I know this looks a little long, but there’s a story at the end that you’ll want to hang around for.
Thanks again for dropping by! The feedback on this series has been great. I know you’re not all commenting, but please feel free to jump into the discussion by leaving comments below. I won’t bite, I promise.
Last post we talked about the issue of authenticity when it comes to a behavior modification approach to Christianity. At the end of the blog I noted that there is a significant spiritual implication for using Christianity to modify behavior. The implication is that using Christianity to modify behavior is exactly opposite of how the gospel works. Renewal and redemption of the Spirit is an inside out process, but the behavior modification approach adheres to the fallacy that if you control the exterior then the interior is also in line.
In the fifth of seven ‘Woes to teachers and pharisees’ (Matthew 23:25-26), Jesus clearly addresses the practice of cleaning up the outside and calling things ‘good’ while the inside is filthy. Much of the sermon on the mount from Matthew 5-7 addresses the difference between the inside and outside. Give to the needy in secret, pray in private, hide the fact that you’re fasting. All of these reinforce the idea that it is what is on the inside that matters. By implication, you can discern that no matter how much you clean, dress, and control the external, you’ll never affect the spiritual.
So why all the focus on the external? Why the presupposition that the cleanliness of the outside is indicative of the spirit on the inside? Why measure our success in evangelism by whether someone quits wearing their Marlboro t-shirt or not?
I’ll go a step further and say that not only is focusing on the outside bad authenticity from the spiritual standpoint, it is also one of the greatest inhibitors to spiritual growth. The reason is because we are allowed to dress ourselves up and pass ourselves off as something we’re not. When we define a ‘good Christian’ by whether they attend church each week, we’ve fallen for the ‘external matters’ trick. We frequently joke around about families that fight all the way to church and then get out of the car and pretend that everything is fine… and that’s just the preacher’s family.
A few weeks back I overheard someone say that they loved it when men wore dress shirts and ties when the get up during worship. It made them look like they were ‘ready to serve the Lord’. I have to admit, I’m from a different generation. Not only did we make Levi’s cool, we made Levi’s with gaping holes in them cool. So when someone says to me that what you wear is indicative of your preparedness to serve the Lord, I balk. Not only I, but non-Christians/new converts have a similar reaction.
I shared this encounter with one of my peers who had been wearing a beautiful, new suit to worship for the last several weeks. I had noticed the suit, and since he was similar to me in many ways demographically I wanted his opinion on the matter. He recounted of when he bought the suit several weeks before, of how he wore it to service, and of how people just ooohhed and aaaahhed over him in his nice new suit.
“That must have felt nice.” I said, thinking I could pass his interest in ‘dressing up’ off as a interest in vain recognition. His response: “Not really.”
He proceeded to tell me the story of why he bought the suit. He had been struggling with depression for some time and had decided it was time to end his own life. He researched the different ways to kill himself and decided on hanging. He had visited several stores to find just the right rope he needed to get the job done. He selected a spot where his kids wouldn’t be the ones to find his body. Then, as a last step, he went out and bought a nice, new suit to wear when he killed himself.
Then he wore the suit to church. While I can’t speak to his emotional response to people commenting on how good he looked, when some expressed to him that they wished more men would be more like him he definitely caught the inconsistency. “Here I was, rotting on the inside and all these people cared about was how I looked on the outside.”
The inconsistency is glaring. The lack of authenticity is offensive. When we elevate the importance of external things over that of spiritual things, we either 1) turn people off, or 2) win them to a system of external regulations and not to a system of transformation by the Spirit.
Next post in this series we’re going to turn the topic a little in a different direction. Until then, what are your thoughts on where we’ve been so far? Please leave your comments below.