When genuine Christ-followers (those who live authentically different lives after declaring Christ as Lord) meet me, they recognize my faith and smile at my joy. When unbelievers meet me (atheists/agnostics, and those only attaching a religious title to their unchanged lives and hearts), they’re taken aback by my joy, curious about what lies underneath. I’ve been told that I seem nice, and I can sense others want to dig deeper to know why I am the way I am. One man even asked me, “So do you have any vices?” After years of meeting a large diversity of people of various religious beliefs and faith-based backgrounds, I’ve come to understand these people looking for vices are either trying to 1.) Prove that I have a weakness underneath all the smiling, and 2.) Compare levels of shame, proving how much better or worse they are compared to me. Since I used to be an unbeliever, I empathize with their position. But since I am now a believer in Jesus Christ, I can’t leave this unaddressed. There is a deep misunderstanding about this concept of “niceness and vices”. I want strip away the misconceptions and divulge the main reality.
When everything is said and done, it all comes down to shame.
Shame lives as subtly as it does explicitly. You can find it in addicts just as you can find it in the countenance of a single mother or father whose spouse has possibly given themselves over to drugs, or other selfish pursuits (whether it be alcohol, gambling, or even an affair). Some single parents carry the shock of defeat in their eyes, ashamed for having found themselves in such a precarious position and perplexed that such a storm has seemingly destroyed the same life that seemed so idyllic. This shame is relatable, but it is but one of many manipulations of reality dropped on us like bombs from the enemy.
If shame has the power to roll us into our grave, why do we smear it all over our hearts? Sometimes we live masochistically, thinking the feeling of shame is the appropriate punishment for a wrong we’ve committed. Too often we live in a reality where either everything is our fault, or one major thing is—which, in turn, makes everything else seem to point back to us (at some point or another), proving us punish-worthy. Shame in this example seems justifiable—BUT—justifiable according to who? Us? Do we ever slow down enough to catch ourselves trying to play God? More importantly, what kind of God do we believe we’re playing?
I’ll return to this. But first: “Do you have any vices?”
Yes, of course I have vices. We all do. I’ve been writing about my past in placing women ahead of God, lusting after them following the trauma of my parents’ divorce when I was 11. I’m not proud of this, but this ugly truth doesn’t define my life. That isn’t me dismissing my sin; that is surrendering my past to the birth of a new lifestyle in Christ. If anything, this blemish in my history is more evidence of God’s love— insofar that He has been helping me to turn my life around by changing my perspectives, views, and thoughts towards women in ways that I hadn’t even tried to when I was an unbeliever. When others try to compare their shame, I feel sympathy for them: “Wouldn’t you rather believe in a God of love than of a God of impending doom?” are my thoughts. Others who want to find the weak spot, where I give in and admit that I have a weakness—honestly, you don’t have to dig far; I became Christian because I was so flawed that I was desperate for a Lord who could save me from myself. Even though I may be considered nice, that doesn’t mean I’m hiding; it means I don’t have a reason to hang my head in self-deprecation. Jesus was waiting for me when I opened the door of my reclusive house of shame and secrets. When I invited Him in, everything changed.
Along with God’s direct intervention are His gifts to me: Christian friends who support me, who care about me and who lift me up in prayer, listening to me and not judging me. That is the body of Christ I’m talking about—the church itself.
Until I finally accepted Christ, the shame I felt was dark, heavy, and without a remedy–the shame itself acted like a teeter-totter: I would feel the shame without having the capacity to justify it anymore than the capacity to fully condemn it. I had no Biblical framework. Basically, it was my view versus the view of the world. When you argue with the world, you get several billion voices, and the numbing effect of such a castigating cacophony would eventually run anyone numb and stale inside. For me, turning to lust was opening the bottle of liquor for the alcoholic.
Shame, in this case at the time, didn’t make as much sense because, along with society’s castigations to consider, I was judging myself with a worldly morality (I’ll touch more on this later in this post). Soon after accepting Jesus as Lord, the shame finally began making more sense from the perspective of moral obligation, wherein the shame flooded through me from a deeper spiritual place (my belief in hurting my relationship with God), tearing me apart. I came to understand, from God’s point of view, the unbearable disconnect of lust (God, who made woman in His image too, shared with me His love for women, helping me see how detrimental lust really is), and the reason why lust is a sin and not just a frowned upon blemish (or dismissed as a commonplace excuse for dirty jokes) in the eyes of society.
As a believer of Christ, I do not believe shame is the intended punishment for my life or anyone’s life—that is a lie of the enemy. The difference between that lie and the truth of God is found in the argument of the source of morality. The unbelieving world tries to define morality for itself, defining good and bad as it sees fit, each person judging another for having a different point view, completely ignoring the source of morality–God–therefore misunderstanding its His authority which draws the line between good and bad, right and wrong—for us. To see morality from this angle, shame is a lie man takes from the enemy’s hands and feeds himself—this isn’t of God. A contrite heart, ready to apologize and surrender the specific area of selfishness which we are struggling with (to God)—that is of God. That is what we feel when we humble ourselves enough to admit that we’ve disconnected ourselves from God. A contrite heart and shame are not compatible; one is of the world, the other is our way back to God.
