I Samuel 16:7 (NIV), “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.””
There is a very common saying that I have heard from the time I was little. I said it to my children, grandchildren, and those students that I had over the years. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a way to convince children that we can’t write someone off just because they have frizzy hair, buck teeth, old clothes, or different color skin. However, we all do just that (especially when buying books!) Because we have a tendency to do this, we project this trait on God. We think that we have to clean ourselves up before we totally surrender to Him. Worse yet, we expect others to do the same. That somehow changing what you wear, covering the tattoos, losing the piercings, cutting your dreads, or wearing a suit and tie, make us more acceptable to God.
The good news is, He had always accepted you. He loved you before you were created, in fact before He even created time. He can’t ever love you more, even if you surrender your life to Him and live perfectly (not that we ever will be perfect). On the flip side, He will never love you less. If you were to turn your back on Him and deny His very existence, He wouldn’t stop loving you. You are accepted in the beloved. God loves people. All people. Why? Because He is love. Not, He shows love, has love, feels love…He is love. Because of this truth, the whole performance issue of trying to look and act a certain way to gain His favor and approval is ludicrous. We may be able to fool a few people, maybe eve ourselves, but we can’t fool God. He knows us better than we do. Our mask of “spirituality” is made of clear glass. He sees right through it into our hearts.
Isn’t that what Jesus told the Pharisees?
Matthew 23:25-28 (NASB), “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
When has behaving “holier than thou” ever led someone to Jesus? Does that mask we put on make people want to be just like us? Isn’t that the main criticism of Christianity today, that we are a bunch of hypocrites?
So what do we do? Should we bag trying to live Holy and live like the world? God forbid. Do we need to air all of our dirty laundry and expose every weakness? Please don’t. But, we do need to be real! Our faith should be genuine, not an act. We will have days that our faith seems to be nonexistent, but we will attract people to God if we can show them that it is only a temporary setback, that God’s children get back up. We mess up, we act stupid, we forget who we are representing, often our foot is in our mouths, and we look ugly on the inside and the outside. The point is to let them see that we aren’t trying to just clean up the outside, that we are truly allowing God to clean us from the inside out. That it isn’t in our effort, but just in surrendering to Him and letting Him do the work in us. It’s about admitting those weaknesses and allowing God’s strength to work in and through us.
The greatest witness of Jesus is always His love. Was it His condemnation of that woman caught in adultery that changed her heart? No, He clearly said that He didn’t condemn her; He showed her love and compassion, by treating her with respect. Think about the things that Christ was criticized for compared to what modern Christians are criticized for: They complained that He was a friend to sinners, they say that we are judgmental and hate sinners. He ate with sinners and publicans, without conforming to their ideals and behaviors, we separate ourselves completely from them behaving like they have leprosy, or we behave just like they do and live the exact same way. He repeatedly said, “your sins are forgiven” and boy did that make the religious leaders mad, but we say “you’re going to hell.” He insisted that God loved them, we say “God hates homosexuals” or “God loves me, but not you.” Jesus wanted one big family of God, and we continue to preach “us and them.” He came to tear down walls, we continue to re-build them.
Before you get mad at me, I know that all Christians aren’t like this all the time. However, I confess that sometimes I find myself with that same ugly mindset. We have to constantly remind ourselves of who God is, and how we should be thinking. God is just like Jesus. He said so. We need to behave more like Him. Not is some cheesy “what would Jesus do” way, but in genuine love. Get to know the God we are supposed to be representing. Then represent Him well. God forgive us for letting the world think that you are unforgiving and quick to judge. Forgive us for letting them think that you don’t care about them, but are so concerned about how they think, act, and look. Forgive us for forcing them to think that they could never please you or earn your love. Help us to be more Christlike!
Romans 2:4 (NIV), “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
It’s when we show His love, how good He is to us, and to those who don’t even know Him yet, that they turn to Him. Repentance isn’t so much about turning away from sin, but more about turning to Him. Are we living in such a way as to help others turn to Him? Or are we too busy pointing out all of their faults, bad behaviors, wrong thinking, and sin? I have said it before, we aren’t called to be sin police. The Holy Spirit is quite able to do the job of convicting of sin and convincing of righteousness. We are called to preach the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons (including the demons of self righteousness and religion). We are called to love and to grow the family of God. What child in an orphanage wants to go home with the parents who spend their “getting acquainted” time pointing out all of the things they don’t like? “Your hair is much too curly, those fingernails will have to be clipped and washed, stop picking your nose, don’t play with that dirty boy over there, your grades are much too low, you need to apply yourself…” Some of those might be legitimate things to say to your own children as you help them grow up and train them up, others are just downright wrong, but all are inappropriate for conversation and expectations on adopting a new child. God has adopted us. Why did we run to Him? Because He convinced us of His love!
Are you getting this? The same thing that drew us to our new Daddy is what is going to draw this lost, broken, hurting world to Him. Love. All that stuff that needs to be healed and fixed, He’ll see to it in His own way and in His own time. We don’t have to try and clean them up. Again, not our job.
Loving others never means that we are accepting their sin as good. We can’t say, “So, you murdered your neighbor, that’s ok.” But we can say, “So you murdered your neighbor, God still loves you and wants your life to be better.” A victim of child molestation doesn’t want to hear that what happened to them was acceptable behavior, or worse, was ordained by God, but they do want to hear that God cares, He loved them, and wants to heal them. I am not saying we need to call evil good, or good evil, or that we ignore sin. I am saying that we need to convince them that their lifestyle choices don’t matter to God in the light of His love. He loves them anyway. Once they accept that, and they won’t do that if we keep pointing out how horrible they are, then the ever gentle, loving Holy Spirit will work on those things that need to be changed. We drive people from God, by pointing out sin. The Holy Spirit draws people to God, by wooing them with His love. Big difference.
Now, go be loving.