Summary: There are three people from whom we cannot hide if we are to mature as Christians: God, ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I was in high school we got a little orange cat from the pound. We named him Kumquat because he was such a very small orange; he fit in the palm of your hand. He didn’t stay that way, though. He grew. But he never figured it out. He had formed the habit of sleeping on the round needlepoint footstool in front of the fire, all curled up with his tail over his nose, the way cats do. But Kumquat grew up, and out. And in order to keep from falling off he had to curl up very tightly, into a very cramped, un-cat-like sort of position - and then as soon as he fell asleep and relaxed, part of him would fall off the stool, and he’d wake up with an enormous start, look around as if to say, "who did that to me?" and ponderously reposition himself. He never did learn to take his afternoon naps somewhere else.
People are a lot like that: not able to see themselves clearly, and so making the same mistakes over and over. It’s called denial.
Last week we talked about integrity, about being the same on the inside as on the outside. Now, it’s relatively easy to look good on the outside. Not a day at the beach, mind you, but easier than starting on the inside. And the easiest way of all to look good on the outside is to stay away from the beach altogether. Hang around where the light is just a little more flattering, where you can make sure that the cameras only catch your good side. But you know, that’s really a lot of work, isn’t it. And you have to be careful all the time. What if people really knew what you were like on the inside? It’s a full time job, keeping the whitewash fresh. Ego is a cruel taskmaster, you don’t get paid for overtime, and you don’t really get much in the way of benefits, either. And it’s such a waste of time and energy, because God, whose opinion is the only one that really matters, already knows. So one aspect of the freedom which we have in Christ is freedom from that particular brand of slave labor. In what theologian Bernard Ramm calls “the bondage of self-deception” we keep repeating the same destructive behaviors over and over again. But that freedom can only begin to unfold as the light of God’s truth enables us to see what’s really going on underneath.
There is a list of behaviors that Paul says are incompatible with life as children of God. Why is that? Are we back to the legalism of earning God’s favor by following the rules? Of course not! These behaviors are merely symptoms of deeper wounds, life-destroying breaks in our essential integrity. Paul’s not encouraging us just to cover up the symptoms of our sinfulness, he’s encouraging us to let the Holy Spirit get to work on the root causes. Because if we don’t get our hearts clean, the symptoms are just going to keep coming back, more and more resistant to the medication, more and more destructive of our spiritual well-being. It’s like treating chronic diarrhea with higher and higher doses of antibiotics instead of digging your well uphill from the septic tank.
In order to live as children of light, as Paul calls us to do in v. 8, we have to stop hiding in the shadows, where the wrinkles and zits and gray hairs don’t show. God can only start cleaning us up after we take a good hard look at ourselves in the full light of day, and then ‘fess up. Remember that confession simply means agreeing with God. But in order to agree with God, we have to see with his eyes, from his perspective.