Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two Kinds of Masquerades

Ofttimes people approach spirituality by putting on some kind of mask. While there are many types of masks in the world, there are two that tend to stand out. One is the mask of self-control. This says that the important thing is to control all our impulses. We need to be strong and unmoved by either problems or temptations that come our way. This attempts to deal with life by becoming hard and impervious against all assaults. This person can often be gloomy and hard to be around. It becomes hard to have close friends because you are afraid of letting your guard down.

The opposite mask is the mask of joy. This seems initially more attractive, but is as much a trap as the first. This says that to be spiritual we need to be cheerful all the time. So we fake a kind of continuous happiness we do not really have. We can become afraid that people might somehow learn we have down times. And we can desperately go from experience to experience, looking for a way produce within ourselves the feelings we are convinced we should have. And inside we can be anything but the image we are trying to project to the world. And it becomes hard to have close friends because you are afraid they will find you out.

To find the right approach, we need to start by understanding we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 4:4,5). As a result, God is at work in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29), but it is a process that takes place over the whole of a Christian's life (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 12:1,2). While we cannot opt out of growing in Christ (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15), we should be careful of judging ourselves or others, because we have not arrived yet (Romans 8:33,34; 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). Now I want to be careful in speaking of authenticity. There are those who would make it an excuse to follow every impulse and not squelch any desire. It can even become another kind of mask, where I have to strive to be perfectly authentic. But I do believe that the gospel allows me to be honest with myself and others about my struggles and failures. Now self-control (Acts 24:25; Galatians 5:23; 2 Peter 1:6) and joy (Philippians 4:4; Romans 14:17; 1 Peter 1:8) have a part in the Christian life. But they are together expressions of the more basic principle of love for God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). This, in turn, is a response to the love which God has for us (1 John 4:19; Romans 5:6-8; Luke 7:36-50). But we grow over time in response to that love and do not have to put on a mask to pretend we have arrived (Matthew 11:28-30).

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