There is an epidemic of fakeness in the church.
Jesus said, “Judge a tree by its fruit.” James added, “I will show you my faith by my works.”
We reveal our beliefs by our actions.
So the things we most do are also the things we most believe.
I can see your theology simply enough. You proclaim it every day at Starbucks, in the church lobby, and at the neighborhood garage sale by what you do. You can see mine, too.
And when I look around, one of the deepest held convictions I see in the Christian church — one of the most fundamental beliefs — is the Theology of Image. The conviction that what we look like to others is more important than who we are. Image more important than character.
Oh sure, we can go on and on about integrity in conversations ’round the church Bible study, but we’d be mortified to show the Christians in our small group how we actually treat our wives at home or what we do on the road in another city for work. We run thrashing and foaming from the idea of people finding out our sins much faster than we run from our actual sins.
In the truest sense of the word, the faith we hold most dear cannot be in God, but in ourselves. We are our first loves. We must be. God and the rest come after. How else can we excuse sewing the fig leaves back on and trying to hide from him again? Our response to the possibility of others seeing us for what we truly are reveals our theology.
It doesn’t matter what we say, preach, or convince ourselves we believe. The true test of our beliefs is what we do.
What do we truly believe?
- One pastor I know wears sunglasses in meetings to hide the fact he lies
- Another man verbally abuses his wife while he’s sleeping with other women
- A third simply won’t let you near him because authenticity threatens the reputation he’s protecting
Self-preservation is King when it comes to our secrets. The freedom to evade consequences and not be discovered, which we somehow think we can pull off, is more important to us than God and holiness and accountability and being clean. Otherwise we’d open up our struggles, receive help, and grow. But we don’t.
A simple question will reveal to you what you believe.
Would you rather have a perfect image, be in a position of influence in the church, and be respected by every Christian in our community, yet have bad character — or have a negative image, be the subject of bitter gossip, and be respected by no one in the Christian community, but have good character before God?
Which would you want? Your answer reveals your theology. It reveals your God. And you can only choose one.
The first is what the unbelieving world sees and hates in us. This faith may make you pretty. It will not save.
The second is a Fool philosophy. Sacrifice image for what’s right. Be hated. Be thought a fool by Christians. I promise, if you live authentically for God rather than men, this will happen — and often.
Yet it is faith that saves.
God doesn’t care about your image.
You see, he chose to be despised and rejected. To be called a glutton and a drunkard. To be associated with the refuse of society. Think about that. Imagine if a Christian or church leader would accept these distinctions today. Would you willingly be seen this way?
Christ was — lifting up wine and blessing it with unbelievers, hanging out with prostitutes and sinners. Rejecting protocol to connect with people. It wasn’t safe. There was no grape juice at the first Communion or chaperone at the dinner with sinners.
But there were accusations. When people told him he was upsetting church leaders, he responded, “Leave them. They’re blind guides.”
Christ didn’t care about image. Why do we?
You cannot protect your image and glorify God.
–But you have to keep people from knowing your shortcomings to protect your ministry. To protect your family’s reputation. People will use it against you…–
I’ve heard this excuse so many times.
It’s as though we’re becoming fake for Christ’s sake.
But the truth is, the more one invests in image, the more dysfunctional one becomes. Character-based decisions produce maturity. Image-based decisions always produce superficiality. Image is a sliding scale away from true holiness.
However, today there is a growing number of Christians, even pastors, who choose image over character.
You probably know who they are — Christians, leaders — who’ve built a Theology of Image. You’ll know from the lack of openness. The distance from being genuine. They’d never open up, share flaws, and be real.
Christians who sparkle without spot or blemish but don’t share their real faith, warts and all, cripple the church. They compromise character. And an unbelieving world walks away in disgust.
Can you see why Christ chose the reverse?
A pastor of mine once shared a shocking revelation from the pulpit.
He talked about his struggles with pornography. He said he brought it up because he knew he wouldn’t be able to continue when church ladies are asking him about it in the parking lot. You may think he’s a fool, but his actions put God on the throne. And — this may shock you — he’s probably the most respected pastor by his congregation I’ve ever known.
Another leader I know freely opens up about his struggles and is quick to receive prayer after the service when he needs it. This speaks volumes to his congregation. He likely lost a job once because of it, but now leads a congregation of people who revere him.
Is your church becoming fake for Christ’s sake? Are you?
Most people are content with a Theology of Image. Give me another way. Of a Man who turned down kingdoms of the world painted across a desert sky and opted for Death by Public Outrage.
You can have the whole world, and you can choose whom you serve, too. But as for me and my house, we’ll follow a Fool.