“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

IT SEEMS TO BE HARD FOR THOSE WHO HOLD UP CHRIST AS THE ANSWER TO EVERY PROBLEM TO AVOID PRETENDING THEY’VE MADE MORE PROGRESS THAN THEY HAVE. We sometimes talk and act as if the devout Christian can be released completely from suffering and struggle in this life. Surely we know that the truth is otherwise, but like the courtiers in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” all of whom praised the king’s non-existent garments, we’re afraid to speak the obvious. There is pressure to keep up the illusion of perfect emotional happiness and complete victory in the battle against sin. But the price we pay is that we actually make less progress in joy and purity than we would if we were more honest.

When it comes time to encourage a friend, we show that it’s possible to be both realistic and compassionate. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” we say. “It’s okay to hurt and to struggle. All of us are broken vessels, and we needn’t be afraid to experience life as it really is. We can’t be perfect, but we can be persistent. Hang in there, and cry whenever you need to.” These are wise words. But when the struggle is our own, we lose our balance, either drowning in despair or naively pretending that God has solved all of our problems already. It’s hard to hold a balanced perspective.

Whatever it means in this life to be “in Christ,” it does not mean total freedom from setbacks and sorrow. To be in Christ is to groan. It is to live out the days of our pilgrimage in hope. This hope can no doubt make a great difference in our present reality, but only when it’s honest about what that present reality is. “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2–4). Let us not conspire to praise our present “clothing” more than the facts warrant. If we’re among His faithful people, Christ will one day clothe us in perfect glory. Our rags will be turned into riches. Until then, there is a need for honesty about our raggedness.

“Have the courage to appear poor, and you disarm poverty of its sharpest sting” (Anna Jameson).

Gary Henry — WordPoints.com + AreYouaChristian.com

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