Note: This post is part of a series about building a personal relationship with God by reading the parables of Jesus. You can browse the entire series here.
How easy or hard is it for you to be honest about who you really are?
I have spent a lot of time in my life pretending to be someone I’m not. I grew up religious and thought I had to act right to please God and other people around me. I was really afraid of the rejection I thought I would experience if I chose to be honest, so I hid everything that made me feel guilty or didn’t make me look good.
Unfortunately, hiding my real self not only led to a lot of distance in my relationships with people, but also stopped me from getting the help I needed to change. I felt stuck in certain patterns and enslaved to my sins, despite my efforts to change. I became more lonely and uninterested in having a relationship with God.
One of the most freeing things in my life has been learning that God wants the real me. Jesus tells a great story about this in Matthew 21 called the Parable of the Two Sons. Through showing us how two different sons interacted with their father (who represents God), Jesus teaches us that God wants us to be honest, and when we are, positive changes will come about in our lives.
If we only see God as someone who wants us to perform perfectly or act right, we won’t be inspired to pursue a relationship with him. God wants honesty and closeness; he doesn’t just want to hear the right answers.
The more honest we are, the more personal God becomes. Let’s take a look at some of the key spiritual lessons we can learn from this parable and bring in to our own relationship with God.
Honesty brings closeness
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.Matthew 21:28-29 NIV
The first son was honest and a little bit rebellious. Have you ever been asked to do something good, but you didn’t feel like doing it? That’s where this guy was at. Instead of trying to hide what he really thought, he told his dad directly.
I’m sure his dad wasn’t happy with the answer, but at least his dad knew where his son stood. As a result, their relationship was real. There was no lie or hiddenness between them that could create distance in the relationship.
The son clearly thought about what his dad told him to do. After some thought, he changed his mind, obeyed, and went to work.
What can we learn from this? When we are honest, we don’t have to spend our energy covering up a lie or being insecure about what others think, because the truth is out in the open.
This honesty provides an opportunity for real reflection because we can see clearly who we really are. With our minds uncluttered by deceit, there is the space to tell ourselves the truth and change when we need to.
Throughout high school and college, I lied to my parents about most of my life. I wanted my parents’ approval so badly that I lived a double life to get it. I only let them see the good side of me. I hid my sinful side and rarely disagreed with them outwardly. This led to a lot of distance between us. Although I was physically around them a lot, I was not close to them.
Finally, in my senior year of college, I told my parents everything I had hidden from them. Though they were shocked and not very happy about the double life I had lived, we finally had a real relationship and I felt closer to them than I ever had.
After that I was able to change the sins I had been hiding for years, because I was no longer concerned with how I looked and there was nothing hidden that cluttered my mind. Honesty was freeing, and it gave me the space to change.
Pause and reflect:
- How do you feel about being real with God and others, especially if that honesty might not paint you in a flattering light? Why?
Hiding brings only temporary relief
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.Matthew 21:30 NIV
The second son in the story wanted to look good to his father instead of answering honestly. It’s clear he wasn’t honest, because he didn’t go to work like he said he would. Maybe he was afraid of what his father would think of him if he were honest.
Maybe he thought he could get away with it without his father finding out. Whether his dad found out or not doesn’t matter. Lying to someone causes distance and damage in our relationship with them, whether they know about it or not.
Lying or hiding the truth may help us avoid some momentary pain or conflict, but it never brings closeness in a relationship. Closeness doesn’t come from compliance, but from being honest. Also, when we are fake we miss the opportunity to change. We can’t change what we won’t first admit.
Throughout my life and especially as a teenager I was afraid of what people thought of me, so I lied. If I felt afraid, I would pretend to be confident. If I wanted to be selfish, I would pretend to be loving. If I felt angry and bitter, I would pretend I wasn’t. If I felt guilty, I would pretend I wasn’t.
This led to a lot of distance in my relationships. I was always trying to look right or perfect instead of being honest and close. And though I wanted to be courageous, confident, and loving, I couldn’t change to become those things, because I wouldn’t first admit when I was afraid, insecure, angry, bitter and selfish. I couldn’t change what I wouldn’t first admit.
What inspires me about God is that he doesn’t want us to just say the right thing and disregard what we really feel, even if those real feelings are rebellious. God is interested in who we really are, and he wants to help us change the things we don’t have the power to change on our own. Hiding doesn’t give us that power, but honesty does.
Pause and reflect:
- What are some truths you don’t like seeing about yourself, but you know you need to change?
Honesty brings the changes we desire
“Which of the two sons obeyed his father?” The Jewish leaders answered, “The first son.” Jesus said to them, “The truth is, you are worse than the tax collectors and the prostitutes. In fact, they will enter God’s kingdom before you enter. John came showing you the right way to live, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and prostitutes believed John. You saw that happening, but you would not change. You still refused to believe him.Matthew 21:31-32 ERV
Real change comes not from looking perfect or saying the right things, but from the actions we take. Jesus told the religious leaders that they were worse than those with obvious sins—the tax collectors and prostitutes—because the religious leaders hid their sins and didn’t believe they needed to change.
The tax collectors’ and prostitutes’ sins were in the open, so they were able to clearly see that they needed to change. When they heard John the Baptist, who came before Jesus, they listened to him and believed what he said about God’s way to live. In the same way, we can believe God’s Word and obey him by being honest and seeing our need to change.
The two biggest hindrances to change are lying to ourselves and lying to others about what we need to change. After admitting the truth to ourselves, to God and to those around us we can see clearly that we need to change.
No one helps us change more than God and nothing helps us change more than the Bible. The Bible teaches us how to live, guiding us to change our sins and to live in a more inspiring way–God’s way. When we obey God by applying the Bible to our lives, our relationship with God gets closer and we become who we are meant to be. Also, God puts people in our lives, like John, to help us change by pointing us to God.
Throwing off fakeness and embracing honesty gave me the space to change, but it was obeying the Bible that led to real change in my life. I had spent so much time living life my way and pretending I was good even when I wasn’t, so I needed help to change. God placed some great friends around me who were honest with me and pointed me to the Bible.
God taught me how to be honest, how to forgive, and how to love. It was simple: I would find a verse of the Bible to obey, ask God for the courage to obey it, and then do what it said. Realizing that the Bible could give me the power to overcome the things I couldn’t overcome on my own was freeing and life-changing.
Pause and reflect:
- What are some things you would like help to change?
- After sharing these things with God and a few friends, find verses of the Bible you can obey to start to change.
God wants us to be real, so there is no need to pretend. Honesty gives us the space to change, and it allows people to be close to us and to help us change by pointing us to God.
- Who has God put in your life to learn from?
- What do you need to be honest about to create the space to change?
- How will you apply the Bible to your life to begin changing today?