Be the Real You
Passage: 1 Peter 3:15, Colossians 4:2–6
Be the real you in real relationships with people who really need Jesus.
As many of you know, Katie and I grew up in Wisconsin which means when it comes to football, we are Packer fans. Over time, we have learned by firsthand experience the attitude that Bears fans have toward the Packers. We’ve watched games with others where we were the only people in the room cheering for the Packers. Everyone else hoped the Packers would lose.
While some Packer influence has seeped over the border up here, we are Packer fans living in Bears country. For the most part, TV stations prioritize airing Packer games, stores don’t prioritize carrying Packer merchandise, and people don’t like our team. Because we are Packer fans living in Bears country, we take notice of other Packer fans. When we see someone else wearing Packer stuff, we will say, “Go Packers!” to them. When Katie is wearing her winter Packer hat, people will say, “I love your hat!” We feel a connection with other Packer fans. We have something in common. There’s instant camaraderie.
I wouldn’t say that we are experiencing any sort of real hardship, but you could say that living in Illinois doesn’t make it easy to be a Packer fan. The environment is set against being a Packer fan. Illinois has suitable conditions for being Bears fans (but maybe Bears fans would say there are no suitable conditions for being a Bears fan). Now let’s imagine Katie and I went to a Bears vs Packers game at Soldier Field. In that environment, we would experience conditions set even more against the Packers and Packer fans. We would be cheering for a visiting away team that the home team really dislikes. And in that setting, it would be even more difficult to be a Packer fan.
This image of being fans of the visiting away team can help us understand what it was like to be a Christian in the first century, and not only in the 1st century but in every century. This is our third message in a sermon series laying out our growth theme and vision for this year: “inviting others to surrender all of life to Jesus.” This year, my hope and prayer is that we would go on a journey together where telling others about Jesus becomes an overflow from the joy we ourselves are experiencing in him.
Today, we are going to focus on how to be ourselves - how to be the real you. If you were a Packer fan at a Bears versus the Packers game at Soldier Field in Chicago, you might find it difficult to be yourself. That is an environment where it would be hard to be the real you: a Packer fan. Perhaps you are distracted because even the idea of being a Packer fan causes you to throw up in your mouth a little bit. So let’s flip it. If you were a Bears fan at a Bears versus Packers game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, you might find it difficult to be yourself. That is an environment where you might find it hard to be the real you: a Bears fan.
There’s a pastor named Tony Evans who says that in the United States, Christians are no longer the home team. We are the visiting away team. We no longer have home field advantage. The visiting away team isn’t supported by the city they are in. They aren't supported by the crowd. Everyone is wearing clothing to support their opponents. The crowd cheers when they fail and boos when they succeed. The crowd may even try to make it more difficult for the away team to play.
If you are a follower of Jesus in the United States, we are losing or have lost home field advantage. The environment is not for us but against us. Christian values and morals, especially around sexuality, are often seen as the enemy and the opposite of what our culture and society value and support. Many people label the Bible’s teaching as bigoted and hateful. People think that the belief that Jesus is the only way to God is too exclusive. We live in a world where our beliefs about God, humanity, and how to be in a relationship with God are seen as hateful, exclusive, mean-spirited, unfair, and harmful. Christopher Hitchens, an outspoken atheist who died several years ago, sums up what many people think about the Christian religion and church with the title of one of his books: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. This is the world we live in. Because of this, we may find it difficult to be ourselves - to be who we are. You may find it difficult to be the real you.
Think about it: when do you have the hardest time being yourself? It’s when people don’t agree with you, when what you say or do might offend someone, when you don’t know if people will accept the real you, when people aren’t on your side, when people see you as the problem. It’s hard to be yourself when the majority of the crowd doesn’t like you and is cheering against you. In short, it’s most difficult to be yourself when there is a cost to being who you are.
In all times and in all places, to be a follower Jesus requires swimming against the current of the world. You have to paddle upstream and rub against the grain. The world will always be and has always been a source of resistance and friction when it comes to following Jesus.
