“Words create worlds.”
I’m certainly not the first person that’s ever said that, but I am learning it to be true in many areas of life right now. Whether at home, work, or church, I’m finding over and over again that because the tongue is the window to the heart, it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. And then say that thing over and over again, because you become what you celebrate. One of the strongest ways to create a culture in any environment is through the language that you use.
But here’s the problem. We’ve seen over and over again that using a term, even when it’s a good and right term, especially when it’s not explained, causes an effect of dilution. The words, which once upon a time had great meaning and significance, eventually become a sort of catchphrase that now means something very different than the original intent, or, even worse, means nothing at all. Think about it:
These are good words. Right words. Powerful words. But for many of us, including me, they’ve lost their punch because they’ve become so ingrained in my vocabulary that I rarely stop and consider their true and full implications: “I’m saved. But saved from what? Saved to what? Was I in danger? How much danger? Who saved me, and at what cost?”
Something great is lost when words of value become catchphrases of a culture.
Such is the case, I think, with another word that got its 15 minutes of fame some years ago. That word is transparency. Or maybe you’ve met its cousin, authenticity. Or “being real.” The word rose to prominence as we were all talking about community, and having community, and being community, and in that community one of the keys was to be real. To not act like we have it all together. To not answer “Fine” when someone asks you how you’re doing. To admit and confess sin in the context of brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s a good idea. It’s a biblical idea. It’s an honest idea. But, as happens with words when they get popular, it has become diluted. The dilution in this case was a morphing of seeing transparency as a means to seeing transparency as an end. Here’s how James saw transparency in that way:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” —James 5:16
This verse is transparency at its best. It’s a picture of someone who, convinced of the limitless grace and promised forgiveness of Jesus, confesses their sin. They lay themselves open and bare before others, not expecting shame or guilt, but instead expecting healing. It’s a crucial step on the road to holiness, but that’s just the thing—it’s one step on the road. It’s not an end in itself.
We have been right to value transparency, but in so valuing it, we have come to measure the depth of our relationships and our groups by how real we are. So there might be confession, over and over again, but nothing more. Just a bunch of people sitting around “being real.” Our transparency has become like a two-day-old open can of soda—diluted down so that it’s worth not much more than being spit out when it’s drunk accidentally.
We confess to one another not so that we can be real with one another; we confess to one another because we have a desire to be made holy. To be healed. To stop sinning. And we are responsible and even blessed for aiding one another on that journey. James continues on to say:
My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” —James 5:19-20
Let’s be transparent. Let’s be real. Let’s be authentic. But let’s not stop there. Let’s remind each other of the good news of the gospel, that Jesus not only has secured our forgiveness but has also chosen us for holiness, and let’s move each other along that road. Let’s keep going together and not camp out in the ditch before we get to the destination.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua (10), Andi (7), and Christian (5). He serves as Director of Groups Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. As a communicator, Michael speaks across the country at churches, conferences, and retreats and is the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.