God has been taking me on a journey these last two years: a journey from being the world’s biggest people pleaser obsessed with protecting my image to now embracing the verse, “This is a trustworthy statement that everyone should accept. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all” (I Timothy 1:15).
Who is worse: a drug addict, alcoholic, or prostitute who admits their struggles and pain OR a person who struggles with the same issues of being depressed, feeling worthless and hating themselves but is not honest about it? I spent my life hiding my pain and sin and pretending I wasn’t as bad as the rest of the “sinners”. I looked down on the rest of the world for struggling with the same things I did. I am the worst sinner I will ever know because I will forever know my sin more clearly than anyone else’s.
When I grew up, if a pastor stood up and said he was going to talk about sin what I heard was, “I want you to leave feeling guilty and trying harder in your attempts to please God.” There is an underlying lie there that I believed: admitting sin brings guilt, bondage, and just shows what a terrible person I am. So it is no surprise that the Gospel I grew up with was: After placing your faith in Christ’s death you are saved from hell and now you are supposed to be a better person. One problem with that, I am not a better person and, in this lifetime, I will never be a better person. So what do you do when you know you don’t measure up to the standard of perfect? You try harder, you hide your sin, you blame others for your anger, you look down on people with “worse” sins and you convince yourself that you are “not that bad”.
That is the exactly how I have lived my life: as fake, unauthentic person who would protect my image at all costs. I constructed an image of who I thought the world wanted me to be. I would change my personality and how I acted based on who I was around. I was consumed with trying to be liked, appreciated, and looked up to. I have lived like the Pharisees from Luke 11 who were obsessed with cleaning the outside of the cup when the inside was full of wickedness, pain, hurt, and sin.
Where did Jesus fit into the mix? I felt like Jesus loved the imposter version of me. I felt like Jesus loved the version of me that tried to please him. Yes, Jesus loved me, but if someone would have asked, “Does Jesus like you?” I would have had to answer, “Sometimes.” The reality was that I hated myself because I knew I wasn’t as good as I tried to convince myself that I was. My heart was full of pain that I didn’t want to admit. My situation could be summed up well from a story from “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning:
The story is often told of a man who made an appointment with the famous psychologist Carl Jung to get help from chronic depression. Jung told him to reduce his fourteen-hour work day to eight, go directly home, and spend the evenings in his study, quiet and alone. The depressed man went to his study each night, shut the door, read a little Herman Hesse or Thomas Mann, played a few Chopin etudes or some Mozart. After weeks of this he returned to Jung complaining that he could see no improvement. On learning how the man had spent his time, Jung said, “But you didn’t understand. I didn’t want you to be with Hesse or Mann or Chopin or Mozart. I wanted you to be completely alone.” The man looked terrified and exclaimed, “I can’t think of any worse company.” Jung replied, “Yet this is the self you inflict on other people fourteen hours a day.”
That is how I lived. Deep down I knew I wasn’t a good person, but I felt like admitting it would only heap on the guilt and shame and destroy my reputation. Jesus tells the Pharisees, “What sorrow awaits you… For you are like a hidden grave in a field” (Luke 11:44) I felt that sorrow because I knew there was death living inside of me draining me and I tried to hide it my entire life. I spent my life trying to pretend I was a good person and thought God loved that person. These last two months I was broken and hurting enough to be honest with myself and said, “Not only am I not good, I am a horrible, wicked sinner who looks down on people with the same struggles I have. I am worse than them!” Something happened that I, sadly, did not expect. Jesus said, “I know. That is the person I love. That person deep down that you know you are and try to hide from everyone, that person that you hate because of what you have done in your life, that person that you call “that person” because you don’t want to admit it is you, that person you wish you weren’t… Mark, stop lying to yourself about who you are. I love and died for you. Not only do I love you, I like you. You are precious to me. Even though you hate yourself, I love you.”
I lived my life as a Christian who tried to pretend he was no longer a sinner. I gave Christ a bad name instead of giving Him praise. Now, because I know I am the worst sinner in the world, when I sin against someone I don’t have to make excuses or hide it. I can embrace my identity in Christ and say, “I am a terrible, terrible sinner and have sinned once again, but let me tell you about Jesus who loves me anyways.” The Gospel is a message of freedom not guilt. It is good news for those who are trying harder to please God. It is freedom because you don’t have to be a better person for God to love you. He already does.
Does God like you? Is God proud that you are His child? If you answer no to either of those I suggest you spend some time alone with God asking, “What do you think about me… the person deep inside of me that I want to pretend I am not?” I was terribly afraid of that question my entire life because I was afraid of rejection, but refusing to ask it only keep me from experiencing the love of God. So what about you.. Does God like you? Is God proud that you are His child?
Mathew West - Hello My Name Is