Candor is an attribute that is not highly valued. Someone who speaks candidly is often brash, too revealing, or forward. We don’t like being invited to show some candor. For many, the fear of exposing who they really are is entirely crippling. At other times, candor can be healthy. Business meetings often require candor, or in sensitive conversations candor must be shown. Often, candor is a refreshing quality in relationships when we are so often surrounded by people tirelessly working to keep up their façade.
The evangelical environment is rarely known for its candor. Quite the opposite is actually true, we are often known for our lack of candor. This lack of candor is revealed in the secrecy of financial decisions, in how seldom leaders admit mistake or failure, and particularly in legalism and judgmentalism. There are stories upon stories of high profile Christian leaders covering up their sin, and asking other leaders to help. Many Christians attend churches where candor about your sin is a threat to your status or position. Many churches are full of sinners trying to fool all of the other sinners in the room that they aren’t actually sinners. Personally, I think many churches could use a large dose candor.
As we examine the gospels we find a much different approach to candor. I’ve been particularly fascinated with how the disciples who wrote portions of the New Testament candidly faced and recounted their own flaws.
MATTHEW THE TAX COLLECTOR
The first gospel that is in the New Testament is attributed to Matthew. Anytime that Matthew refers to himself he adds some sort of information about his previous employment – tax collector. In Matthew 9, when Jesus calls him, Matthew is sitting behind the tax booth. Tax collectors were notorious thieves, and the Jewish tax collectors were particularly hated because they would prey on and profit off of their own people, for the benefit and authority of the Roman government. Being a tax collector was not a point of pride. In the verses following Matthew 9, people are appalled that Jesus would spend time with “tax collectors and sinners.” Matthew is penning this entire story and has the opportunity to edit out his previous employment, but instead Matthew highlights it. He emphasizes that he previously was part of this sickening class of tax collectors. Candor.
PETER THE DEVIL
There is another scene in the gospel of Mark that is equally candid. Peter is dictating the gospel to John Mark who is writing it all down. In chapter 8, Peter has a big moment with Jesus. Jesus asks the disciples who people think that he is, and Peter responds “you are the Christ.” For the first time, there is a recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. However, moments later Jesus is explaining to the disciples that he has to die and be raised again. Peter immediately pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him, to which Jesus responds, “get behind me, satan.” Ultimately, the point is that it is utterly diabolical to try to divert Jesus from the cross. Again, if I were Peter dictating this story, it would be so tempting to try to polish over this, and at least make it sound a little better, if not exclude it completely. Candor.
Both of these stories have candor in common. There is candor for one deeply profound reason – neither of these men’s identity was tied to who they were, rather it was tied to who they are in Christ. Because of what Christ accomplished, they were free to show candor. In Christ, there was no repercussion or consequence to their candor, their past had already been dealt with. Christ was already punished for every past, present, and future sin, freeing the authors of the New Testament to freely discuss their sin and even label themselves sinner.
Christ frees us to show candor. In Christ, our past is not a point of shame, but merely an anecdote revealing just how great God’s grace is. As we grow in understanding the foundation of the Christian life – the gospel – candor should become the norm, not the exception. The Christian community should be able to freely talk about who they once were, recognizing that the gospel has entirely re-formed their identity. As a matter of fact, the presence of shame or fear is often a sign that we haven’t truly understood the gospel.
We should show candor with our present as well. Christ’s sacrifice frees us to shamelessly face our present sin. Christ’s nails didn’t just atone for all of the sins we committed up to the point of faith, it paid for all sins – past, present, and future. As recipients of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we can freely expose our failures because we are under the banner of Christ’s victory.
This is what makes the gospel good news. After Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, their first reaction was the opposite of candor – hiding. In Christ, we no longer have to hide or defend ourselves. We can lay down our lawyers briefcase, because the judge has delivered the crimson-stained verdict – innocent…justified…free.
When we know this, candor is possible.