15 So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Eph 5:15-21 NLT]
Though I run the risk of slightly exaggerating my circumstances, let me just say that when I was a teenager, I thought I totally understood this scripture! No time for foolishness…time to get serious. Jesus was coming soon. I had become a Christian at age 16, someone had given me a big ol’ Dake’s Annotated Bible, King James Version, and I packed that thing everywhere I went. I regularly slapped it on the table like a hammer and called out for repentance to the lunchroom/library/study hall crowd. I was telling everyone who would listen about the wrath of God that was to come and made it my business to bring correction to those around me when they were doing something “wrong.”
I was being careful how I walked.
Now, I was never mean or growling about it. But, I didn’t have to be…I was just cheerfully reminding them of what their conscience was already telling them! I unintentionally played into everyone’s greatest fear: they were sinning…they were sinners…and they needed to stop or else…THUS SAYETH ME.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I was asked to sing a song at my high school graduation. After I sang my selection (a Gospel song of course, to give a final admonition for all to turn to Jesus) my high school class gave me a standing ovation.
I was shocked.
I was shocked because I didn’t think most of them cared much about me. I felt like I was the butt of every joke. I didn’t run around or hang out with friends…I didn’t really have many friends (you can imagine why!). I expected to be made fun of when I missed Senior Night to attend a revival, and for missing my Junior Prom because it was on a church night. I was…well…religious…rigid…unyielding. I was trying to “come out from among the world and be separate” like the Bible taught. I was pretty busy trying to prove to everyone that I was following hard after God. And, if I was ridiculed because of it, it was just another star in my crown. After all, Jesus said that if the world hated Him they would hate me, too.
Yet, it appeared I was very loved…very accepted….very admired. And, I was very puzzled by it. It stayed in my mind for years until one day while preparing a sermon, I realized what had happened. And, as I began to realize what I had done, I felt my heart sink deeper and deeper into my chest.
I had gotten a standing ovation because, to my peers, I was a good, strong Christian. To them I was a man of convictions; a man of principle. I was a Christian, and based on my example, being a Christian was something most of them could have never ever become. I was holy and they were not. They were sinners and I was not.
Now, I’m not sure at the time I really would have said it like that. But I knew by the Holy Spirit as I sat there with my heart heavy that my actions had betrayed my good intentions. Of course, I’m not advocating that I should have done whatever I thought, wanted, or felt like doing instead. The problem was I had given to some degree a false picture of what relationship with God truly was. I had in many respects misrepresented the very character of God as a Father. I had failed to let my peers know that He loved me even though I wasn’t perfect. I was a classic case of someone looking good on the outside but being full of trash on the inside. I was so guarded because I was afraid of being hurt that I refused to let anyone see the real me; I was certain no one would really like what they saw. And, I most certainly couldn’t let the cat out of the bag that I, too, was a sinner.
But I was. I was a sinner…a sinner that had found grace from a very loving God who wanted to transform someone as bad as me. Yet, all the while I was preventing people from coming into the Kingdom. I had been a Pharisee. And I was ashamed.
But thank God for His grace and for the gift of repentance!
I used to read what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 5 a particular way; that there was no room for error on my part….that I could never really reveal what was going on in my heart; that I could never be vulnerable and I must confront the darkness I saw in everyone else. But, now I read Ephesians 5 differently. Being careful has more to do with avoiding hypocrisy than making sure my behavior looks stellar. It has more to do with NOT putting obstacles in front of people who are trying to come to Jesus than it does trying to live a shiny and polished life.
If I excel at anything at this point in my life as a husband, father, mentor, and pastor, let me be careful to point others (and myself) to the Gospel of Jesus and not to my own Pharisaical holiness. After all, it is the Gospel that’s the power of God that brings salvation TO EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES!