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But imperfect people are afraid to share with imperfect people their imperfections. Does that strike you as odd? It’s like a skunk being afraid to tell another skunk that he stinks. We all stink.
Rather than embracing the biblical record—we smell bad, we seek to enhance ourselves to make ourselves appear better than we know ourselves to be. We’re all a bunch of skunks seeking to fake out each other. It’s somewhat weird. Wouldn’t it be nice to be set free from people-pleasing, image-guarding, and reputation-seeking?
How free are you? Are you open to sharing your secrets? Or are you tempted to cover up and hide your true self? If so, in what ways do you hide? How do you make yourself appear better than you know yourself to be? What are your tricks of the trade?
Do you see how the charade is vain, leaves you empty, and feeds your low levels of discontentedness? If so, what would it take to release you from this bondage? What do you need to do to be free?
I think if we were honest with ourselves, we would agree with the Bible and accept its truth claims: we are sinners through and through. If we were courageous, we would talk openly about how we struggle with sin.
“For all have sinned and all have fallen short” of God’s best (Romans 3:23). Not only have we sinned, but it gets worse: others have sinned against us. Sin happens to us in two ways: We sin; people sin against us. The truth is we are active sinners as well as passive victims of other people’s sins.
On one level, it does not matter how we got this way. Whether it was our own doing or the fault of others, there is something profoundly wrong with us. The thing we have to guard against is how we respond to our internal dysfunction.
It would be better for us to accept the truth about how we smell. We stink. The gospel already tells us we are badly broken and in need of repair. Isn’t that the point and purpose of the gospel? Didn’t He come to repair broken people?
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).
Sometimes some people spend way too much time trying to figure out how they got to their present dysfunction. To spend time trying to discern your active role or your passive victimization in your dysfunction is not the best use of your time.
The real issue is what are you doing to repair yourself? How are you being fixed? A person who can accept the fact he is messed up can quickly transition to gospel solutions for his mess-up-ness.
The free person is not concerned about who he is, what he did, or who did what to him. The free person has moved forward because he accepts the truth claims of the Bible–he is a sinner.
Say it out loud: “I am messed up.”
Did you say it? Good. Now let’s move on.
The real struggle for all of us is how we go about getting ourselves fixed. Who is repairing you, and how is it happening? One of the biggest temptations for messed-up people is to fall prey to the do-it-yourself self-repair worldview.
Let me introduce you to seven people who were born into sin. Like you and me, they are active sinners, and others have sinned against them. From a sin perspective, they are all the same, but for various reasons, they sought different ways of self-repair.
Sarah’s “fix it approaches” was to enhance her natural beauty. She became a flirt who enjoyed capturing the gaze of guys. It made her feel powerful, durable, and unbroken inside.
Sadly, when she pillows her head at night, the gnawing reality of the emptiness of her soul causes her to toss and turn. Her self-repair model is only as deep as her make-up.
Bob pushed through three-degree programs. You only have to spend five minutes with Bob to find out about his education. Academics is his identity. His “feel good about himself syndrome” is paper-thin, or three-diplomas thin.
Roger went the bodybuilding route. He is one strong-looking dude. Just don’t let him know that you know his “hulkness” is a weak disguise. He has a significant anger problem, which, combined with his physique, keeps the undiscerning cowering or impressed. He likes it that way. It makes him feel good.
Felicia became an athlete because she could. It was her strength. It became her surefire way to gain attention, significance, acceptance, and approval. After she blew out her ACL, her world collapsed. The injury took away her self-repair kit. She lost hope. She became a drug addict. Nothing mattered to her anymore, and it still doesn’t.
Alice went into the ministry. In her mind, it compensated for the hideousness of what she did as a teen. According to her accounting, having sex is one of the worst sins a person could commit, therefore going into the ministry is one of the best things you could do.
Ministry was her response to making things right. She atoned for her sin. She will tell you that her salvation is by grace, not by works, but that is not her practical theology. It is not what is going on in her heart.
Carrie is on her third husband. The dating and early marriage process work great for her. She loves being pursued, captured, and loved by a guy. By the time she gets her love cup filled, she realizes she married a selfish person–her clone, who is more about receiving than giving. Carrie is one angry and frustrated lady.
Ronnie is 35 now and still living at home. He knows it’s twisted, but it’s safe. Why try anything if there is a risk of failure? Each time he fails, he has to live through the painful reminders of inadequacy. For him, it’s better not to try than to try and fail.
