Being Real the Right Way
by LESLIE LUDY
The beautiful Cuban church was filled with hundreds of well-dressed, respectable Christians as Corrie ten Boom prepared to speak to the congregation. While she waited to be welcomed onto the platform, she glanced over the church bulletin that had been given to everyone as they arrived. Her eye fell on a paragraph of introduction about her ministry. It read, “Corrie ten Boom is a most popular world evangelist … She is tireless and completely selfless in her absolute dedication to the cause of the Gospel…”
Immediately Corrie felt ashamed. Just the previous evening while speaking at a youth event, she had fought a battle with selfishness. The service had been long and tedious, and she had been far more concerned with getting home to bed than with the soul-winning opportunities that were right in front of her. Silently she prayed, Oh Lord … if only these people knew who the real Corrie ten Boom is, they would not have come out this morning to hear me. Right away she felt God speak to her heart. Tell them. Fearing rejection, she hesitated. But again God spoke to her heart. Can I bless a lie?
Resolved to obey no matter the outcome, she stepped onto the platform and addressed the congregation. Reading from the parish paper, she then looked up and said, “Sometimes I get a headache from the heat of the halo that people put around my head. Would you like to know what Corrie ten Boom is really like?”
Corrie proceeded to tell them about her struggle with selfishness from the night before. “That … was Corrie ten Boom. What egotism! What selfishness! But the joy is that Corrie ten Boom knew what to do with her sin. When I confessed them … Jesus Christ washed them in His blood … Corrie ten Boom is lazy, selfish, and filled with ego … But Jesus in Corrie ten Boom is just the opposite of all these things.”
Her words had a tremendous impact upon her listeners. She later recalled, “Instead of a beautiful church with prominent members and a popular world evangelist, we were all sinners who knew that Jesus died to lift us out of the vicious circle of ego into the light of His love. God had blessed the truth!”1
What a beautiful example of the eternal impact of God-honoring honesty!
Counterfeit vs. Biblical Honesty
Over the past decade or so, there has been a renewed focus on honesty in modern Christianity. But in many cases, it’s not the same kind of God-honoring honesty that we see in the story just relayed. Being “raw and real” is touted as a spiritual virtue these days, but often it promotes a kind of “realness” that is very different from the truth-filled, God-honoring honesty we see patterned in Scripture.
For example, a Christian woman I once knew became hurt and offended by another woman in her church. She began expressing her “honest” feelings on her social media page. All of her posts began with statements such as, “Can I just be real for a minute?” Or, “Okay, I’m just going to be totally honest with you…” And then she proceeded to publicly bash the person who had offended her while also making broad-sweeping gripes against certain kinds of Christians.
Nearly all of the feedback she received was positive. Fellow church-goers responded to her rants with encouragement, posting comments like, “Your honesty is so refreshing!” Or, “I’m so glad someone is finally being real about this!” Second-party offenses began to develop, until finally there was a splintering of Christian families who had previously been close, trusted friends.
What a vast difference there is between this kind of “honesty” and that which Corrie ten Boom demonstrated in the Sunday morning service. One led to focusing on the power of God and unity in the Body of Christ. The other led to focusing on human emotion and the shattering of Christian relationships. That’s because there are two different ways we, as Christians, can choose to be “real” with one another — one is healthy and God-honoring, the other is fleshly and damaging.
Social media isn’t the only place where the “raw and real” trend among Christians is doing damage. In many one-on-one relationships and Christian gatherings, a counterfeit version of honesty is being promoted. Sadly, counterfeit Christian honesty often results in doubt toward God and discord among believers. So how can we avoid counterfeit honesty while still “walking in the light” and “speaking the truth in love” as the Bible commands us to? (See 1 John 1:7 and Ephesians 4:15.)
Let’s explore three critical contrasts between counterfeit honesty and biblical honesty.
#1 Venting vs. Discretion
As Christian women, we are encouraged to be real and honest by freely expressing our private feelings and emotions, whether to our girlfriends, in Christian gatherings, or on our social media pages. (This is especially true when it comes to venting our frustrations.) I’ve often heard the statement: “Christian women need the freedom to be authentic in their relationships with each other.” Usually what this really means is: “Christian women should have the freedom to express whatever they are feeling — even if it is fleshly, self-focused, or dishonoring to others.”
Some women even feel pressured to share their private feelings and struggles publicly because it’s implied that they are somehow putting on a false front if they don’t. But the idea that unguardedly expressing our feelings and frustrations equates to true authenticity is not in line with God’s Word or nature.
Counterfeit honesty says: “Freely share your feelings with anyone and everyone! If you don’t, you are not being truly authentic.”
Biblical honesty says: “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Prov. 29:11) and “there is a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc. 3:7).
While we should never be fake with others, we must always balance our honesty with the godly virtue of discretion. Discretion is a nearly forgotten concept in today’s world, yet according to Scripture, it is foundational to godly womanhood. Proverbs tells us, “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion” (Prov. 11:22). And Titus 2:4–5 exhorts young women “to be discreet.”
Discreet in this verse means: to be sane, of sound mind, self-controlled, and temperate. In other words, it is the opposite of venting our feelings without restraint.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, demonstrated this quality when she, “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19). If anyone had good reason to freely express their feelings and share their amazing personal experiences with others, it was Mary. Instead she remained discreet and guarded with these things. She chose not to share them with others. And in God’s eyes, this was a virtue and not a flaw.
