October 13, 2008
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. Luke 11: 37 – 41
I found myself sitting in an unexpected place last week: a plastic surgeon’s office. I needed minor surgery that required his steady, artistic hand.
As I waited for my name to be called, I had the opportunity to check out the pictures and literature available to clients. It was clear most people frequent this office not for medical needs but for cosmetic procedures. Picture after picture of glowing, perfect people promised clients they could recapture their youth or achieve the look they’ve always wanted if they had certain (expensive) procedures done.
It’s no secret that outward appearances are very important in our culture. Men and women, girls and boys, are bombarded daily with physical standards we can’t possibly meet but strive to, nonetheless. Most of us know it’s what’s “on the inside” that counts, but the pull to look perfect is so strong it can override more important priorities. I’m certainly not immune -- as I stared at those brochures, I found myself wondering which procedures could make me look like those beautiful women!
In the opening scripture, Christ addresses a different kind of appearance problem. The Pharisees may not have been interested in looking pretty, but they strove to look religious. Christ cut through their external piety to reveal their hearts – hearts soiled by sin. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to receive His piercing gaze.
But Christ’s words are a reality check for us today, too. Perhaps you’re not tempted to spend big bucks on cosmetic surgery but after years of practicing the faith, most of us are tempted to build up an image of being the “perfect Christian.” Once again, we know our outward appearances don’t count for much, but the desire for a good reputation steers us off course.
Unfortunately, a focus on outward appearances doesn’t just flow in one direction. I’ve seen genuine, faith-filled believers ostracized in Christian communities because they seemed “too holy” to others. Judged for their pious devotion or even for their God-given physical beauty, these individuals are slowly and subtly pushed away because of envy and insecurity lurking in the hearts of others. Everyone in the community suffers when this happens.
No matter what you’ve experienced or what the rest of the world sees, one thing is certain: Just as Christ saw through the Pharisee’s false piety, He clearly sees what lingers in our hearts. And He is clear about where our priorities should be:
"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory.”(Luke 9: 25 – 26)
Of course, God doesn’t just leave us on our own to change our hearts. He knows where we’re lacking, where we’re weak, and where we’re hurting better than anyone else. And through the Holy Spirit, He wants to perform a different kind of surgery – heart surgery. “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26 NIV)
Unlike physical heart surgery, spiritual heart surgery is not a one-time event. As we seek Christ in our day to day lives, our hearts slowly transform through His continuous grace. God is patient with us as we continually turn to Him and away from our old ways of thinking and acting. As our hearts heal and we become more “real,” we find freedom from the façade and can help others find freedom as well. Gone will be the drive to prove ourselves to others or to judge others – in its place will be Christ-like love.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Wrinkles aren’t the only things that come with age. God also grants wisdom to those who seek it. Scripture says that, “Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance.” (Ecclesiastes 8: 1). Improve your appearance this week by praying for wisdom to discern areas in your heart that need cleaning up.