Strategies abound for dealing with sin. There are mountains of books to help us develop habits to stop lying, beat various addictions, control our thoughts, grow in generosity, or develop contentedness. A quick Google search will reveal list upon list of verses about sexual purity, anger, worry, unbelief, idolatry, business...
I once had a sweet picture of my grandchildren dressed in costumes as my screen saver. Sitting side by side, 18-month-old Riley was dressed as a tennis ball, tiny baby Hannah was a flower, and two-year-old Benjamin was Spiderman!
It’s a sweet picture, but at the same time it troubled me that I couldn’t see Benjamin’s face, which was covered up by a mask. His blue eyes and endearing smile were both hidden! As I have pondered this, it struck me that perhaps that’s exactly how God feels when we wear masks that attempt to keep him (and others) from looking into the eyes of our hearts.
In the beginning, Adam and Eve enjoyed intimacy with God and one another without fear or shame until their disobedience sent them into hiding among the trees of the garden.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ (Genesis 3:8-10, emphasis added)
Though Adam and Eve had enjoyed perfect union with their loving Creator, sin left them naked and ashamed (Genesis 3:8-13).
From our very first breath, we are bent to rebel against God’s authority. Romans 3:11-12 says, “None is righteous, no one seeks God.” Thankfully, he faithfully pursues us, lovingly calling, “Where are you?” God wants us to see that we are lost and need him to save us.
Jesus Christ provides the only way back into the relationship that sin destroyed. He alone can cover our nakedness and shame by clothing us with his own righteousness. Through the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross, God invites us out of hiding and into the light of His presence.
Sadly, even when we are clothed in Christ, we often continue to live just like those still in hiding. Failing to grasp the full gospel, we often continue to struggle with guilt, shame, and fear, living defeated lives that condemn us for past or present sins. We hide behind masks that, in actuality, keep us from experiencing the joy and peace that is rightfully ours in Christ.
Out of Hiding…But Still Hiding
So, let’s take a look at a couple of the common masks we wear and how the gospel can lead us out of hiding.
The Mask of Self-Sufficiency
Hidden behind this mask is a failure to grasp the truth of our depravity; and when we don’t see the depth of our need for Christ, we won’t rely on Jesus for help. By avoiding certain behaviors such as lying, stealing, lusting, and so on, we can “feel” like we are doing pretty well.
This is where self-effort and self-sufficiency sneak in, leading us to believe that we are capable of living the Christian life all on our own. It isn’t until we tire of running into walls of exhaustion, frustration, anger, bitterness, guilt, and so on that we finally start to wonder if we’re missing something! All our best efforts to be good Christians have not brought the peace, joy, and inner rest God promises to us in his Word.
Those who are serious students of God’s Word eventually come to realize that God’s perspective of sin is far more than simply messing up. Alan Kraft says:
Sin is the deeply rooted tendency in all of us to live with self as the center of our lives rather than God…[We] have a tenacious desire to be the center of the universe. We want to be noticed, affirmed, valued, worshiped, in control, to be comfortable, to be successful. These are not just casual interests—very often they drive our lives.
Jesus Christ meets us right here in our pride and self-centeredness. In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” Over the course of his life, Paul became increasingly aware of his sin, enabling him to more fully experience the sufficiency of Christ. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me….for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10)
The more we understand God’s holiness, the more we see our sin. And awareness of our sin opens our eyes more fully to God’s mercy and grace. Placing our trust in Jesus rather than in our own effort, we realize that God has given us the gift of total acceptance. In other words, we really can come out of hiding.
The Mask of “Everything’s fine, thank you.”
Hidden behind this mask are many things, but most of all, fear. When we are clothed in Christ, we are adopted into God’s family where we should also find acceptance and encouragement from the body of believers. Sadly, we have all experienced some measure of betrayal, hurt, and rejection. This can send us scurrying back to our masks, adding more layers to our wall of self-protection.
But the gospel invites us to be honest with others and ourselves. This does not mean we walk around telling every person we meet all of our problems. But it does mean we find a few close friends and older spiritually mature believers in Christ who will lovingly help us see God’s perspective on these things. When we isolate ourselves from others we become more vulnerable to Satan’s lies, keeping us in bondage to the very things we long to be free of.
Let’s consider a few examples of when should seek the help, counsel, and comfort of mature believers:
- When we are hiding the pain of infertility, miscarriage, chronically ill children, or other mental/physical health issues, forfeiting the ministry of comfort, help, and prayer.
- When we are hiding in fear of an emotionally/physically abusive spouse, forfeiting protection, prayer, and help that could possibly save the marriage.
- When we are hiding ineffective parenting, or a struggling marriage, forfeiting tools of biblical wisdom and practical help, along with support and prayer.
- When we are hiding sins committed in our past or sins we are struggling with in the present such as overspending, over-eating, starving ourselves, pornography, or substance abuse, forfeiting the reminder that the gospel has set us free from submitting to a yoke of slavery to these habits and behaviors (Galatians 5:1).
Our True Hiding Place
Nothing is hidden from the Lord. God knows better than we do the depth of our sin problem. But he is fully committed to raising his children with loving discipline until we are mature and complete in Christ. Meanwhile, he invites us to take off our masks so he can look into our faces and delight in us as we learn from him and grow. And when we are tempted to go back into hiding behind masks of fear, hurt, and shame, he reminds us that he is our true hiding place, and in him is the safest place to be (Psalm 32:7)!