And yet, Jesus was very clear that we are not to let this stop us from living for him. In fact, Jesus actually commissions us as disciples to go into the world and make more disciples. Jesus commissions us to be disciples who make disciples.
The question we need to ask is: how are we supposed to do that? How are we to be disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus out of people who know nothing about Jesus, have no interest in Jesus, have already decided Jesus isn’t for them, or who are even opposed to Jesus? In other words, how do we play for team Jesus and recruit for team Jesus in a world of people who are playing for the opposite team and cheering against team Jesus?
We can answer this question about how we can be disciples who make disciples by looking at what the early Christians in the New Testament did. When we do so, we can see different ways the command to make disciples was obeyed in the New Testament. Some people were called to physically “go” to other places as missionaries and church planters, like the apostle Paul and his team. This is one way to “make disciples”. Then there were some who were called to stay where they were or who were sent somewhere to stay there and lead a local congregation as a pastor or teacher. This is another way to “make disciples”.
Then there are people who became Christians but who stayed where they were and continued their normal, everyday life. They continued their day jobs. They raised their families. They continued in relationships with friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors, and coworkers. This describes everyone in this room besides me.
So what does it look like for you to make disciples in your normal, everyday life? In the Bible, we have letters to New Testament churches, and the writers of those letters assumed that people who came in contact with those 1st century believers knew that they were followers of Jesus. People could tell that they were followers of Jesus by the way they talked, by how they conducted themselves, by what they did and by what they refused to do, by their participation in the life of their church family, by their transformed life. The believers lived differently, talked differently, and acted differently.
Because of this, people around them took notice. Imagine you switched from cheering for the Bears to cheering for the Packers. You start wearing Packer jerseys. You have a Packer hat. You stop watching the Bears games. When watching the game with others, you are cheering when the Packers do well and are booing when the Bears do well. Many people wouldn’t really care: “Who you cheer for is your business.” Some people wouldn’t like it and would ridicule you and/or pressure you to switch back, “How can you cheer for them?! You’re a traitor!” Others wouldn’t get it and would perhaps be curious, “What made you decide to switch teams?”
Some people probably didn’t care that their neighbors had become Christians: “Who you worship is your business.” Others didn’t like it, and responded with hostility, rejection, and ridicule: “What are you doing?! You are ruining our culture and way of life! You’re what’s wrong with the world.” Some people might say, “I wouldn’t do what you are doing, but I’m glad it’s working for you.” Some people might notice, “You are a different person ever since you started following that Jesus guy.” Some would ask combative questions like, “How can you worship that God?” Some would ask curious questions like, “What led you to this decision?” or “Why do you do the things you do?”
And, of course, there was everything in between. Jesus assumed people would take notice when someone started following him. The New Testament writers assumed people would take notice when someone started following Jesus. And so there are many instructions in the New Testament about how to respond in these situations. Some of the instructions were about what to do and some of the instructions were about what to say. We are going to look at two instructions.
The first one is in a letter that one of Jesus’ disciples named Peter wrote to a group of churches. Peter tells them what to do and what to say when people mistreat them for being a follower of Jesus. After telling them to bless those who do them harm, he says in 1 Peter 3:13-17:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
These believers to whom Peter is writing are being mistreated. But he says don’t fear those mistreating you. Don’t be troubled. Instead, honor Christ the Lord as holy. In other words, don’t let these people influence what you do but let Christ your King influence what you do. Remember who is on the throne. And Peter knows that some people will be combatively asking them, “Why do you put your hope in this Jesus person?” And he says in verse 15 that they are to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks them for a reason for the hope that is in them.
But then someone might also ask a question out of curiosity. If someone is mistreating you, ridiculing you, reviling you, harming you, and cursing you, but you respond to all that by blessing them, loving them, and doing good to them, that might catch their attention. If you respond to them with no fear, untroubled, and staying committed to Jesus despite everything, they may stop what they are doing and ask, “What’s going on here? You have an unwavering hope in this Jesus…why is that?”
