"And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand."
-- Mark 3:25
It seems every week now brings with it a new revelation of a pastor's or other evangelical leader's moral implosion. Whether it's the next step in the seismic shifts of our culture's #MeToo moment or simply evangelicalism's chickens coming home to roost, the fallout is getting gut-wrenchingly more routine -- personal shame, relational devastation, and a tarnishing of the church's witness.
There is a good moral indignation we all ought to experience in response to the revelations proliferating in our headlines these days. A good, sober-minded grief is certainly called for. One attitude that facilitates the enabling of sexual immorality and abuses of power is the one that acts like "it's no big deal" or that "it happens to everybody." While we all carry the potential for very great sins, this does not negate the need for discipline. There are such things as disqualifying sins for ministry, and there is always the place for calling the powerful who are in sin to repentance (2 Sam. 12:7).
Yet we must remain humble. The glare of God's holiness passes over us all, and while it may not reveal the same things about everyone, it will still reveal everyone. The religious avatars we employ daily to fool people into thinking we are better people than we are get glitchy over time.
It is best to reconcile this reality before it crashes into us. So, then, some thoughts on how to repent of a fall before it happens. If "there but for the grace of God go I," what must we know to embrace the grace that can keep us from "going there?"
1. The real you is the you in the shadows.
"Character," said a pastor currently undergoing some fairly credible accusations of sexual impropriety, "is who you are when no one's looking." And he's exactly right. The real self is the self in the shadows.
The real you is the you that you hope nobody sees. This the real you because it is the you that you are naturally, without constraints or restraints. The truest version of us is the one we are when we are alone, when nobody can see or hear, when we have no pressure to perform for or conform to others, when we feel free to do, feel, or think whatever we want. We have to embrace this reality or else we end up allowing our succeses, reputations, or feelings to give us a false sense of assurance. "Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). The achievements and accumulations of the self we want others to think we are can slowly intoxicate us. And it's when we're drunk that we end up tripping over our own feet:
2. The real you always shows up eventually.
It's always funny to me when somebody loses their temper and then apologizes, saying something like, "Oh, I'm sorry; that wasn't me." No, it absolutely was you. For a brief moment, the real you finally showed up. You dropped your guard and forgot to pretend not to be a jerk. When we're jostled, the truth comes out. So losing your temper is basically losing the pretense that you're actually a good person.
Still sadder is when someone sins against their God and their family by way of adultery or other sexual sin and, when caught, uses words like "mistake" or "fell into."
What all of these euphemisms amount to is a smokescreen. They are ways that we pretend the real us is the one we are publicly all the time and that when our patterns of sin creep up on us, we've somehow been surprised by some alien force. This is why many people found out say things like, "My life suddenly fell apart." No, the reality is that the fake version of yourself fell apart. It crumbled under the weight of your true self.
"Your sin," as the word says, "will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). Or, as Jesus himself says, "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known" (Luke 12:2).
Your talent and your reputation can very often take you where your character cannot keep you. And when you get tired, lazy, angry, lonely, or simply too proud, the real you has a way of overtaking you and taking over the show. The real you always shows up eventually.
3. The real you is the only you Jesus will deal with.
We may be able to keep everybody else at arm's length and in the dark with the fake versions of ourselves, but Jesus doesn't fall for it.. He isn't fooled. He cannot be played. You never see him in the Gospels stepping into the plays of religious hypocrites or the traps of the spinmasters.
He knows both the secret sins hidden beneath the public platforms and the secret motivations driving the muckraking watchbloggers. And he knows everything else about the rest of us too. And there's no amount of cheap perfume that will put him off the foul scent of our unrighteousness.
This is what repentance is all about -- presenting our true selves to Jesus. No spin. No excuses. No blame-shifting. No therapeutic rationalization, no psychoanalytical loopholes. Jesus will only deal with us on the playing field of reality. Submitting when we're caught or, better yet, surrendering before it gets that far. Jesus wants our whole heart, so confession without compromise is the best route to know all he means for us to have. And all he means for you to have is good:
4. The real you is the you that Jesus loves.
You know, Jesus didn't die for men's religious facades. He doesn't love the fake versions of ourselves.
The you that is a sinner? That's the you that Jesus loves. The you of your Internet browser history, the you of your secret shame or private compulsion, the you of your interior life, your patterns and hang-ups and stubborn resistance to his will -- that's the you Jesus came to rescue.
If this kind of language bothers you, then the gospel must bother you. Because this is the message of grace -- that God did not send Jesus to die for people who were worthy of it, but for people who could never be (Mark 2:17). Or do you still entertain the dubious notion that Jesus loves you because you're so much better put together than everybody else?
"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:6-8
The good news is that God loves sinners. No, he doesn't love our sin, of course. If you're ever tempted to think God takes sin lightly, simply look to the cross where his son was brutally executed for it. The blood of Christ is abundant proof that God hates sin. But the blood of Christ is abundant proof that God loves sinners. This is the whole point of the gospel. It is the whole point of Christianity.
This is why you can own up to your sin without still trying to protect yourself. This is why you can embrace the lowliness of repentance and even the painful process of restoration. Even right now, today. This is why you can finally, truly be yourself. The real you is the you that Jesus loves.