Hiding From God

Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. — Romans 13:14, NRSV

I have many delightful and powerfully spiritual memories associated with traditional Christianity. The Eucharist, my baptism, preaching from a gorgeous Lutheran pulpit in Kentucky, and many such qualities of what would be called “orthodox” Christian circles are firmly and fondly planted in my mind and heart. Then there are… other memories.

Having come of age “in church,” I was always struck by the obsession with “grace” that seemed to yield very little in practice. God forgives us, yet we frequently stone one another for anything and everything. We also claim to believe that humans (along with all creation) are fundamentally good, having been created with the image and breath of God on and within us (Genesis 1:27 and 2:7). But when passages like the one above from Romans came up, there always seems to be this idea that we need Jesus to act as a spiritual, bullet-proof vest of sorts.

In this passage, Paul is talking about setting aside “the works of darkness” in favor of living honorably “as in the day” (13:12-13). We are to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (13:14). In this context, we are encouraged to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” which many take to mean that we cover up who we are so that God only sees Jesus, thereby granting us mercy. 

I think this is a deeply flawed interpretation.

If this is true, it means that God isn’t interested in a relationship with us so much as with a multitude of Jesus clones. The message this sends is that we must hide from God behind Jesus so that our awful, sinful selves can be overlooked. Unfortunately, this is what I was often taught, either explicitly or implicitly by well-meaning teachers and pastors throughout the years. We see this idea put forth in literature, in the pulpit, in our worship songs, and in our liturgy.

What we don’t realize is this kind of thinking reinforces every negative cycle and belief with regard to ourselves and how we perceive our connection to the Divine.

If the “Good News” is that Jesus allows us to hide ourselves from God, that’s… not good. I also don’t believe this to be what the passage is getting at. It seems that to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” is to act in a particular way in this life. It’s to walk in discipleship, following the example of love and Divine connection that we have in Jesus of Nazareth.

In short, to “put on Christ” is to be who we were always meant to be!

God doesn’t intend for us to go around in fearful self-loathing masquerading as faith. To follow Jesus is not to hide behind Him, for God doesn’t want us to hide, but to be who we really are. To lead a life of love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, integrity, and peace is nothing more than to embrace all of the gifts which God has given us.

The Good News is that God sees you for who you really are: a good and blessed creation that bears His image and likeness. He sees past your mistakes and sins, loving all of you in a more complete way than anyone else ever could. What remains is for us to act like this is the case, and that is what it means to “put on Christ.”

In Jesus, we see the ideal human and the ideal relationship with the Divine. Jesus fully embraced the Divine within Him, and He invites you and I to do the same as His disciples. God doesn’t want you to hide behind Jesus, but to join our Lord in openly embracing your true nature, which is fundamentally and irrevocably good. The cool thing is that doing this also means treating everyone and everything else in the same way, as all are beautiful manifestations of God’s creative power. So let’s get to it!

Peace be with you!

 

 

Reconsidering Worship

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20, NRSV

When I use the word “worship,” most Christians envision what we call “church.” This is the designated, weekly time we set aside to sing songs, pray prayers, hear a sermon, and sometimes celebrate Communion or Baptisms. It’s a time when we do what we believe to be pleasing to God, namely saying or singing things about Him that we think He would like or appreciate.

Is this what the faith is about? Verbal praise? Sanctioned times and places when we acknowledge God before going about our typical lives?

I don’t think so.

In chapter 5 of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul refers to himself and the other leaders of the church as “ambassadors for Christ” (5:20), as God is “entrusting the message of reconciliation to” them (5:19). While Paul may have been talking about the leadership of the ancient church, the same idea applies to all believers. When Paul, in verse 21, says God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” he means all of us, when reconciled to God through Jesus, are to be that righteousness in the world. As such, we are all to be “ambassadors for Christ,” representatives of His message in the world, sharing the love that we experience.

So what does this have to do with worship?

It’s been my observation that many believers opt for the comfort of praising Jesus as opposed to the struggle of following Him, as if the two are separate. It’s easier to passively experience the reconciling grace of God in a pew than it is to actively imitate and share that grace in a hostile world. We can kneel and apologize every week, participating in the beautiful ritual of the church; we can raise our hands and sing along with the talented contemporary Christian band; we can hum our agreement to a perfectly tweetable sermon. Yet all of this is only part of the greater work of representing Jesus in a world that needs Him.

Now, am I advocating for a guilt-tripping attempt at perfection? Of course not. We aren’t going to “nail it” every time, and you should already be aware that I am just as guilty as everyone else. But transformation is found in the effort of faithful living.

Just as we have received the gift of reconciliation and rightfully praise God for it, so we are also to “pay it forward” and live in honor of Christ daily. We are called to act with love and self-control with regard to that co-worker, classmate, friend, or family member we just don’t get along with. We are called to support the cause of justice, treat all others with the dignity befitting children of God, and work to bring comfort to those in need. Such practices are difficult, costly, and inconvenient, but the best we can do is to never stop trying.

We have each been gifted with reconciliation to God, as well as the invitation to participate in His saving work in the world. This is an unparalleled gift that deserves every bit of our praise and gratitude, but it also places on us the responsibility to get busy loving as Jesus did (and still does). When we start to practice the grace we have received, our worship becomes complete, and we honor the One Who has truly given us an “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Peace be with you!