Summary: Are you real? That might seem like an obvious question but consider the lengths you go to in order to present yourself as "all together" to your friends and brothers and sisters. Being impressive by appearance can actually impede both your growth in the L
We talk a lot about natural human behavior and how that often runs counter to the real life given to us in Jesus Christ. Today I want to talk about your image. In our natural state we try really hard to present a good image to the world. We try to clean up, dress well, and act civilly. Beyond that, then, we try to present ourselves to the world in a way that we appear competent, successful, together, and basically as impressive as we can make ourselves appear. For Christians we end up talking and acting so we appear to be obedient, spiritual, holy, and together in our walk with the Lord.
Now I’m not saying that our goal shouldn’t be to become more like Jesus—of course that’s the goal. But when we put on the “Christian” mask (which doesn’t necessarily mirror the character of the Messiah), we actually hide our true selves from others and from God. What we miss is an opportunity to be authentic with others, which leads to support (or should), and encouragement for others to be authentic with us—and it leads to us hiding out from God in a made-up Jesus suit.
Such was the case in Corinth where a group of men came into the church who appeared on the outside to have it all together. They sounded and acted like real apostles, or at least what an apostle ought to look like from a natural human stand point. Paul the Apostle didn’t really fit that character sketch. Everywhere he went people seemed unhappy or downright hostile to him, and it led the Corinthians to doubt him, and even the doctrine that he had preached to them.
So in chapter 4, Paul suggests a reality of living that is completely opposite and diametrically opposed to this sort of “fake” Christian character. And as we go through this, I want us to picture ourselves coming out from behind the mask and being truly authentic—and what an opportunity it is and what incredible impact we can have on the world around us.
Paul has been talking about a new reality—one not of rules chiseled in stone externally that point out our failures, but a reality of internal change caused by the Spirit of God. It’s a gradual transition from one character to the next—from natural human character to supernatural Jesus’ character. The veil is off because the gospel is real and our lives are shining out—not a made up mask but real changes.
In this light Paul says “This is our ministry and it is one of mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13 ). So he contrasts this way of life with the character being presented by the false apostles. And despite the tendency to “fake it” and become legalistic like the false teachers, Paul will not give up!
Paul basically accuses the false teachers of being disingenuous. They are hiding their true motivations and their true selves and in the process distorting the truth of the gospel by claiming that to look impressive is to be good and what God wants. He is accusing the false teachers of being con-men. A con man makes you feel comfortable and like you can trust them. You don’t know you’ve been fleeced until they are long gone.
One great way to tell a huckster is how they handle the Bible. If they fill the gospel with legalism, self determinism, or health, wealth, and prosperity—then watch out—there is probably more going on under the surface. Your spiritual danger detector should be going off loud and clear.
But I love how Paul puts it: “we commend ourselves to every person’s conscience by an open display of the truth.” “Don’t look on the surface for impressiveness” Paul says “but look in your heart, and look at our hearts for we are an open book.”
Someone might say “well if you are so truthful then how come not everyone comes to Jesus?” Here’s the answer.
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It’s all about seeing God. As you are transformed into God’s image, His character begins to ooze out of you. Lucifer, the “god of this age” wants to mitigate the effect of your changed character and the effect of the gospel, which Paul said in Romans is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Satan’s plan is to make sure their minds are so pre-occupied with worshiping either themselves or this creation that they have no room for another God and certainly not another Lord.
Unlike the false teachers, Paul is not proclaiming himself, but Jesus. And that’s the whole idea. As we become more like Him people see us and are drawn to Jesus.
Jesus said “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 ). If you have the spotlight on yourself it is shining in the wrong direction. So we get out of the way and let Jesus’ character shine into the darkness of this age.