Who You Are When No One Is Looking

Unpacking is the worst part of vacation. No matter whether you’ve had a great time or you’ve really been able to relax, there’s still dirty laundry in your suitcase! Does anyone really like dirty laundry? The smelly socks, the sweaty shirts, and the dank damp towels can be disgusting. 

Introspection is like unpacking your heart. Taking a look into our hearts is something we avoid even more than dirty laundry. Because when we look into our hearts we are forced to confront the reality that we aren’t always who we portray ourselves to be. Plato said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When we unpack our hearts we must contemplate questions like: Why do I react this way in these situations? Why does my brain shift to those thoughts? Why am I making these judgments about people around me? How can any person live in this world and not, even in the least bit, become tainted by it? 

How do we close the gap between who we say we are, who we portray ourselves to be, and who we really are? How do we align our values with our inner thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors? You see, each of us has distinctive mental and moral characteristics that make up who we are. These characteristics can only be challenged and changed through discipline and personal commitment. 

In the Church we call this discipline and personal commitment discipleship. Jesus teaches that, “A good person brings good things out of the good stored in their heart, and an evil person brings forth the evil that is stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). We make a mistake when we think that Christ-likeness begins with our lips and moves its way inward to the inner recesses of our hearts. Christ-likeness grows from the filling of our hearts with heavenly things! 

Our hearts should be moving closer and closer to the likeness of Christ as we scoop out the muck and mire that used to reside there. I’ve become increasingly concerned about the ways we leave the door open for impure things to make their way into our lives. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” 

The door to our hearts is through our eyes, our ears, and through our skin. What we see, what we hear, and what we touch does matter! What am I listening to that is leaving the door open for evil to creep back into my life? What am I seeing with my eyes that paints the picture of immorality on my heart? What am I touching with my hands that is hindering my progress in Christ? Each person reading this has in some way been enculturated by the world. The philosophies, agendas, attitudes, and behavior that the world welcomes runs counter to the agenda of God’s Kingdom which is set forth in the Gospels. 

We are in a continual battle against the desires of our flesh. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” We can’t just “do” whatever we want. We must, then, be concerned about building Christ-like character. John Wooden was known to have said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” 

We are in a battle. There is a conflict. One side will win and the other side will lose. This conflict is a day-to-day struggle with the person we do not want to be. This battle is a day-to-day embrace of the person we would like to become. One of the passages of scripture that seems to help me in this struggle is II Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish every argument and pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every though and make it obedient unto Christ.” Destroying every argument and pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and taking captive every thought and making it become obedient to Christ is the only way for us to be who we say we are!!! 

Bill Hybels is the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. At one time they boasted 24,000 in attendance across several campuses. I’ve been to Willow Creek several times for Church Leadership Conferences and have personally met Bill. From my perspective, Bill seems about as genuine as they come. I looked up to Bill. He is both a great orator and a role-model. One of my favorite books that Bill has written is Who You Are When No One Is Looking, which was first published in 1987 and then expanded and republished in 2010. In the book Bill says, “Character is what we do when no one is looking. It is not the same as reputation—what other people think of us. It is not the same as success or achievement. Character is not what we have done, but rather who we are.” 

In 2018, Bill was accused of making unwanted sexual comments and advances toward women he worked around or associated with. On February 28, 2019, an independent advisory group concluded that the “collective testimony” of “allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions” by the now retired megachurch pastor proved reliable and would have been sufficient reason for the church to discipline Hybels if he had not retired. 

I still look up to Bill and respect him for the time during which he committed his heart and life to the things of God. I do not like the behavior he has displayed toward the women he worked with and those in his congregation, but I know that this could be me or that this could be you. We may not be struggling with lust, but there’s always one of its ugly friends lurking at our door (greed, pride, envy, gluttony, wrath, or sloth). We are all one decision away from being a different person than we claim to be. We are all one choice away from letting evil triumph over us. My prayer is that we will cling to the cross of Jesus Christ and our love for Him; for when we do, Satan can’t get a word in edgewise!!

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