One of the often-repeated criticisms of Christianity is that its adherents do not abide by the tenets of Christ. In fact, from those outside the faith, many use the word “hypocrite” as a synonym for Christ-followers. This is not entirely without merit and due largely to a misrepresentation of primal Christianity by Christians. The portrait painted by modern manifestations of Christianity is one of moral perfection and holiness that communicates a superior and arrogant standing in society. Many who come into contact with Christians walk away with a sense that we think ourselves better than most other people.
This may not be true for some, but this is the perception that most often clouds the reality of our faith. The problem, I think, is not with the perception of those outside of the Christian faith, but with those of us on the inside of the faith, and our misperception of the truth which we profess to believe. We hold ourselves up as portraits of truth when we would be better served to live as windows through which the truth of Christ may be seen.
In his book Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp identifies the reason for the self-deception found so often at the center of our misrepresentation of authentic faith to a watching world. Tripp writes, “Rather than humbly standing before the honest assessment of the mirror of the Bible to see myself as I really was, I looked into carnival mirrors. Now, the problem with the carnival mirror is that it really does show you you, but with distortion. You don’t actually have a 20-inch-high neck with a 6-inch torso; yes, it’s you in that concave mirror, but it’s not showing you the way you actually look.”
As Christians who are still in process, we often default back to the idolatry of our depraved hearts and set up, as Paul Tripp rightly describes, carnival mirrors that show a distorted view of our identity. As Christians, our identity is in Christ and His performance, and not in our performance. Tripp goes on to write, “This danger greets you every day because there are carnival mirrors all around that have the power to give you a distorted view of you. And when you think you’ve arrived, when you quit being convicted of and broken by your own weakness, failures, and sin, you will begin to make bad personal and ministry choices.” This issue of thinking ourselves “arrived” is at the heart of our inauthentic living that often discourages a world of unbelievers from investigating the truth claims of Christians.
The origin of the word “arrived” is an interesting one. It was first used to only describe someone who gets to his or her destination by way of boat or ship. It described coming to the land. Of course, the word now describes travel to a destination by any form of transportation. Perhaps too many of us live in a way that communicates wrongly that “our ship has come in” when in fact we are still navigating the dangerous waters of life. We are still very much in need of the Gospel. The good news of Jesus doesn’t give us a distorted view of ourselves, but a realistic assessment that in Christ, all of our brokenness is being put back together in Him.
If we are to challenge the misrepresentations and misunderstandings of Jesus and His followers in our world today, we must commit ourselves to living lives of purpose in the middle of our imperfections, pointing everyone to the perfection of Christ alone.