#2 Criticism vs. Honor
There is a fine line between honesty and gossip. I learned this the hard way several years ago, when a close friend of mine began opening up to me about her hurts and concerns towards certain people that I knew. Everything was shared under the banner of asking for my prayers and advice, but soon I began to realize that I had begun to harbor suspicion and even second-party offenses toward the people she was talking about. I finally had to ask my friend to stop her “open and honest” sharing, which in reality was spiritually-veiled gossip and criticism.
It’s common for Christians to discuss the weaknesses of others under the banner of honesty. Sometimes fault-finding is even disguised as care and sympathy for the person being criticized. But no matter how much spiritual language is used to cloak it, gossip and criticism are never God-honoring.
Amy Carmichael said it straightforwardly: “If I can easily discuss the shortcomings and the sins of any other … if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
It it is abundantly clear in Scripture that honor, not criticism, is what hallmarks godly honesty and godly womanhood. In fact, one of the key qualities of the Proverbs 31 woman is that the law of kindness is on her tongue. (See Proverbs 31:26.)
Counterfeit honesty says: “It’s healthy and healing to share your offenses and concerns about others because you need to process those things with fellow Christians.”
Biblical honesty says: “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28 NIV) and “…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11 NIV).
As James 3:8–10 so clearly explains: “…the tongue … is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
There may be times when it is necessary to voice concerns about another person who is walking in sin or when we need to seek counsel about a certain issue involving others, but this should be the exception, and not the pattern, in our lives. It should not be taken lightly and should only be done after much prayer, rather than in the heat of emotion. Primarily, concerns should only be taken to those in a position of authority such as parents, mentors, pastors, or counselors, and the information shared should be hallmarked by honor and never with intent to gossip, slander, or criticize.
Amy Carmichael and her fellow missionaries made a purposeful effort to protect the vital unity they shared as fellow Christians. They did this by honoring each other with their words and, thereby, made criticism taboo. Amy wrote,
“It often appears to us that there is nothing except our private walk with God which is more detested and assaulted by the devil than just this beautiful happy thing, the loyalty that is the basic quality of vital unity … we made one careful rule: the absent must be safe with us. Criticism, therefore, was taboo … what other way of life [can] satisfy the heart that [is] set on living in the ungrieved presence of its Lord? The very thought of Him shames unkindness.”
These words express perhaps the most important antidote against criticism and gossip: taking our eyes off of ourselves — off of our own offenses, hurts, emotions, pride, and preferences — and fixing our gaze upon Jesus instead. When we remember how much He has sacrificed, how much He has given, how much He has suffered for us, we realize that criticizing and attacking each other is utterly shameful and foolish. He longs for us to love each other “with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22 KJV). And this is how we demonstrate that we truly love Him — by loving one another. (See 1 John 4:21.)
Dishonorable, counterfeit honesty has no place in view of the Cross. And if we do not stray from its shadow, our words will always honor others and, in so doing, honor our worthy King.
#3 Defeat vs. Victory
Honesty has been redefined by popular Christianity as simply being open about (and accepting of) spiritual defeat and/or frustration toward God. In many Christian circles it is seen as healthy to openly voice doubt and disillusionment toward God under the banner of honesty. Some churches even host what they call “Doubt Nights” for this purpose. But openly airing our sinful baggage and celebrating defeat is not what it means to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7).
Counterfeit honesty says: “I’m a mess, you’re a mess, so let’s all just be honest about it and thank God that He loves messes like us!”
Biblical honesty says: “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14) and “…our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6).
Honesty about our spiritual struggles is certainly an important first step in the process of bringing secret sins into the light. But it is not meant to be the only step. God’s Word says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Confession of sin is the process of bringing our hidden vices, addictions, and selfishness into the light, laying them at the feet of Jesus, and allowing Him to wash us clean. Then He tells us to repent — which means to turn and walk the other way.
Think about the woman caught in adultery. What did Jesus say to her after He rescued her from her persecutors? Did He say, “Go, and just be honest about your struggles.”? No, He said, “Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:11.)
If you are being controlled by any kind of sin, confession is crucial — first to God and also to trusted Christians that He has placed in your life for accountability and spiritual exhortation. (Note: maintain propriety with what kinds of sins you confess in mixed company.) Rather, confess your sin to God or to others with an attitude that says, “I am choosing to repent of this sin and believe that God’s power is sufficient to set me free from its bondage.”
Yes, let’s be honest about our sin. But in the process, let’s not forget to also be honest about the reality and efficacy of God’s ability to transform us into new creatures in Christ! (See 2 Corinthians 5:17.) Because of Jesus’ work on the Cross and His enabling grace that dwells within us, we have the power to “reckon ourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). Our “old man” has been crucified with Christ. Therefore, we are free to no longer serve sin, but to walk in the light, as He is in the light. (See Romans 6:6 and 1 John 1:7.)
When we choose counterfeit honesty and celebrate defeat instead of victory, we diminish the most amazing gift that has ever been given — the gift of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
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We have a short time here on this earth with which to reflect that beautiful nature of our King to a lost and dying world. May our words become a catalyst for others to see Him more clearly. As Colossians 4:6 exhorts us, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt…”
When we build our lives around Jesus Christ and His pattern, our words will naturally reflect His truth and nature. Let’s choose by His grace to be honest the right way — His way.