Peter tells believers to be ready to give a reason for our hope when people ask. The apostle Paul shows us a more proactive approach. In chapter 4 verse 2 of his letter to the Colossians, Paul first asks them to pray for his gospel mission.
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4)
Paul’s prayer request here for his gospel mission is a model for what we can pray for in our own gospel mission: pray that God may open a door to declare the gospel and that we would make it clear. Next, he instructs the Colossians in their gospel mission in verses 5 to 6.
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)
In Paul’s mind, he is not the only one who will have open doors to declare the gospel. He is not the only one who needs to be prepared to talk about Jesus clearly. Paul wants the believers in the city of Colossae to live among people who don’t believe in such a way that they are making the most of every opportunity (NIV) to represent Jesus and talk about Jesus. According to Paul, we should look for opportunities to talk about Jesus, pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus, and be ready to talk about Jesus when opportunities come up.
This is a time of year where many of us are setting goals and thinking about what we want to be different about this year compared to last year. I was listening to a leadership podcast this week by a pastor named Craig Groeschel. The title was “High-Impact Habits for Successful Leaders” and in it, he said “instead of setting goals that focus on ‘what’ you want to do this year, set them around ‘who’ you want to become.” Instead of setting “do” goals, set “who” goals.
Like I said, our growth theme for this year is to grow in inviting others to surrender all of life to Jesus. I think the best way for us to pursue this growth goal is to make it a “who” goal instead of a “do” goal. So here’s the goal I have for you and for me and for all of us: Be the real you in real relationships with people who really need Jesus. Be the real you in real relationships with people who really need Jesus.
Let’s break that down. First, be the real you. Who is the real you? Who are you? The real you is a follower of Jesus. The real you is someone for whom Jesus has made a monumental difference. The real you is someone who has been blessed by Jesus. The real you is a disciple of Jesus, a child of God, a witness to what Jesus has done in your life and the lives of others. The real you is someone for whom Jesus is the most important thing in the world. You are a changed person. You are a new creation. That’s who you are.
Second, be the real you in real relationships. We don’t treat people as projects. We don’t fake caring about people or being interested in them. We aren’t in relationships with ulterior motives. This would mean you are only in the relationship to convert them or get them to church and if they aren’t interested in those things, then you end your relationship. We want to be in real relationships. A real relationship means you actually want to do things with them, you actually care about them. It means you don’t only invite them to church things.
Also, it isn’t a real relationship if you can’t be the real you. It isn’t a real relationship if you have to hide who you are when you are with them. It isn’t a real relationship if you never talk about the thing that is most important to you. It’s a real relationship if you can be the real you and if they can be the real them.
Third, be the real you in real relationships with people who really need Jesus. The reality is, everyone really needs Jesus. I was helped by a book that says we don’t love people with ulterior motives but with ultimate motives (The Art of Neighboring, 102). Ultimate motives means you are praying and hoping the person will come to know Jesus and you are praying for, looking for, and using opportunities to talk about Jesus in the context of a real relationship with them.
We aren’t really loving someone if we aren’t real with them about their spiritual condition. Let’s imagine a scenario where you have the cure for cancer and you have a friend with cancer. Every time you see your friend, it is obvious that they are sick and dying. When you talk, they tell you about all the things they are trying in order to get better. You listen well. You ask questions. You empathize. You talk about the weather, sports, work, COVID, and many other topics, but you never bring up the fact that you have the cure for cancer. You wouldn’t really be a good friend to them. It isn’t really loving them to never mention what you have to rescue them from their condition.
