Being Godly... or Seeming to Be?

APPLAUSE HANDS

I have a confession to make. I am an addict. My addition? The applause and approval of others. Though I am an introvert by nature, I love the praises of men even if it’s uncomfortable. I’ve discovered something else. I’m not alone in this addiction.

In his Gospel, John reveals this as a widespread human condition. He writes of the those who believed in Jesus but would not publicly confess it for fear of the Pharisees saying, “they loved the praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). Is there anyone reading this who can relate to this addictive condition? Even if we don’t want to be this way, we can find ourselves trapped in the mire formed from the selfish bent of our hearts. How do we escape this trap?

 

A recent article by Stephen Witmer, a pastor and writer for Desiring God, convicted me in this area, and opened up a fresh perspective for escaping this trap. Witmer quotes the writings of a seventeenth century Puritan named Richard Baxter. Baxter was a prolific writer, and his voluminous work called, Christian Directory, drills down into this problem of preferring appearance to reality because we want people to think well of us.

Below is an excerpt from his book. He writes in Old English language, so I have inserted in brackets the meaning of certain words we might interpret differently today. Read this thoughtfully, for as a grandparent I do not want merely to “seem” like a Christian in the eyes of my grandchildren, but to so love my Lord, that my character is shaped by that relationship for them to see.

Study first to be whatever judiciously [rightly] you desire to seem. Desire a thousand times more to be godly, than to seem so; and to be liberal [generous], than to be thought so; and to be blameless from every secret or presumptuous sin, than to be esteemed such. And when you feel a desire to be accounted for good, let it make you think how much more necessary and desirable it is to be good indeed. To be godly is to be an heir of heaven: your salvation followeth it. But to be esteemed godly is of little profit to you. (Christian Directory, Part 1, Chapter 4, part 3)

This single paragraph profoundly impacted me and caused me to ponder whether my life is more focused on seeming so, than being so. My good friend, Dr. Chuck Stecker, is fond of saying, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” And he’s right. Pretending, or having good intentions, does not build the kind of legacy we want to outlive us. More often it will drive those we love away from the truth, rather than toward it.

The desire to give the next generation something that matters requires that our lives actually matter, not simply seem to matter. I am too often guilty of caring more about what people think than who I truly am in Christ. And that is a matter of intentionality… studying the one whom I desire to be like.

How about you? Do you struggle with putting on appearances and seeking the praises of men rather than God as I do? I encourage you to read Stephen Witmer’s article. Then ask yourself, Am I truly pursuing God to make much of Him in the eyes of my grandchildren, or am I merely pretending to pursue Him? The answer to this question is a matter that matters… for you and for them. Let’s be more intentional this year about actually being godly, than seeming to be.

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