At the beginning of my online experience, back in the early 90’s, CompuServe had a Christian subsection, run by a new ministry group that was attempting to build a Christian online community. This was before almost anyone had heard of the Internet. One of the regular posters on that site, George Eberly, a Methodist minister, said something that has both stuck with me and challenged me over the years. It was something I wish I had said. In the midst of a debate over what it meant to be a real Christian, George lamented,
One of my fears is that we Christians will accept moralism rather than Jesus, or reformation rather than transformation, a Christian coating rather than a Christian conversion.
That last part especially struck home and has continued to strike home over the years, “a Christian coating rather than a Christian conversion.” I was talking with a old acquaintance recently who had held the private mortgage on our house. Having finished paying it off we needed to get his lien released from our deed so we spent the morning together at the land office getting the right paperwork filed. As happens when you talk with someone you have known for a long time (over twenty-five years) but haven’t seen for more than a few minutes in over ten years, conversation drifts to mutual friends and acquaintances and what has happened in their lives. What was interesting was the identical conclusion we had come to about several people we both knew. Without being purposely judgmental, we both noted our disappointment at the apparent lack of spiritual growth in several people we both had known for over twenty years. It was as if, at least in a Christian spiritual sense, they were almost the same now as they were when we all became Christians so many years ago.
It was more of a lament than a judgment, but George’s words seem to hit home in the midst of our discussion. I can think of nothing worse to happen to a person, or to myself for that matter, than to settle for a Christian coating as if that were enough to validate my Christianity rather than a deep and ongoing Christian conversion. Paul says in the beginning of the twelfth chapter of Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” When I think of a transformation, I think of a fundamental and lasting change, not just an outward coating.
Well, you say, I have been fundamentally changed. Good, so have I, but I have begun to see that certain areas of my life are not yet with the program. So when I walk out into public display I have noticed that I often coat those areas with a Christian coating, hiding my incompleteness and ongoing failures from the rest of body of Christ. While we can honestly say that we do not need to wash all our dirty linen in public, it can also be said that we should not be afraid to be honest and admit we need help and are not the perfect Christian. As a result, I have this image of a person who once was completely covered with putrid scales but now most of their body is new healthy flesh. Yet, there are places where the scales still cover their skin. So, we have a choice. We can cover those scales with a Christian coating, pretending to others that everything is all healthy and new, or be willingly be open and transparent and show the good with the bad. I guess I prefer the latter, even when it causes problems.
That means no one should look at me as being more than I am, a mostly healthy but still flawed Christian, who is working out my salvation with fear and trembling. If you ever see evidence of a Christian coating hiding putrid scales, call me on it. Remember, as iron sharpens iron, so one Christian sharpens another and it takes sharp blades to slice away those scales.
May God grant you grace and peace today and may he give us all the strength we need to abandon any of the Christian coatings we may now have hiding our not-quite-yet-disciplined parts of our lives.