Today was a different day at Emmaus Life. Scott & Charissa kidnapped all the married couples for some sort of secret club meeting for married people (probably to discuss how to take over the world), which left all the single people of Emmaus Life gathered together in the Lambs’ living room to talk about Jesus (or to talk resistance plans against the married couples). Despite several moments of awkward silence that usually come along with a change in the routine, it was a great discussion about sincerity.
Our central thought throughout the last few weeks and months with Emmaus Life has been attempting to define the gospel. What is it exactly? And what we don’t mean (and what we are actually trying to avoid) is outlining a doctrinal creed regarding the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and all that jazz – even though all of that is important. Instead, what we’re after, what we’re seeking to understand, is how does the gospel look in action? We talk all the time about Jesus literally living out the gospel – embodying it, even – but what does that mean? How did Jesus live out the gospel?
There seems to be more to it than a mere belief statement. And if we do a quick search through the Scriptures, we find that before doctrinal creeds could even be laid down, people were already living the good news of Jesus. So there is something that changes within us when we come to Christ. What is it? And, as we talked about this morning, do we see it in each other?
Quite naturally, this brought up a discussion about sincerity and what it means to engage others in a sincere manner. For example, when someone asks us how we’re doing, are we being sincere when we reply with “I’m doing well” or “Things are going great”? Or are we being fake – trying not to be noticed for how we really are?
If I’m honest with myself, most of the time that someone asks me how I’m doing, I usually respond with how I am in that particular moment. Whatever happened the day before or even the week before is temporarily forgotten as I’m greeting people on Sunday morning. Perhaps it’s me attempting to avoid confrontation with my own emotions, but part of it is that I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone else. My nature, my human nature, is to assume that my baggage is my baggage and that it’s not right to simply dump it off onto someone else. Yet Jesus not only embodies a new nature; He teaches us to act in the new nature. He teaches us to act like Him.
It seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? Just read through the Gospels to get a sense of how Jesus would act and then carry it out. But the nature Jesus taught us isn’t our nature. In a way, it’s foreign to us. It’d be like traveling to a different country and trying to instantly understand all the idioms, mannerisms, and colloquial things within that country; we can’t – not right off the bat, anyway. Not only would it take some time, it would also take some practice. And in the very moment we begin our practice we realize something very uncomfortable: We have to fake it.
As we talked about this morning, we don’t like to fake it. We don’t like it when we’re being fake with someone else or even ourselves. We want honesty. We want sincerity. But, as I said above, to practice Jesus’ nature is to practice that which is contrary to our own nature. Our human natures are in opposition to the nature of God – that’s why we can often find ourselves in frustration over trying not to sin. Paul’s infamous lines in Romans 7:15; “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Aren’t we the same?
So is the mission of living out the life of Jesus – the gospel – a hopeless endeavor? Is it impossible to practice true, genuine sincerity when caring for the well-being of another? I don’t think so. I forget which author gave me the idea (I think it was C.S. Lewis), but I recall someone discussing how after a while of pretending to be like someone else, we actually become much like that person. Consider actors and actresses; they aren’t naturally the characters they portray on screen. They had to practice their characters’ lines and mannerisms; they had to pretend to be someone else. But yet we all know that the best movies are full of actors and actresses who’ve done a good enough job to make their characters seem real. In a way, they pretended so long and so well that, for but a moment, they became that person we see on screen.
The Christian life, then, is simply a life-long audition where we’re striving to get into character. We’re striving to be like Jesus by sharing His compassion, His servitude, and His love – a love that is not dependent upon one’s emotional state of being, but rather overrules and controls one’s emotions. This sort of love beckons one to care for one’s enemy – not just one’s neighbor – even if or when that particular enemy has wronged us or continues to wrong us – when we don’t feel like doing it. “But Jesus did no such thing!” our human natures might retort. But our human natures are quick to forget that when Jesus was hanging on the cross – with nails through His wrists and legs and with dislocated shoulders – He asked God to forgive those who cursed His name, saying, “They know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34).
In a way, Jesus came to give us acting lessons, but yet with an extremely great purpose. It wasn’t to perform well on some grand stage with millions of people watching, but rather off stage and behind the scenes, when no one is watching. He has not taught us how to act so we are able to perform in a play; He taught us how to act in order to change our natures. He taught us how to act so that after pretending long enough, we might become more Christ-like. We might embody His gospel, His nature, His character, in us as actors and actresses do with our favorite movie characters.
All of this to say that if you seek to be more sincere, more caring, more honest, more loving, more Christ-like, then fake it. Pretend to be that Christ like person you wish to be and you just might find yourself actually caring about the people around you – even your enemies. You might find yourself being honest, sincere, and loving. You might one day look in the mirror and be surprised by the appearance of Jesus.
P.S. If anyone knows if it was C.S. Lewis or someone else, I’d appreciate the actual reference in the comments. Thanks!