The Bible says, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). John, one of Jesus’ disciples, said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
It is quite easy (and human) to be proud of one’s goodness and, if the goodness isn’t real, to fake it. That sort of thing goes on all the time with those who say one thing and live in a way quite different. It’s even worse with us. We know the rules and can fake it better than people who don’t know the rules.
Then when you add the fact that there is something about religion that encourages faking obedience, we Christians have a serious problem. We thought, quite wrongly, that we had to be good to get people to listen to what we had to say. We thought, quite wrongly, that if we admitted how often we were wrong and how often we were sinful, we would cause people to think less of Christ. We thought, quite wrongly, that “witnessing” required we witness to our goodness as well as to his.
The truth is that we, as Christians, are simply beggars telling other beggars where we found bread…and not former beggars either. If we pretend to obey all the rules, those who don’t know us will think that Christianity is only for good people. And for those who do know us, they will call us hypocrites.
Not being good enough is the essence of the Christian faith. The church is the only organization in the world where the only qualification for joining is being unqualified. The church is also the only organization in the world where being unqualified is the only qualification for remaining a part of it. Nobody is good. If we aren’t good people all the time, it doesn’t make us hypocrites; it makes us illustrations of what the Bible and our faith teach. We are people who know we aren’t good and have discovered the One who will forgive us and sometimes even make us better.
When we fake it, we miss the real thing.
One of the interesting things about Jesus’ anger is that it was always, without exception, directed not at the people who did bad stuff but at the most religious people in his culture. If you want to read some words that will “singe your hair,” read what Jesus said about the very religious folks in his acquaintance (for example, Matthew 15:1-9 and Matthew 23).
We thought, quite wrongly, that “witnessing” required we witness to our goodness as well as to his.
I have to be careful here, but can we talk? Religion can make us weird. Religion can be like a disease. Well, better, like an inoculation of some disease, making one immune to the real thing. Religion can become an “excuse” for all sorts of things that have nothing to do with real religion. For instance, if you are a narrow, mean-spirited twit and you join a religious organization, you will probably still be a narrow, mean-spirited twit with one addition…you will be a narrow, mean-spirited twit in the name of God.
While Christianity is a relationship, Christianity is also a religion with religious institutions, religious ritual, religious symbols, religious confessions and religious training. Christians have to be so careful with our religion because, if we aren’t careful, it’s easy to become nothing but the institution, the ritual, the symbols, the confessions and the training.
Do you know the difference between institutions and institutionalism? The first is the necessary organization for getting anything accomplished or for passing something on. On the other hand, institutionalism is the hardening of institutional arteries.
We can sometimes become so involved in our religious stuff that we don’t take the time to check and see if Jesus has left the building. The truth is that a lot of religious institutions could function quite well if Jesus left. We need, on occasion, to stop all our religion…to just be quiet and see if God is still at the very center of what we’re doing.
Jesus is the “main thing.”
He frees us up.
And when that happens, we no longer need to fake it.