“We must never look at any sin in our past life in any way except that which leads us to praise God and to magnify His grace in Christ Jesus.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
One of our favorite date activities is to attend the theatre. Plays are fascinating to watch: the intricate story, the complicated characters, and the journey the actors take the audience on. What especially intrigues us is when we see a play featuring someone we know. They come on stage different than who they are. They may even look differently. Costumes, wigs, and makeup really do its job.
In our world today, we understand that makeup, wigs, and costumes can change a person’s appearance. Online, we see this through photoshop. An individual takes a picture and then begins to crop, edit, and filter the image to get a final look. We’ve all seen the youtube videos of how photoshop on fashion models work (example here).
When we log onto Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, we are marvel over how some people look so good in their pictures and their lives are just “picture-perfect.” Yet, we know that on our phones we can edit images in order to create a look and a perception to stun people with.
Even in our Christian lives and in our churches, we fall into the cultural trend to photoshop our lives.
Photoshopping our Past
It is interesting to hear testimonies in the church. “Before I was saved…” usually introduces the story. Throughout the beginning we may hear, “Remember, I was not saved then.” We all like to say similar remarks in regards to our past actions, sins, and other things that occurred before salvation. We see our story as a book, and we want our readers to jump the beginning chapters until they get to the salvation chapter.
However, in Acts 26:9:-11 and I Timothy 1:12-14 (and other places), Paul readily admits to his past. He does not hide it. Paul freely talks about his desire to persecute and to kill Christians. The purpose is to demonstrate God’s work in his life. He never excuses what he did, instead Paul testifies to the journey from hostile unbeliever to ministering believer. The story begins with his past.
Our stories begins with our past. My wife has shared her testimony many times. She does not cover up the rape she endured, and the anorexia she struggled with. Lately, I have learned that not photoshopping our pasts brings healing. I was sexually taken advantage of at a Christian school. This is a part of my past.
God gives us a past we might not see as glamorous. We crop our lives to reflect who are now. But, who we are now is because we had a past God gave us, and God used it to bring us to where we are now. Joseph had an awful past before he became second-in-command of Egypt. Yet, what does he say about it (Genesis 50:15-21)?
Our past is nothing to be ashamed of. Christ, through his death and resurrection, has forgiven us of everything and will use everything for his glory and our good. Do you believe that? I used to snicker at that. But, God uses us to spread the Gospel and bring light to a dark world. And, he uses our past.
Photoshopping our Struggles
“Yes, I have an unspoken request.” “Me too.” “And me.” Before we know it, several across the congregation raise their hands signifying they have an unspoken prayer request. “Pray for me as I do some spiritual battling.” Similar to the unspoken request, the general spiritual battling request is a popular one. Or, we hear the constant request as one wrestles with sin. However, it is not spoken of.
Struggles in the church are seen as “things which shall not be named.” We may not even mention struggling. We see struggling believers as weak believers. We may see mature believers and ones who do not struggle, and we want to be like them. So, we edit our image in order to hide our struggles. We compartmentalize our lives. Our public image usually does not match the inner thoughts we have. Aspiring to be a pastor or a leader in a church can be a temptation to photoshop our struggles. But what does that do to us?
We may not keep up with the Kardashians, but we do keep up with an image in our churches.
Romans 7:15-25 would hardly be spoken in a church today. Yet, Paul reveals he struggles with sin constantly and desires he has to give in to it. In II Corinthians 12:6-9, Paul opens the veil of his life revealing the thorn in the flesh and how he wrestled with God to removed it.
In my own life, I struggle with having a disability. It can be very discouraging to walk through life with a limp and people stare. It is discouraging when others think you have a mental disability just because I walk differently. It can be very disheartening being 28 years old, and having issues most men my age do not face.
Yet, for myself and Paul, we need to constantly learn the lesson that not cropping out our struggles allows the grace of God to work in our lives. Even our spiritual struggles when cropped out will always remain, and the silence will give Satan a victory. However, when we bring our physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles to the light of Christ, we find acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and the grace to continue walking. Our struggles may be a shame to us, but they are beautiful in God’s eyes as he uses them to shine the light of the Gospel brighter.
Photoshopping our Christian Life
It is easy in our world to want an image. It is easy in our churches to want an image. It is even easy to want an image while pursuing ministry. But, attaining a public perception perverts the image of Christ being formed in us.
When we photoshop and crop our lives we miss the ways God can use what we see as evil. Yes, God knows your sin past, and he knows your current struggles. Yet, he did not leave us in our shame or in defeat. There is no shame when Jesus enters the picture. There is no condemnation for your past or your present struggle, because we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). God uses all things for our good in order to transform us into the image of God (Romans 8:28-29). Why are we afraid of God’s will when we look at the past He allowed to happen or our current struggles which he is bringing us through?
God does not want an Instagram perfect Christian (Mark 2:17). He does not want us to pretend we are perfect. The Christian life is not a career in acting. It is a daily journey giving our lives over to our Creator and seeing Him work all things for His glory and our good as the name of Jesus is preached to the ends of the earth through our lives.
When we stop with the editing, and cropping, and photoshopping, we will see God’s grace working through each other. We see the transformation of the Gospel in our lives as a community of believers.
Are we ashamed of the past God gave us? Do we believe He was not in control then? Then, why do we crop that part of our story out? Are we ashamed of our current struggles because of what others will think? Do we not believe that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ? Then why do we continue running after the perfect Facebook or Instagram image of the Christian life?
“I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.”
– John Newton