Hi, my name is Drew, and I’m a pastor here in midtown Manhattan. I was once invited to speak on a panel to argue for the merits of the Christian faith. One person was invited to speak about the intellectual components of the Christian faith, whether it was about doctrine or apologetics. I, meanwhile, was invited to speak on the merits of Christianity from an emotional as well as holistic perspective of faith.
A question was posed to the other person who was speaking on the merits of the intellectual side of the Christian faith, about this topic of deconstruction. Many people today are deconstructing their faith, and the question was posed, “Why do you think that is?” As I was thinking about my own response to that question, I realized, I don’t believe, at least in my interactions with most people today, that people are deconstructing faith because of what Christianity espouses to be true—that Jesus is the way and that the way of Jesus, which is a way of love, forgiveness, justice, and kindness… It’s not that these things are untrue, but instead, it’s that Christians—who claim to believe in this Jesus, and who he is, and what he stands for—somehow Christians and the ways that we live our lives can be so far from that ideal. In my experience, most people that are deconstructing today—most people struggle with Christians who claim to say they believe one thing yet behave in such other ways. Has that been your experience as well?
You know, what’s crazy is there’s this moment in the early church in Acts chapter five, and it’s this stunning story that comes in the birth of the church. The Acts of the Apostles is this historical narrative of the early church. Here’s what Christians believe: Jesus died, and then he resurrects from the grave, and he appears to more than 500 people. And this movement is born as people begin to spread the good news of Jesus. They can’t ignore the fact that they saw this Jesus who died and has resurrected from the grave. All sorts of supernatural things start to happen. Miracles are done. The sick are healed. People begin to speak with great boldness and proclamation of God’s love, His kindness, His grace. One of the miracles that happens is that people begin to sell their possessions and give to those in need. And we come to this story in Acts chapter five of this couple named Ananias and Sapphira. And here’s what’s stunning about it: up to this point, the church is booming, thousands are being added to the number of the church, people are starting to sell their possessions. You can imagine the scene: people start to cheer on this radical generosity that’s being birthed out of this community of Jesus followers. And there’s this moment where Ananias and Sapphira—they actually sell their property, but they don’t give the full amount to the church; they keep some of it for themselves. And so Ananias comes before Peter, who’s one of the early leaders of the church, and he gives this donation, really. And Peter asks, “Is this the amount that you sold your property for?” And Ananias says yes. In other words, he lies to Peter. And all of a sudden, Ananias drops dead. Sapphira comes later on, and Peter asks the same question: “Is this the amount that you sold?” And I remember reading this passage and being like, “Sapphira, please don’t lie, don’t lie.” And she says, “Yes, it
is.” And then she drops dead. And it’s this sobering moment in the early church. And in the midst of reading this, I’m like, “What in the world is going on?”
You know what’s so stunning about that, is there’s so many different sins in the early church that we read about in the different letters of Paul and in these other historical accounts in the book of Acts. And yet, it’s this sin that all of a sudden, there’s this sobering moment. Now I used to think when I first read this passage that the sin that Ananias and Sapphira was guilty of was the sin of hoarding and greed. You know, I remember reading that and thinking, “I need to sell everything and give it away.” But what’s interesting is that’s not the sin that Peter points out. It’s not the sin of greed. What is it? It’s a sin of lying. Or to be more specific, it’s actually the sin of presenting myself as being holier than I am. The text almost suggests that Ananias and Sapphira, if they had simply come to Peter and said, like, “Listen, there are some spiritual all-stars around here. But honestly, I’m really struggling with this thing about giving everything away. I want to be generous, but it’s been hard to make ends meet at home. Peter, here’s what we can give right now.” And if Ananias and Sapphira had simply done that, there would have been grace for them. But somehow, there’s the sin of lying, or of presenting myself as being more spiritual than I truly am. You know, what’s stunning is this text reveals to us that God doesn’t necessarily expect us to be perfect, but He expects us to be honest. And if there’s one thing that we need for this burgeoning community to exist and to function in the early church, and the one thing that God will bring His attention and our attention to when it comes to it is the sin of lying—of not being honest people.
Now, here’s something I need to confess. As a Christian professional, as a vocational minister, this is one of the hardest things, because it is so easy for me to lie. I try to give this pretense that I’m somehow holier than I am. I remember one of the first times I was actually preaching on this text, and I was making this point: God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He
expects us to be honest. And I remember as I’m preaching this, in the middle of it, I lost my place in my notes, so I start to freak out a little bit. And as I’m freaking out, looking for my place in my notes, I just start saying stuff like, “You know, whenever I read this passage, God just speaks to me. God is so good and holy and amazing.” And meanwhile I’m just scanning for my notes. Oh my goodness. I went home that night, and I remember I couldn’t sleep, but I was exhausted. And as I was praying before God, I realized, here was the irony of that situation. Here I was preaching about how God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He expects us to be honest… and here I was lying my face off in front of everyone, trying to act more spiritual than I truly am. Gosh, there’s this pressure to somehow have it all together.
One of the areas in which we often ignore or we don’t allow God in, is the area of our emotional lives. In fact, Pete Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality—he says, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” Now, here’s what he means by that. I can be someone who, on the outside, does all sorts of pious and religious activities. I can read the Bible, I can preach with the best of them, I pray for hours on end. And yet, when it comes to my emotional world, whenever I get anxious or afraid, I run to my addiction of choice. Or whenever people are around me, I get very defensive, or even
offensive and judgmental. And one of the points that Pete is making is, it’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. One of the images that we use in emotionally healthy discipleship is the image of an iceberg. Ten percent of an iceberg is above the sea level, so only what is visible. So if you see this incredibly enormous iceberg, the reality is ninety percent of an iceberg is actually below the surface. And in many ways, when it comes to Christian faith, we allow God only to affect that ten percent. The parts that we can almost manufacture, the behaviors that we can do on the outside. But rarely do we allow God into that ninety percent, into the emotional areas of our lives, into our woundedness, into the areas of our family of origin that we want God to transform. And really the invitation for each one of us, when Jesus says to “love the Lord, your God with all your soul, strength, heart, and mind,” he’s saying, “Will you allow God to change all of who you are? Not just that 10% above the surface, but the 90% below, all of who you are.” Now, if you’re anything like me, I think that we all long for that, don’t we? We all hope for that. We all want a Christianity that’s real and robust enough that it transforms all of us, so that we don’t have to live in this pretentious way of changing some behaviors here or there, but actually, we allow God into every single area of our lives. Isn’t that what we all long for?
Want to Dig A Little Deeper?
Check out Ep. 29 of our podcast: Presenting Perfection and Other “Christian” Norms We Need to Ditch with Drew Hyun.