For the one or two of you that have read my blogs regularly, I both thank you for reading, and apologize for the delay. Call it a "blogging retreat," or a "spiritual musing fast;" call it whatever you may wish, but God has brought me face-to-face with my own hypocrisy, and I needed to back up a bit and spend some time in His Word. Oddly, the lesson started with Batman.
I forced my wife, through subtle subterfuge, to watch Batman Begins (as retribution, I will soon be taking her to the theaters to see the newest Jane Eyre, so I guess it's even). Say what you will about the violence in the film, but there are some strong lessons to be learned in the fictional struggle of Bruce Wayne and his thirst for vengeance. One of the last scenes in the film really caught my attention. Bruce Wayne is standing amongst the ruins of his home, which has been destroyed in a fire. The love interest, Rachel, is visiting him. She begins by telling him that, over the years, she had never stopped thinking about him, and she had always hoped there was a future for the two of him.
She tenderly kisses him, and adds, "But then I found out about your mask."
He tries to explain, "Batman's just a symbol, Rachel -"
"No," she interrupts, touching his face. "This is your mask. Your real face is the one the criminals now fear. The man I loved . . . he never came back at all." (1)
This got me thinking about masks that we wear. And then I read Galatians. In Galatians, Paul is confronting a heresy of hypocrisy and legalism that has invaded the church in Galatia. Paul ends one of his rebukes with the following phrase: Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). Later, he points out to Peter that Peter was "clearly in the wrong" (2:11). You see, Paul explains, Peter used to eat with Gentiles (which, no doubt, included eating ham). However, when some Judaic Christians arrived, Paul began to distance himself from the Gentiles in order to please the Jews. The result? Many in Peter's church ("even Barnabas," according to Paul), fell into a men-pleasing doctrine of works.
It's all well and good for me to read Galatians and say, "Go get him, Paul! Stop the hypocrisy now!" But am I so different from Peter? I believe that many of us - starting with myself - are just as adept as Peter (or Bruce Wayne) at putting on masks. We build up a mask of righteousness aimed to impress those around us, and then, in a clever attempt to hide our pride, we put on another mask of false-humility. We hint at our own holiness, insinuate integrity, and then throw our hands in the air and say, "I'm just a sinner saved by grace!"
I have worn such masks for many years. I have run from my own flawed humanity, hidden my sins behind a citadel of good works and then, just to play the role correctly, effected humility while all the while secretly believing I had all the answers. "Charles," people would ask, "what do you think about this or that? What do you think about such and such?" And I would smugly, delighting in my knowledge, say, "Well, the Bible says here and here that we should do this."
Christ Himself lays it bare for us in Matthew 23. He issues a series of proclamations that all condense down to one single idea: the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Our actions are nothing if our hearts are in the wrong place. I may think I am clean on the outside (though I'd never admit that thought), but inside I am "full of hypocrisy and greed" (Matt. 23:28). I, then, who teach others, do I not teach myself? I who preach against stealing, do I steal? I who say that people should not commit adultery, do I commit adultery? (c.f. Romans 2:21-22). Oh, that we would take of our masks of self-righteousness, lay bare our humanity, and, without pretense or false-humility, truly claim that we are sinners saved by grace!
My prayer for us this morning is that we would come before Christ in our brokenness and our sinfulness, and dance before the throne of grace uninhibited (if you're going to dance naked, like King David, I do ask that you close your blinds first), living in the fact that we don't have to impress Him in order for Him to love us, nor do we have to impress men, for we are no longer slaves to men. Let's finally take off our masks, and live in Christ.