What kind of God is this?
Above, I brought up the question of what kind of God we try to play when we repudiate ourselves with shame. To answer our question about God, let’s consider something. What did God do when He found us choosing the world over Him? He came in the flesh through Christ and died for us—a death that was our punishment for sin—so that we wouldn’t have to be punished; if we surrender our lives to Christ and receive the love of His sacrifice in our hearts. Does that sound like a God who wants us to feel shame, or a God who wants us to feel loved?
See, for me, the punishment for my lustful past isn’t shame—it’s what Jesus did on the cross. For others’ vices, whether it be anger, gluttony, drugs, etc.–the punishment is the same thing. How does this make you feel, knowing someone else took your place, taking your punishment away from you so you could live a better life? Personally, this feeds me hope. My future looks and feels hopeful in Jesus because I have been forgiven, and because I’m not standing in the middle of my sin, waiting to do it again. I’m fighting my battles with the support of community as encouraged in the Bible, and I’ve formed healthier habits to replace old habitual patterns; such as reading more frequently, talking with friends about Jesus and the things which make me passionate, sharing Jesus’s love with them by giving them encouragement and praying for them; listening to worship music, not watching sexualized TV shows; practicing the art of talking from a place of love to each person I interact with, and being productive with healthy chores around my apartment when I’m alone—all things that lead me to a healthy relationship between myself and Christ, and also a newfound respect for women which I didn’t have earlier in my life. Do I battle shame still? Of course! But it doesn’t define me, and it isn’t the basis for what drives me in life. God inspires me, Jesus gives me hope and love, and these gifts have been changing my life in a visible, noticeable way to others around me.
I’m “nice” because not only do I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated, but I believe even more so in Jesus’s command to love others as God first loves us. I choose to be nice because I want others to know Jesus through their interactions with me. I am nice because I want others to know there’s someone (one of many) in this world taking their faith seriously—intending to be a light leading to Christ in a world that can be so corrupted and cruel.
Now, why have I been open and vulnerable about stating my vices and the battles I fight alongside trusted Christian friends? I know my blog articles can be seen by the world, so why would I be so personal? I’ve explained why before, and I’ll explain it again: Truly, my life isn’t my own. My life is God’s, and I want others to read my articles because my only intention in writing is to bring others to Jesus through the truth of my story. I want you to know, no matter what past you have, Jesus’s love for you is infinitely greater than your darkest sin. I believe this for my sins as well. My joy and hope come from believing in this truth, which feeds me peace and freedom from not only shame, but also from living in banality and monotony. Sharing my story is but a means of hopefully opening a way for you to see that you are not alone, and that God is good.
From another point of view of mine, every moment of my life leads me to the reason I exist (and the reason why everyone exists, if we would accept it as truth): Life with Jesus in Heaven. Beyond sharing my story and seeing others recognize how they, too, are loved by God through Jesus Christ through my words and actions, nothing else matters as much to me. I extend myself to others in hopes that they will feel the warm love of God through the inspiration of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. This isn’t about being nice, this is about sharing my hope with others; the very hope which inspires me to live my life and share my story with people I’ve never even met, all in the hopes of encouraging them to live their life differently—and in so doing—allow God to transform them from the inside, consequently effecting others’ lives in the process. What could be better than helping others learning to see what I see and feel what I feel in order to live a more fulfilling life in Christ?
On yet another note, I’m single. This is only relevant in regards to the truth that whether or not I get married before I die doesn’t matter to me as much as impassioning others with the zeal to know Jesus. It would be nice, marriage, but what is more important is bringing people to Jesus? I have life goals—yes, of course—but in the center of my personal goals is being close to God through Jesus. If that isn’t there, nothing else falls into place, nor does anything make any sense. There’s no explanation for our lives, our challenges, our successes or failures beyond the love of Christ. Jesus works through our best moments just as he does our worst defeats. I write this paragraph for those of you who want marriage as deeply as the way I have. Marriage has been my most significant dream, but I’ve been willing to surrender that—especially since it became something of an idol for me—to the love of God, in faith that if His will is for me to marry, He will provide the right woman, and if His will is for me to remain single, I accept the glorious life of praising His name. That choice is a win-win. I want to extend this humility to you, readers, who dream of marriage, to let go of clinging to this world and remember Jesus created marriage to remind us of Him; not to replace Him.
