“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” II Timothy 1:12 esv
Throughout my years, I have heard many rousing sermons used to encourage people to share their faith and not be ashamed to call themselves a Christian. So many sermons, in fact, that I believe we have developed a slanted perspective to what this verse really means. Certainly this verse does reference the importance of baring the name of Christ, but I fear we have reduced this down to an expression which can easily be made by an Ichthus bumper sticker, a cross necklace, or a WWJD bracelet. If this is what most Christians think of when they say they’re not ashamed of the gospel, I’m afraid that Christianity will lose it’s most distinct characteristic in the world.
While there are some Christians who would never publicly admit that they are Christians, my wager is that most of the people who will inevitably read this post are not that sort of Christian. Everyone at work probably knows your born again. They’re probably even cautious to not curse around you. The neighborhood kids know not to try your house durring halloween because they know you’re at an all night prayer vigil to ward off the demons. Wherever you go, you can automatically identify other Christians and you give them a nod, just so they notice you as well. Your whole identity oozes Christianity. You’re a wide eyed, sanctified, blood bought, Spirit taught, Bible totin’, Scripture quotin’, satan bashin’, sin trashin’, Christ followin’, hard prayin’, pride swallowin’, faith walkin’, truth conveyin’, gospel talkin’, bonafide, big time, believer, and you’re proud of it. You are the quint essential Christian. Everything is going good for you.
But that might just be the problem. You see, we tend to think that the opposite of shame is pride, and we’re great at showing pride that we’re Christians. The problem is, Paul isn’t talking about being proud to be a Christian, but being proud to suffer. Paul writes to Timothy to be proud of the testimony of the LORD, who suffered on a cross. There were many people who had made a mockery of Jesus’ crucifixion, and others were making a mockery of the fact that Paul was imprisoned. Why would anyone want to join a religion characterized by suffering. But when we look back on the testimony of Christ, we know that this suffering is the central, most important doctrine of our faith.
I’ve found in my time in ministry, that we are least likely to boast in our weaknesses. As Paul consistently teaches in his epistles, we are ashamed of our suffering. Trials paint a beautiful picture of the gospel. Not only do they bring us closer to Christ (better than the WWJD bracelet) but they remind us of his suffering (better than a cross necklace) and they distinguish us from the world (better than an Ichthus).
This is the essence of living a life worthy of the gospel. The gospel is marked by suffering and pain. Paul constantly reminds us that we will suffer, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Timothy 3:12 esv). This is what it means to follow after Christ. In our comfortable ‘Christian’ society, we have been conditioned to think that our freedom and liberties are the distinguishable characteristics of being a Christian, but we are sorely mistaken. God is not pleased when we live our lives as though we have everything put together.
I think that a better way to distinguish the gospel to a hurting world is to show the reality of what it means to be a Christian. But this will require a complete change of thinking. We don’t even confess our struggles to other Christians, never-the-less to our co-workers and neighbors. Our prayer meetings are spent addressing colds, flues, and financial difficulties. Is our faith already established? Are we not struggling to work out our salvation? Have we already conquered every sin in our life? Are we too ashamed to reveal our weaknesses to one another, that we have to share about our cousin’s, friend’s, cat who has been missing for 24 hours? God forbid.
I think prayer meetings should be more like AA meetings. Let’s face it, we all have sins we ought to be fighting, and we could use the community of believers to hold us accountable. Then, when we live transparently before the world, they can see grace, mercy, and sanctification actually working in our lives instead of just assuming that we’re goody two-shoes who never make any mistakes.
I’ve been saying this for a while, and I’m hoping this will catch on at some point. I don’t think we should turn our times together as a means to air our laundry or give glory to our sins, but we ought to be living transparently enough that others can see the grace of God working in our lives.
So, while you may not be ashamed to say that you’re a Christian, are you ashamed to share in Christ suffering?