Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time into a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and then try to make it happen.
Take a moment and imagine Jesus is thinking about you. If you were gut-level honest, what do you think he feels when you come to his mind? What do you think he would want to say to you?
Many Christians are convinced that their sin and failure are what catch God’s attention. Therefore, they assume he feels angry, frustrated or disappointed with them. They imagine Jesus would give them some kind of advice, correction, or rebuke to help them get it right. That simply isn’t true (Dr. David Benner).
Since the fall of mankind (Genesis 3), we've all gone into some form of hiding. As God came seeking relationship with Adam and Eve, Adam replied, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself (verses 8-10)." Adam's hiding was driven by more than his physical nakedness. He knew he had sinned. He knew something was wrong with him. So he fled and hid from God. Like Adam and Eve, we too live with a core fear that our core "nakedness" will be seen.
Know Your Story, Embrace the Truth
Coming out of hiding
On September 11, 2001, Flight 11 and Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center. New York City was rocked to its foundations as the Twin Towers came crashing down. As tragic as that day was in American history, 9/11 was not the worst terrorist attack against humanity. The most tragic attack came by way of a simple, theological question asked in the quiet of a garden. The Serpent asked, “Can God be trusted?” Adam and Eve said no, and they, along with the entire human race, came crashing down (Gen. 3:1–7).
Prior to this spiritual 9/11, God's presence filled Adam and Eve with joy. But after that day, something changed. Genesis says, “The Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ [Adam] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’” (Gen. 3:9–10). Instead of running toward God, Adam and Eve fled in terror. They cowered; they hid in shame.
That’s the legacy of the fall. We live with a terror of being known because we fear that the shame of our inner nakedness will be seen. We know something’s wrong with us. We hide from God. We hide from each other. We grasp for safety in thousands of ways: being passive, passing the blame, staying busy, being tough, being shy. The list goes on. Left to ourselves, we survive by faking it. We pose. We pretend we’ve got it together. We work to manage and control people by keeping them at a distance. In one way or another, everybody lives like Adam and Eve. Just like them, three dynamics describe how all fallen people relate: We’re afraid. Why? Because we’re naked. Therefore, we hide.
But God comes looking for us. He seeks us out just as he sought Adam: “Adam, where are you?” God asked that question for Adam’s sake. For our sake, God asks, “Where are you? Will you trust me? Will you come out of hiding and be known?” But like Adam, we reflexively, foolishly, and stubbornly believe our life depends on hiding instead of trusting God’s good heart. John Ortberg has well said that, “Our tendency since the Fall is to hide as if our life depended on it. This is exactly wrong. Our life depends on getting found. There is no healing in hiding.” God’s help comes by way of being known. So he continually invites us to come to him by asking, “Where are you?”
Becoming known sinners
There’s a story in the Bible about a prostitute (Luke 7:36–50). She was a "known sinner" in her village. Perhaps she was the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1–11). By law, she deserved death. Jesus rescued her. He forgave her; gently said he didn't condemn her and told her to sin no more. The affections of her heart poured out in extravagant, gift-giving gratitude.
We too must become known sinners if we want to worship God like that dear lady. We too have prostituted ourselves with the world by trying to find love and meaning in all the wrong places like sex, power, and money. When we’re fully known and we know we’re forgiven and loved with all our failures and faults, we’ll worship Jesus. Obeying Jesus will be a get to—not a have to. Being known means we come out of hiding and open our lives up to God. That happens by way of letting a few trusted people know our struggles, wounds, lies, and secrets. It means no hiding. It means we stop pretending we have it all together. We must become the fellowship of the broken. True community is a place of safety where our walls come down; where our secrets, lies, sins, weaknesses, and inabilities are disclosed; and where we are fully accepted. We must become known sinners together. This is where life in Christ can flourish. This is where we become connected heart and soul. As Ortberg says, "The irony of the masks is that although we wear them to make other people think well of us, they are drawn to us only when we take them off."
Being known is not optional
If we want to make Jesus Christ the treasure and ruling passion of our lives, we must have a safe place where we can talk about anything and everything that gets in the way of our devotion to him. We can’t become wholehearted followers of Jesus while hiding secrets and cowering in fear or shame. “Confess your sins to each other,” James tells us, “. . . that you may be healed” (James 5:16). The old slogan is true—The beginning of healing is revealing.
Secrets haunt us. They drain our heart’s passion. Hiding breeds loneliness and shame. Our Enemy hammers us with accusations such as, “If you tell anyone this secret, you’ll be condemned. People will be so hurt and disappointed in you. Hide. Take it to your grave.” Our loneliness begs for relief, making us vulnerable to further temptation. Our fallen nature, our Enemy, and our culture offer a warehouse of immoral options: have an affair, click on a porn site, masturbate to a fantasy, eat a couple more doughnuts, have another drink, buy one more toy you can’t afford to impress people you don’t care about. It’s insanity. Our lusts rise to a fever pitch. Our felt emptiness and despair deepens. We become like wretched Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, hating yet clinging to our “precious” that is destroying our lives.
Perhaps you don't harbor secrets. Many do. But we all struggle with failure and sin. We’re all in the same boat and we can only be loved to the extent we are known. When we keep our struggles or secrets to ourselves, our self-talk sounds something like this: “Yeah. You say you like me, but if you really knew me, you’d reject me.” Having secrets and hiding from others destroy intimacy with God and with each other, driving a wedge of fear and shame between a husband and wife, friends, or small-group members. We can never be one with God and others till we take off our masks. We’ll only do that when we get sick and tired of our lonely, dark, inner world. We must be so desperate for God that we take the risk of being known no matter how people may respond. Until then, we’ll never know God deeply. We’ll never be the man or woman God intends for us to be.
God uses honest, broken people to heal broken people. Servants of Christ lead from their brokenness. That’s God’s way. Henry Cloud, in his book Making Small Groups Work, explains how the honesty and brokenness of their group leader helped him open up and grow during his college years:
The group was an informal combination of Bible study, discussion, and life sharing. . . . Dan, the facilitator, was a warm, personable student a couple of years older than the rest of us. I was drawn by his attitude and maturity. One night, however, he started the group by saying, “Hey, I am really struggling with lust and sexual temptation, and I need to let you guys know what is going on so you can help me and pray for me.” As he talked about the struggle, a chain reaction occurred; the rest of us started chiming in about how tough the sexual purity battle was for us, too.
This may be normal for your group, but for me it was world shattering. It was my first experience of sane, healthy, open discussion with other guys about sex. . . . That night Dan helped us open up our lives, hearts, and emotions. I came away pretty shaken up inside, but in a good way. I felt connected to the other guys in a way I had never experienced before. It was as if deeper parts of me had a place to go, where we were all the same.
. . . The people and what happened there became more important to me. Something changed within me. Though I still got . . . spiritual growth, learning, friendship—I began receiving another spiritual benefit I hadn’t signed up for. That surprising benefit was the possibility of being connected, heart and soul, to God and others without having to edit, pretend, or hold back.
In my next blog I'll share a clear and practical way to write and share our life stories so we can be known and embrace the truth of our true identity in Christ.
Questions for reflection
1. How do you feel about coming out of hiding and allowing yourself to be fully known by God and a few trusted others?
2. Are you fully known by someone such as your pastor, small group leader, friend, mentor, spouse, anyone? If not, would you prayerfully consider telling someone you trust or contact us through our website so we can help?