A friend recently said to me, “I’ve seen too many people hide behind their words.” For far too long we have been verbalizing and vocalizing our Christianity with little action to support it. We look straight past what we are doing to make sure we are saying the right thing and responding correctly to those tough questions voiced by nonbelievers. The Church body is turning into one big mouth! We are all guilty of it. After all, it’s easier to say we love others than to actually do it. I am not even sure some of us know how to love other people. I was very well trained in the art of correct Christian speech. When a question arose, I was the first to spit out the typical Sunday school answer without hesitating … or thinking. However, it has been a struggle to breathe, walk and actively imitate Jesus on a moment-to-moment basis.
Peter was great at saying foolish things. I relate to him because I find myself saying one thing to God and doing another. After many “foot in mouth” occurrences and even denying any association with Christ, Peter is confronted by Jesus. After Jesus is resurrected and is making His public appearances, He asks Peter a question that requires more than a patent reply. Three times Christ asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” to which Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.” Jesus then says to Peter, “Then tend my sheep.” Like Peter, I have been confronted by Christ and challenged by Him to put the great love I profess into a tangible reality. This passage is captivating because it is clear that the Lord was looking for more than a verbal response. He desired action from His disciple as He desires action from us today.
It is so easy for us to hide. It’s comfortable, safe, secure, protected and sheltered. When we hide, we don’t have to confront ourselves, others or God. We hide behind our words, our religion, political opinions and friends in effort to sugar-coat who we really are. But why hide? I have been asking myself this question and have come up with this answer: pride and fear. There is something inside of me that wants to protect my dignity so that somehow I am the one who ends up looking good because I am afraid of being seen for who I really am. I hold on to that last ounce of dignity with all my strength because deep down I think that I don’t need God entirely. I am fooled into thinking that there is something of myself that is good enough to pull off the Christian lifestyle.
The truth and vulnerability of exposure make us aware of our desperate state. I can’t help but think that Peter, after denying Christ, realized that a mask of words, no matter how powerful, holds little eternal weight. Peter was not only desperate for forgiveness and grace, but to be authentic. After his encounter with Jesus, Peter knew that a living, ongoing response must accompany his deep love for Christ. Authenticity cannot come without the substance of action.
God is not a conductor of a meritocracy in which His relationship with us works on a point system. Rather, He is the giver of unmerited favor, which we call grace, and He has established no limits in how He distributes love and grace. So why do we exercise caution in loving God and others? Part of me thinks we are afraid. We fear to forgive once more, fear to love someone who is not like us and fear to help a stranger. I am grateful that Christ is never afraid to give grace. Surely some questioned why Jesus helped certain people, loved the ugly and broken people or redeemed the ones who renounced Him. Out of all the words we spin and weave into a tapestry to hide behind, surprisingly grace is not one of them.
Words do very little in situations that call for action. I can’t imagine breaking a bone and having the doctor say, “Ouch, that’s got to hurt. I hope it feels better!” No, I need him to place the bone, put a cast on it and aid in the healing process of it. We are healed by His wounds, not just His words.
It is not comfortable or safe to come out from the fortress we hide behind. In fact, I would venture to say it is quite dangerous. It is dangerous to imitate Christ in the everyday demands of life. I would also venture to say that it is exactly what we all need. I need to pursue knowing Christ more intimately and expose His character so others can experience the limitless love and grace that Jesus offers. It is time for our words to become alive and active.[Nicole Gatling is a sophomore at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Texas studying Mass Communications and Religion.]