The problem is that we can’t get from here to there without revealing our hidden agendas and taking off our masks, if only to ourselves. And the process won’t be very pretty. It involves a slow death and it’s painful. If God should answer that dangerous prayer, and he usually does, what should you expect?

The Size of Our Ego

Our ego is far bigger than we think it is and thus our motives are often a lot different from what we think they are. Our motives are far more mixed and self-centered than we thought they were.

The most dangerous prayer you can pray (if God deems to answer it) is, “God, show me myself.”

Jesus said that no human was good (Mark 10:18) because anything that is truly “good” must be for goodness (i.e., God’s) sake. When we bake cookies for our neighbor, visit a sick friend in the hospital, help out someone in need, or give money to the Salvation Army at Christmas, and the result is our feeling of satisfaction, righteousness, and purity, it ceases to be a purely good act.

The Success of Our Efforts

Once we see the problem, the remedy is a lot harder than we ever supposed. So our efforts are far less successful than we had hoped.

If you’re part of an organization (that would be the church) that is supposed to be marked by purity, goodness, and faithfulness, and you’re having a hard time living up to that mark, you have to either leave or fake it, even sometimes fake it to yourself. That is the stuff of masks.

The standards are so high and there are so many of them! If you read the Bible much and don’t feel horribly guilty and convicted, you’re a fruitcake.

Just a cursory reading of the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or the lists of sins the apostle Paul had a tendency to declare should cause the most committed Christian to wince. I can hardly read a passage like Matthew 23 anymore. That’s where Jesus says some very unpleasant things about the finest, most obedient, and thoroughly righteous people of his time. If you’re a Christian, heavily involved in your church and doing the best you can, don’t read Matthew 23 . . . especially at night if you want to get any sleep. It’s not just that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) or that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); it’s the realization that my heart is deceitful above all things and I have sinned horribly and fall short of the glory of God.

There are two kinds of people in the world—the bad people who know it and the bad people who don’t. It’s a secret that makes removing the masks quite difficult and painful, but it is also a secret that makes removing them possible.

The Holiness of Our God

We worship a God who is far more holy than we can possibly imagine.

Isaiah 6 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah was in the temple cleaning the candelabras and whistling an old Jewish song when the “real” God showed. It wasn’t what Isaiah expected. The temple’s foundations started shaking, there was smoke, and six large and terrifying winged creatures sang at the top of their lungs to the God whose robe filled the temple, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3).

What do you think Isaiah did? Proclaim how hard he had tried? Do you think he listed the ways he had served God? How about putting on a smiley face (his mask) and kneeling quietly in prayer, thanking God for the “peace that passed understanding”? Are you crazy? Isaiah fell on his face, speechless before a holy and scary God. When he finally managed to say something, I suspect it came out as a croak: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

That is the normal, expected, and sane reaction of someone who encounters a holy God. The reason for all the laws of the Bible, the lists of sins, and the calls for holiness and purity is not to make us better (at least not the main reason) but to bring us before the real God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8), that we might take the first step to freedom. That first step is not getting better and better every day in every way, but looking at the absolutely overwhelming, frightening purity of the real God.

For God’s sake, don’t waste your sin! It’s a gift God gave you to set you free and it may be the most important gift (after Christ, of course) he’s given to those he loves when those he loves are aware of it. And if you think of yourself as good, pure, and righteous, it’s a curse for a lot of reasons, but the primary one is that it’s simply not true. The principle is this: The quality of the prognosis is dependent upon the accuracy of the diagnosis. A physician who tells you that your cancer is a just a mild case of the flu may make you feel better, but that physician isn’t doing you any favor.

Adapted from Steve’s book, Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.