Just like everyone seems to value patience, kindness, and forgiveness, so we all value sincerity in theory. No one says, “Hypocrisy is a great character quality,” or, “I aim to be as disingenuous as possible,” or, “Please, just be two-faced with me.” But like patience, kindness, and forgiveness, sincerity is far easier to affirm than to practice.
Each new day confronts us with numerous temptations to be insincere. In fact, it’s likely that we’re more insincere than we realize, since insincerity is a pervasive cultural practice. It’s woven into our rituals of social courtesy. Greeting: “Hey! How’s it going?” Expected response: “Great!” Christian subcultures also have insincere courtesies: “I’m so sorry to hear that. I’ll be praying for you.”
“We are confronted with numerous temptations every day to be insincere.”
But it goes far deeper and serious than superficial courtesies. Society places high value on success, wealth, power, and fame (or “popularity” at lower levels). Remarkable achievement, or the appearance of it, in one or more of these value categories earns social admiration, which our sinful pride craves. This powerful craving begins to shape our thoughts and behaviors early in life, and we develop habits of insincerity that manipulate others’ perceptions of our achievements in these value categories in order to gain social admiration. These habits can become so ingrained that we are only dimly aware of or sometimes even blind to them.
But God is not blind to them. He knows how they obscure his glory, steal our joy, and hinder our progress in holiness. And he desires that we have lives of “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). So he wants us to lay aside the cumbersome, closely clinging sin-weight of insincerity so we can run with endurance our long-distance race of faith (Hebrews 12:1).
The word sincere has a helpful history:
Our English word sincere comes from two Latin words: sine (without) and cera (wax). In the ancient world, dishonest merchants would use wax to hide defects, such as cracks, in their pottery so that they could sell their merchandise at a higher price. More reputable merchants would hang a sign over their pottery — sine cera (without wax) — to inform customers that their merchandise was genuine. (Taking Hold of God, 69–70).
So “sincere” has its origin in marketing. As long as trade has existed, mendacious merchants have employed misleading marketing to make money.
“Insincerity obscures his glory, steals our joy, and hinders our progress in holiness.”
And it’s easy to see how this idea transferred to “personal branding.” I myself am a clay jar (2 Corinthians 4:7). I am a clay jar that is quite flawed. And my sin nature is a mendacious marketing merchant. It does not want you or anyone else to see my defects. It wants to hide the defects behind a deceptive wax. It wants to sell you a better version of me than is real.
Multiply me by some seven billion and you get one global mess of misleading marketing. The serpent gave Eve the “wax treatment” in the garden (2 Corinthians 11:3) and we’ve been “waxing our wares” for each other ever since.
Nothing Left to Hide
But the gospel is the end of our perceived need to mislead. Jesus came to transform selfish self-sellers like us into sincere lovers of others (1 Peter 1:22). He came to cleanse us dishonorable jars and transform us into honorable jars (2 Timothy 2:20–21). On the cross, as Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), all our wax was removed, and our sin was revealed for what it really is: death and destruction. And then he took these sins away (1 John 3:5).
This means that Christians have nothing left to hide.
Perhaps your heart objects to this claim. It does not want its ugly cracks and defects exposed. It wants to be bought with the currency of others’ esteem. It does not want to be rejected. Perhaps it does not feel safe being viewed by the judgmental eyes of others.
I understand. But that is pride and fear speaking. What you need to listen to is God speaking, and here is what he says:
- All your sins and defects are “naked and exposed” before my eyes (Hebrews 4:13), but because of Jesus, you are now “holy and blameless and above reproach” before me (Colossians 1:22).
- Everyone who believes in me will not be put to shame (Romans 10:11); and if I am for you, who can be against you (Romans 9:31)?
- Therefore, do not live as a people-pleaser. Do not do eye-service work, but as a servant of Christ, do the my will from a sincere heart (Ephesians 6:5–7).
- You cannot love others and be insincere at the same time. Aim to live a life of “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
- Only disorder and evil will result from jealousy and selfish-ambition, but peace will result from those who are “gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
- So remove the self-promoting leaven that not only infects the bread of your life but others around you as well, and live in the unleavened holiness of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6–8).
Put your trust in what God says, not what your pride and fear say. Pride and fear will shackle you with weights, but God’s promises, if believed, will liberate you.
Reveal Jesus’s Glory and Run Free
We have another even deeper reason to stop waxing our jars to impress others.
The jars of our selves, however poor our self-assessment, however socially devalued we fear we will become if our defects are exposed, are not about us. We are not our own; we belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Life is Christ and about Christ (Philippians 1:21; 2:9–11).
“The gospel is the end of our perceived need to mislead.”
And no one more is more impressive than Jesus. He’s the one we want everyone else to see. The glory of his grace is more clearly seen through our sins that he has paid for and forgiven, and the glory of his power is more clearly seen in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). When we wax our jars, we are doing far more than concealing our defects; we are concealing Jesus’s glory.
So let’s resolve to live and love without wax. Let us not listen to our marketing-merchant sin nature, but instead be as real and genuine as possible so that the glory of Jesus will be most clearly seen in us, others will be most loved by us, and we will run with greater freedom and endurance. It is a wonderful, triple gospel incentive to lay aside the weight of insincerity.