehension. I assume that I know what they say. For that reason, I sometimes look at contemporary English paraphrases. Their translation may not be as accurate as some Bible versions, but the fresh approach often has a way of smacking me on the side of the head.

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. (Matthew 7:1–5, The Message)
Ouch. For me, this hits home. Its description of a smudge compared to an ugly sneer vividly reminds me that what I think is merely a smudge in my own life can look quite different to others, and more pointedly, to God.

The other part is that description of “holier-than-thou” as role-playing. It is role-playing. No one is holier than anyone else. The godliness anyone has is from Christ and not available apart from Him. To act as if I have an edge over others, or even think that way, is pretense. I’m putting on a face. As translated in other versions, this is hypocrisy — since “putting on a face” is the way to define this word.

Last night I talked with someone about the way we use layers to protect ourselves. We pretend to be what we are not for fear that we will not be accepted. Being critical of the faults of others is a layer or defense mechanism. It says, “Don’t look at me, look at them. See how bad they are. Don’t see how bad I am.”

Besides the meanness of that, this attitude is also a lie against the Gospel. The Gospel says that I am accepted in the beloved. Christ died for me. There is nothing that I did or can do to earn or deserve that, but there is also nothing I can do to change or erase that. His grace is freely given and nothing can separate me from His love.

In Him, I don’t need layers. I don’t need the layer of finger-pointing the faults of someone else so people will not see mine. God loves me. He is using all things to transform me into the image of His Son. What people think of me may have some importance, but putting on a layer to manipulate their opinions reveals that I have forgotten the words, promises and grace of the One whose opinion matters the most.

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