We live in a world obsessed with image and appearance. We spend hours cultivating how we’re seen by others: by choosing the right outfit, editing our profiles, dieting to lose weight or hitting the gym to gain muscle.
We work hard to fit into a certain subculture, or we’re proud of always rocking the trend. Whether we’re hipsters or hicks, mavericks or “Mature & Sensible”, we almost certainly think about how we’re perceived. (My personal predilections include comedy t-shirts and mock-Converse plimsolls.)
Within the church, we can do a similar thing, only it’s more insidious. We think Christians are supposed to be growing in godliness, so when we keep struggling in the same areas, we stop mentioning them for fear of embarrassment. We push our sins under the carpet in order to fit in. We want the approval of our brothers and sisters, and so we stay silent.
However, whilst fooling those around us might be possible, God cannot be deceived. He tells Samuel:
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Those around us might think us the height of godliness, but God’s assessment looks far deeper, into the ugly depths of our hearts. Jesus tells us that it’s from our hearts that evil comes (Mark 7:21-22), and Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Imagine your darkest secrets being shown to the world. Lustful thoughts akin to visual rape. Bitterness and unforgiveness festering, intensifying. Hatred masked by hugs and kisses. Betrayal. Greed. Pride. All exposed, impossible to hide. It’s a horrifying thought – and yet the reality is that God sees all these things. Those around us look at our polished personas, but God sees the real deal.
We can clean up our act, try harder, present a positive face to the world, but our sinful hearts will always betray us. Isaiah 64:6 says that our “righteous acts are like filthy rags” – not just insubstantial, but dirty themselves. In the eyes of God, we’ve nothing to hide behind.
Except… the Lord himself provides a hiding place, a covering for our sin and shame. Earlier, Isaiah wrote the following:
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
The Lord himself clothes us with a robe of his righteousness. Our own righteousness is but rags, but he gives us his own to wear. Our sin is covered, our shame removed. Our Father looks at us, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and accepts us without question. Those lustful thoughts? Covered. That long-held bitterness? Dealt with. Our greed? Gone. Our pride? Paid for.
Knowing this frees us from the pressure to keep up appearances. We’re all accepted on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not our own – so we can be real about our struggles. We can start to build relationships of real openness and intimacy, striving for holiness together without fear of condemnation. Knowing our identity in Christ means we don’t have to worry about how others perceive us. Our loving Father, the one whose opinion really counts, has already given his verdict:
“You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.”