A little over a year ago, the title of this post wouldn’t have packed quite the punch that it does now. Over the past several months, debates, discussions, and arguments over the topic of masks have become commonplace.
- Do they work?
- Do they not work?
- Should you wear one?
- Should you wear two?
- Should you respectfully disobey a government mask mandate?
I’m not here to answer any of those questions (Hallelujah!). The masks I want to discuss today were in vogue long before the terms “coronavirus,” “social distancing,” or “contact tracing” ever hit our radar. Whether you’re in favor of face coverings or not, we all tend to wear masks to church.
Which one do you wear?
The Mask of Sinless Perfection
You’re in the car on the way to church, having one of those conversations with your husband. You both say some things that you’ll need to ask forgiveness for later. You pull into the parking lot, still seething, but you open the door and instantly flip a switch. The tiff you were having just a few minutes earlier is a distant memory. You’re now all smiles and hugs. Tell me you’ve been there. Tell me I’m not the only one who wears a mask of sinless perfection to church.
Why is it so easy to pull the 180 from giving our spouse the cold shoulder to warmly greeting the usher at the door? Perhaps you rationalize that the usher has done nothing to deserve your anger. That’s true. However, it’s also possible that we switch gears so easily because we don’t want anyone to know that an argument had been raging just a few minutes earlier. Thus, you put on the mask of sinless perfection, trying to create the illusion that problems are for other people. Rough patches in marriage are for other couples. You and your marriage are just fine.
We wear this mask as a guard. If we admit that we’re struggling with a sin (be it marital or otherwise), we might have to take off other masks as well. We might have to admit that we’re not as strong a Christian as people always thought. And that’s terrifying.
But there’s hope.
The Mask of Joy
Another mask that we’re tempted to wear in front of our brothers and sisters is the mask of joy. In this case, I don’t mean true, biblical joy not derived from earthly circumstances. I mean true joy’s imposter cousin—a fake smile and tired spiritual platitudes. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a season of suffering or spiritual drought recently; and it’s left you feeling drained and joyless. However, you know that’s not how “good” Christians are supposed to struggle, so you put on your mask and start singing “Amazing Grace” with a smile.
Perhaps you’ve been taught that there’s no room for depression or despair or even dryness in a Christian’s life, so in order to avoid the appearance of being a “bad Christian,” you wear a mask instead. Or maybe you’re afraid that no one else understands what you’re going through or could possibly help you. So, rather than be disappointed in your quest for help, you decide to “fake it till you make it.” I’ve been there. It’s not a great way to go.
But there’s hope.
The Mask of Strength
Sleepless nights with a newborn baby. Caregiving for an elderly relative. Chronic illness and fatigue. A prodigal child who persists in sinful choices. These burdens, whether they last a few weeks, several months or years, or even a lifetime, can weigh us down. While God’s strength is made perfect in your weakness, and His grace is always sufficient for your need (2 Cor. 12:9–10), sometimes the burden can leave you cleaving to the dust, bereft of strength (Psalm 119:25). However, when the church doors open, you put on your mask of strength, smiling and deflecting your way through the lobby to make it to your seat where people will leave you alone.
None of us like to be weak. I know I certainly don’t. I’d much rather be the strong one in a relationship, giving advice to a struggling friend than to find the uncomfortable shoe on the other foot. This comes from our desire to be like God, the omnipotent ruler of the universe. This desire goes back to our first mother, Eve, who cracked under the serpent’s pressure after he told her that eating the fruit would make her like God (Gen. 3:5–6). But I’m not God. He is strong, and I am weak. When I put on my mask of strength, I might just be able to fool other people into thinking that I’m strong. For a while. However, that illusion can’t last.
But there’s hope.
The Mask of Contentment
The continual discontent of my heart astounds me. Just when I think I know exactly what I want—and get it—I need something else. Advertisers bank on this. “Last year’s smartphone? Forget it. You need the new model!” “A 2019 vehicle? You’ve got to be kidding! Do you know how many new features you’re missing out on? Trade in that old hunk of junk and upgrade today!” But we don’t do this only with consumer products, do we?
We’re prone to discontentment in our relationships: longing to be married, longing for deeper intimacy, more date nights, or more in-depth conversations. In our homes: a new vacuum, new carpet, a living room remodel, a bigger house, more land, a summer home. With our bodies: weight loss, anti-aging serums, the next great vitamin, etc. Without the Holy Spirit, discontent is the default setting of our grasping hearts.
Except on Sunday.
On Sunday, you walk into church, put on the mask of contentment and try to ignore the idols lurking in your heart. You’ll know them by your reaction to those with whom you interact. You respond (internally, of course) with anger to the person who’s successfully lost ten pounds (which happens to be the exact amount you wrote down for yourself on January 1!). You roll your eyes at the praise of the mother who was able to move into a bigger house for her growing family. Your mask, however, doesn’t divulge your secrets. You dutifully hug your thinner friend and smile at the new homeowner. While your mask may not give you away, your heart soon will.
But there’s hope.
Free to Unmask Because of Our Robe
At the root of each of these masks is the same heart problem: the fear of man. Or, to put it another way, my problem is that I love myself and the approval of other people more than I love God. The first step in taking off my mask is to gaze at God. Instead of being in awe of other people, I need to be in awe of the transcendent Lord of the universe. I need to quake at His holiness and marvel at His sovereignty. I need to worship at His throne and wonder at the depth of His mercy and the breadth of His steadfast love.
Then, I must remember the gospel. As I try to impress people at church with my “mask,” I’m trying to don righteousness derived from myself. But in the gospel, I’ve been given the very righteousness of Christ Himself! If Christ is your Savior, you are united with Him.
This wondrous truth means that His sinless perfection is your sinless perfection.
His joy is your joy.
His strength is your strength.
His perfect contentment is your perfect contentment.
When God the Father looks at you, He doesn’t see some flimsy mask that couldn’t fool a five-year-old. He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son, in whom He is well pleased.
If you’re ready to take off your mask, let me suggest a couple of next steps. First, meditate on and/or memorize these passages.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20 CSB)
He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21 CSB)
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3 CSB)
His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered 'neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.
Gaze at God. Marvel at the Gospel. And take off your mask.