Every person receives two options for their transformation. Option one takes you down the road of self-effort, self-help, self-reliance, and self-centeredness. Option two takes you down the path of relying on someone else.
There is no question it will take a lot of work to fix personal brokenness. The real question is, whose works are you going to rely on for your transformation? The most obvious and natural temptation is to rely on yourself—like our case study friends.
The self-reliant approach is native within all of us. Trusting others is not easy for insecure people, who prefer a self-sufficient “I can do it myself” worldview. Didn’t you learn a long time ago that you can’t trust anyone? Don’t you know that nobody else will come through for you?
Besides, you have gifts, qualities, assets, and strengths. It makes sense to leverage them to your advantage. Others will let you down, but you will never let yourself down. They will not make you feel better about yourself, but you can make you feel better about yourself.
These realities are what can happen with our strengths. Personal gifting can be the tools we use to enslave ourselves into more profound self-reliance. Anybody who seeks to enhance their reputation because they are overly concerned with what others think about them will be tempted to strengthen themselves through personal abilities.
Your strengths and abilities may impress others and garner the long-craved approval that you desire, but it does not garner the acceptance of God. The Father is not impressed with your works, even if your actions are right (Isaiah 64:6).
God is pleased with the works of His Son. It is Jesus who pleases Him. He is also not pleased with your well-established reputation. He is pleased with His Son’s reputation. It is His Son’s name that He wants to put on display, not yours.
If your self-produced reputation gives you the approval you desire, do you think you’ve gained something? Can you see how living for reputation and personal image is a vain life?
Our seven friends all struggle with the same thing. They feel stinging guilt deep inside of them. Part of that guilt is what they were born with because of Adam. It’s their Adamic problem. And part of their guilt was placed on them by fellow sinners.
Rather than trusting and resting in Christ to free them from their internal turmoil, they carved their way of making themselves feel better about themselves. The end for each one of them has left them hollow, empty, and unsatisfied.
There is no amount of work you could ever do to satisfy the guilt that is held against you by God. Your guilt is infinite guilt that demands an infinite payment. Finite people do not have what it takes to pay an infinite price.
The only way a finite person can personally pay for their sin against God is to pay it eternally. That is why we have hell. It is for people who do not want to do it God’s way but prefer to pay their infinite debt themselves.
Mercifully, God gave us another choice. There is another infinite option for what we have done. God gave Himself—infinite God—as a sacrifice for our infinite crime. This action by God is the gospel. All He asks you and me to do is accept His gift. He wants us to cease from our works and enter into His rest.
Perhaps you have done this. Maybe you have been born again. Perhaps your sin debt has been paid. But there can still be a problem. What I did not tell you about the seven people above is they all are professing Christians. The mercy of God has regenerated them, which raises some big questions.
The gospel has been powerful enough to save them but not powerful enough to sanctify them progressively. In essence, they are “unbelieving believers.” They are functional atheists. They are people who have been saved by the gospel, but the gospel is not practically ruling their hearts.
They are still in bondage to image, reputation, and people-pleasing. These individuals still want to protect, guard, and hide their true selves. They live to impress people, as though their stinkiness is something to be proud of in their community. Though they trust Christ, they still want to hold onto “pockets of glory.”
If this describes you to some degree and you struggle with being honest about who you are and how you need help, here is a prayer for you. Ask the Father to release you from your fear. Let the gospel do more than save you. Let it sanctify you.
The best thing you can do is find a trusted friend and reveal your real heart. Let them know you are a pretender and you need help. Let them know what they already know: you smell. Who knows, your humble, honest transparency may be the key that releases them from their bondage.
I have tried many things to make me feel better about myself. Some of these ideas have been bad things. Some of them have been good things. My efforts, good and evil, have blinded me to the truths of the gospel.
I have not fully rested in the gospel. I know the truth, and I know that I’m a pretender. Help me be honest with you and with others. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to do evil or good works. I want to rest in your divine pleasure because I am trusting in your Son’s works alone.
But I cannot do this alone. I need divine intervention. Will you give me the faith to live this way? Will you give me the faith to share my struggles? I love you. I love the gospel. Make it real to me and release me from the bondage of self-reliance that my fears stimulate.
Will you bring a friend to help me?
I’m a debtor to your mercy.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:16-17).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).