Surface Issues

  • Nathan Schneider
Peeling paint

Our house is being painted this week. This is big news for us, because it’s a long time coming.

When we moved into our house four years ago, it was already apparent that the exterior was in desperate need of new paint. The southern and western walls were overtaken with cracked and peeling paint from years of baking in the hot sun. The cracks had were severe enough that in numerous spots the paint had completely worn away revealing bare wood underneath. It was also apparent that the previous owners had done a sub-par job preparing the surface. Faced with a similar issue, they had simply painted over the old cracked paint, creating a ultra-thick problem that worsened and worsened as the years went by.

To be honest, the paint worried me. Every time I’d go out into the back yard to grill some food or play with my boys, I’d see the paint and wonder about what might be happening to the wood underneath. I knew we needed to get this dealt with, but we needed to save up the money to do it.

That day finally came three days ago when a team of efficient workers came to our house, unloaded their gear, taped up the entire house like it was a biohazard zone, and began the process of transforming the house into something new.

Now, there’s two things that surprised me in this process. On the one hand, these painters have spent hours scraping and sanding the paint off the two walls. In fact, they are entering day three of this process and they’re still not done. It’s arduous work, and I don’t envy them in the slightest. But I know that when they’re finished, the new coat of paint will do it’s job. It will cover the wood and protect it from the elements.

On the other hand, the northern and eastern walls required very little prep work. By the end of the first day, these walls were done, and we got a preview of what the house would look like when it was completed. The transformation was powerful. In a matter of hours, the house looked completely different. It looked new again. Colors popped, the trim gleamed. It was a new house!

That transformation and the process that led up to it seemed to me an apt illustration of a very important spiritual issue.

Spiritual transformation doesn’t come easy. To grow in Christ through sanctification is a grueling battle that takes every ounce of strength. But it can be counterfeited in order to create the illusion of spirituality and righteousness. What does that look like? Well, like our house’s previous owners, all you need to do is cover up the real problem. There’s nothing like a good coat of paint to mask a deeper issue.

Jesus talked about this very issue as he addressed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They were the supreme spiritual leaders of the nation, and they established themselves as the paragon of virtue and righteousness. But it was all a facade that masked the wickedness in their hearts. They were very good at dealing with the surface, but completely unwilling to address the issues at their core.

In Matthew 23, fed up with the gross hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Jesus spoke a scathing rebuke against them:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28)

The Pharisees were masters at looking good. Their rituals and protocols had distinct spirituality to them. Like a nice coat of fresh paint, it covered over the real issues. The reason they wanted to kill Jesus was because he exposed those issues and revealed to everyone how empty their spirituality really was.

It’s easy to look righteous on the outside. The world has come up with countless ways to promote outward spirituality. Paul addressed these kinds of issues when he wrote to the Colossians:

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)

Did you catch that? Legalism and outward spirituality appear as wise and righteous because they come steeped in all the trappings of religion. But they are completely powerless against the real problem.

You want to really grow spiritually? You want to have transformation that is beyond surface-deep? Deal with the heart. Deal with the inner person. It’s out of the heart that we think, speak, and act. And outward religion doesn’t deal at all with the heart.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

If you’re struggling with something in your spiritual life, before you say, “I’m going to do this to change…”, stop for a minute and ask yourself these questions: What are my goals, expectations, or intentions? What do I become anxious over or fearful over? What makes me happy? What motivates me? What would I like, possibly more than anything? In what situation do I respond in anger? What perceived right(s) has been denied? What biblical standard or principle permits that thought, word, or action?

That’s one of the most important steps you can take in moving toward true spiritual transformation. These level of questions take you beyond the surface to the heart. When you’re investigating the heart, you’re exposing who you really are, and your entering into the arena where the Holy Spirit works.

Dealing with sin takes hard work. There’s no easy path to spirituality. All that old paint has to be scraped away before you can lay down the new stuff. Anything less than that is simply covering up the real problem. But guess what? God is with you in that process. And by His Holy Spirit, you can experience true spiritual change through His power made manifest in His Word.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
– Galatians 5:16