I cannot impact people’s lives by being nice “just because”. That is an empty, uninspiring basis for acting in any way. Is it nice to have someone do something just because—okay, sure. But how much more powerful is it for someone to actually believe in Jesus so strongly that when they ask, pleasantly surprised to a selfless gesture of yours, “Why did you do that?”, you can answer, “Because Jesus loves you, and He wanted you to know.” Personally, that would catch me off guard, but ultimately the encounter would humble me because that’s exactly my perspective. I don’t do what I do “just because” anymore—that no longer holds any weight for me. It’s not enough. If Jesus is not at the center of the reasons why I do anything I do, then it would make just as much sense if next time I didn’t do anything nice, helpful, thoughtful, or selfless. “Just because” simply doesn’t explain niceness because someone could just as ruthlessly kill “just because”. We cannot immediately associate ‘just because’ with some neutral sense of good if with the same words we can associate unspeakable evil and cruelty.
All that matters to me is that others know the way I speak and act is grounded in my faith. I don’t have another reason to be who I am beyond Jesus; there’s just no reason to be this way without Him. Basically, I have just as much reason to be a thoughtless punk as I do a thoughtful Samaritan if I don’t declare Christ as Lord in my heart. There is honestly no viable argument for secular morality because morality cannot be based on an emotional whim and retain a firm foundation. Innate morality (a secularist view of our worldly, situational, and emotional sense of what is good or bad, right or wrong), as it is many times referred, is ungrounded on anything infallible. Moral obligation however, is bound by God, and indelibly written in the Bible. That is also why being nice “just because” is a dangerous game of contradiction. For the rest of the world, it’s “I guess I just got lucky, catching you at a good time,” whereas the Christ-follower has something deeper and more promising than the fluctuating emotions on a good day. Even the sacrificial “I’ll do this because I know it’s the right thing to do” undermines itself on the same level as ‘just because’ since there isn’t a baseline reason beyond sentiment for such an act; selfless or not.
In the Christian mind, we have everything to look forward to; everything we do, think, speak, and act upon takes us one step closer to being in the presence of our Lord for eternity. There is no greater hope than this to inspire us to transcend mere niceness and extend mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, and selflessness. This is the basis for unconditional love; that forgiveness and love wouldn’t be searched for by us, but given to others from us as an overflow from Christ. We are loved and forgiven by Christ’s through the shedding of His blood on the cross. In accepting this life-changing sacrifice from Jesus, we love others, knowing this promises us eternal life beyond Earth. Everything on Earth pales in comparison; including Earthly pain, heartache, suffering, confusion, trauma, sickness, and yes–even death. When we see the depraved colors of death diluted by the bright light of Jesus’s love for humanity, and we find ourselves in a state of peace unlike anything we can imagine— that’s because what we’re experiencing is a glimpse of something literally out of this world: We’re experiencing a glimpse of Heaven, the location for which our soul is intended. We were created for Heaven, despite how so many of us live our lives as if we believe our lives only end here—and when we can see how our life here is just a bridge to get there, it truly changes the perspective of life while we live it.
Coming full circle, that is the basis for my niceness, which isn’t merely niceness as it is joy in the Lord for giving me hope, even in death. I fear nothing, not even telling the world my ugliest secret so they understand God can remove anything to help us make more room for loving Him through everything in our lives. He can remove addictions of any kind, habits of any depravity, mistakes and sins of all depths and levels–if we would surrender ourselves to Him, pick up our cross (release our shame and our Earthly desires into His mighty hands) and follow Him in all our ways. One of those ways, for me, is releasing myself through my blog, that you might know God’s love through my testimony; that you may know men like me are not merely nice, but that we are joyful in our faith—impacted and encouraged that we don’t have to cling to our sins of the past—that we can cling to the love of Christ as Lord of our lives, loving everyone through Him until we draw our last breath, inhaling our first in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.
Be encouraged, readers! You are loved by the God of all creation, and He doesn’t want you living in shame, He wants you living in the freedom of His love; freedom to love others whole-heartedly through the confidence and faith in His love for you. He died for you because He loves you that much. He rose again to prove that He wasn’t only man, but God Incarnate. What will you do with this Truth? What will you do with this testimony? How does this change your life, and your very reality? How will you move forward knowing someone—God Himself—wants to know you and lead you through this life, and all you have to do is ask Him to? Have faith, readers, and be steady, knowing He is God. There is nothing to fear; not gossip, not bad news, not a lost job or relationship breakup. There is nothing more important than knowing how loved you are by Jesus. This world will let you down time and time again. No matter where you travel to, the world’s corruption follows; but not without the love and God following to remind you that there’s hope. Which one you heed more will determine the way you live your life, and how you explain your kindness, your niceness, and how much or how little shame you will feel based on the world’s censuring eyes or God’s loving embrace. I encourage you to pray over this and wait for God’s reply. It may come faster than you think, or in a way you don’t expect. I hope you will do this for your own sake, that you may know the Lord, His love, and His promises for you. There is no one like our God!