One of my chief character flaws (near the head of a long list) in years gone by was a desperate need to appear as perfect as possible for my Christian peers. For reasons I can’t pinpoint — perhaps it was middle-child syndrome or some quirk of my early Christian education — I would be mortified if people knew my sins and weaknesses, if they knew that I didn’t have it together.
What makes that kind of perfectionism particularly silly is that it is not really fooling anyone, least of all God. I knew that I was a sinner, and I’m fairly sure those around me suspected that I was. The tragedy is that if you really get the perfection act down (I didn’t), then all you do is irritate people. It’s like a comb-over. I know you’re bald. You know you’re bald. Who are those greasy strands meant to fool? What do you take me for?
The ultimate cure of my insecurities was meeting Phillip. Where I was working hard to become a good Pharisee, being seen to do the right thing, never daring to admit my sin and weakness, Phillip was brutally honest. Now, I was well familiar with the kind of conversion story in which one catalogues ad nauseam the horrific details of one’s pre-Christian depravity, in order to juxtapose it with the blissful purity of life in Christ. That kind of dubious honesty about one’s life I knew. However, Phillip was not like that. Sure, he had the checkered past, and undoubtedly, Jesus has changed him wonderfully, but for the first time in my life, I was aware of someone who could speak about his own failures and struggles now with genuineness and honesty. And I respected it deeply.
It was immediately apparent to me that God’s grace is evident in our weakness, not in our self-righteousness, and keeping up perfect facades in order to meet the imaginary expectations of my peers was a deep foolishness and ultimately pride and dishonesty. How can we bear one another’s burdens if we ‘don’t have any’? How can we avoid sin if we desperately avoid acknowledging its existence? If it’s the Devil’s art to deceive and lead astray, then crafting perfectionists and Pharisees out of Christians is one of his better masterpieces. So, from then on, I resolved to set aside facades and try out honesty, in the hope that I can be the kind of encouragement to others that Phillip was (and is) to me. Hopefully I’m getting there.
So, thanks Phillip, you rusty old battle-axe. Thanks for walloping the Pharisee out of me.