In the same way, we are not good or loving friends, neighbors, relatives, or coworkers if we keep quiet about what they really need. Everyone really needs Jesus, including us. The real you is someone who believes that every person’s eternity depends on their response to Jesus. And you are someone who cares about people’s eternal destination. The people in our lives are sick with sin and dying because of sin. They are spiritually starving. They are spiritually parched. They are hungering and thirsting for God even if they don’t know it and they are eating and drinking spiritual poison to satisfy their hunger and thirst because it’s the best they can find. They are dying without God. Everyone is someone who really needs Jesus.
Other people’s need for Jesus is a point of connection because it’s something you have in common. The real you is a needy, weak, broken, sinful, struggling, doubting human being. The real you is a human being with deep needs and desires that you want fulfilled. The real you is a human being who has found that Jesus is the answer. We believe in a real God who engages with us where we really are and that he makes a real difference in our lives.
Isn’t it good news that you can be the real you with God? Being the real you starts with being the real you in a real relationship with God as someone who really needs Jesus. Then that gives you the freedom to be the real you in real relationships with others as someone who really needs Jesus. Being the real you starts with being real about your need for Jesus.
Be the real you in real relationships with people who really need Jesus. The challenge is that the world doesn’t make it easy for us to play for team Jesus. Sometimes there is a cost to being the real you. Sometimes there is a cost to being a Christian, to being a follower of Jesus, to doing and saying what Jesus tells us to say and do, to valuing what God values and prioritizing what God prioritizes. It’s most difficult to be yourself when there is a cost to being who you are. Sometimes that cost is real and sometimes we are so afraid of finding out if there is a cost that we never put ourselves out there to see how the person will respond.
There’s a term in the counseling profession called “differentiation”. Differentiation is “the ability to remain connected in relationship to significant people in our lives and yet not have our reactions and behavior determined by them” (Resilient Ministry, 123). You have your own beliefs, goals, and values which you don’t compromise because of the people with whom you are connected.
The way to be differentiated is to have a solid sense of self that doesn’t come from other people. If we don’t have a solid sense of self, we will do one of two things: 1) we will look to other people to tell us who we are and what we are supposed to do or 2) we will disconnect ourselves from those who aren’t like us and only hang around with people like us. Both of those options are the opposite of what we see Jesus do and what we have seen in 1 Peter and Colossians. Instead, we are instructed to continue being connected to people while at the same time continue being ourselves.
Make this a year about being the real you in real relationships with people who really need Jesus. Jesus was known as a friend of sinners (Matt 11:19, Lk 7:34): he hung out with them, ate with them, talked with them, went to their parties, they felt comfortable with him. And Jesus always acted like himself: the Son of God, the Messiah. And Jesus was clear about what he wanted them to do: repent and believe the good news. They knew what he was about.
Perhaps you think that telling others about Jesus requires boldness and you are right. But the word “boldness” in the New Testament is not so much about getting in people’s faces. It’s more about coming out and saying things freely. There is a lack of fear. The word could be translated as “plain speech, candor, or freedom”. There is a genuineness to it. I think another way to think of it is: be the real you.
If you do a google search about cheering for the visiting away team, you will find people who give instructions about the etiquette for fans of the visiting away team. They talk about being respectful. Not being rude or arrogant. You can be the real you, just don’t be a jerk about it. Interestingly, our passages from today give a similar attitude when talking to people about Jesus: gentleness, respect, wisdom, graciousness. People may not like that we are playing for team Jesus and cheering for team Jesus. But we can be all-in for team Jesus in a way that is gentle, respectful, wise, and gracious so that people are only offended by Jesus and not by the way we play for him.
I want to give you two actions to think about for this week. The first one actually was taught to me by my lovely and wise wife. When you tell stories about your day or your week or your life, do you tell the story differently to a believer in comparison to someone who isn’t a believer? Do you tell the story differently with people who aren’t Christians? Tell the story the same way you would tell it to a Christian. Second, when people ask “how are you” or “how was your weekend”, consider what answer would show them the real you.
Be the real you. See who wants more. Leave the results to God. Be who you are and see who responds. Be who you are and see who wants more. Be who you are and see who is curious. See who is attracted and see who is repelled.