I will confess that I want to be liked. It is a character flaw which has a tendency of getting in the way of my calling. That character flaw can be even more dangerous when it comes into contact with someone who wants to be affirmed. You see, there is a danger of you and I setting up a relationship that is unhealthy for both of us. I want to be liked. You want to be affirmed. If I as pastor merely affirm you, you will like me…and we will both remain unchanged.
The unchanging nature of this unholy relationship seems to stand in stark contrast to the descriptions of the Christian life found in Scripture. As I read the Bible, I begin to notice words and phrases like “transformation,” “new creation,” “crucified with Christ,” and “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” These phrases don’t seem to affirm our co-dependent relationship of affirming and being liked, but the Bible does associate those phrases, and many more, with another word…the gospel.
“Gospel” means good news, but the Biblical definition of good news has little connection with my desire to be liked and your desire for affirmation. Instead, it refers to being loved in spite of (those character flaws). Instead of being affirmed (in our former ways) it declares us to be someone entirely new.
So what about those character flaws…my desire to be liked and your need to be affirmed? The Bible calls them sin. I know. I know. I’m in danger busting up our cozy little relationship. It scares me too, but let’s try and go there together. What is this “sin” word? The Bible teaches us that sin is all of the things that we think, do, or say which are not in line with the character and desires of God. But that’s not all. Sin also includes the many ways that we don’t think, do, or say the things which are in line with the character and desires of God.
With that definition, I hope we can both see that we both qualify as sinners. The good news in all of this is that God knows we are sinners, and that He has done something about it. He made a provision for sin by sending Jesus to take our sin upon Himself. In exchange, He has given us His righteous perfection. In other words, He tenderly enters into the midst of our messiness and loves us with a transforming love.
So why do we keep up this game of affirmation and being liked? I wish I had a quick answer for you, but we both know its not that simple. The Bible is honest though. Even among the apostles we see that Christian growth is a lifelong process. The Bible tells us that through faith, Jesus declares us righteous by giving us His righteousness. The lifelong process is this: the Holy Spirit works in us to help us grow into what Jesus has already declared us to be. It also tells us that in the process of Christian growth, the only hope I have for release from my sin is to call it what it is…sin. (1 John 1:9) So, through the gospel, I know that in Christ I am a new creation, and though the old sinful desire still resides in me, that sinful desire no longer defines me (Romans 7:22-25). I also know the same is true for you, if you have come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 10:9-10).
If all of this is true…and it absolutely is…then shouldn’t we agree on a different kind of relationship? Rather than a relationship defined by affirmation and a desire to be liked, let’s have a relationship rooted in the love of Christ. Instead of settling for being liked, I would rather find my identity in Christ and be loved by Him…all the while loving you by telling you truth instead of needing from you. Instead of wanting to be affirmed as you are, wouldn’t you rather be loved in spite of who you are, and be transformed more and more into the image of Christ. Instead of being offended by the mention of sin in our lives, shouldn’t we both desire to identify that sin, so we can be released from it. After all, shouldn’t the church be the people with whom we can be the most honest? I think so. So why don’t we start being honest with Jesus, and with each other? After all, he’s already proven His love for both of us.
And one last thing. I’m sorry about the big word in the title, but I really can’t think of a better one. The word subversive refers to a systematic attempt to overthrow or overturn. That’s exactly what the gospel is…a systematic attempt to overthrow or overturn our selfish desires, and to give us a better desire…a desire for Jesus and new life in Him. Jesus secured that life through His death on the cross, and He will settle for nothing less than our death to anything lesser than life in Him.