Getting Honest About Who We Are
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Dane OrtlundDane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers and Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Dane and his wife, Stacey, have five children.
If we hide, we don’ grow. Pastor Dane Ortlund asks us to get honest with God about who we really are by holding up our sins to the light
Getting Honest About Who We Are
Dave: You know, before we jump into our interview today, this is an important time for FamilyLife® as we come to the end of 2021. It’s the time for yearend giving. I don’t know if people understand, for a ministry like ours, yearend giving sustains us—
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: —and enables us to be able to do what we’ve done in 2021, and 2022, and beyond.
Ann: And we really want to continue to impact marriages/to impact families. We want to help you.
Dave: Yes, so you can help us; and listen to this: we have partners, who have given up to $2 million as a matching gift; so anything you give, up to $2 million, will be doubled to help this ministry continue to go.
Ann: Did you hear that? That’s like the best deal ever; I mean, that’s amazing. And as a gift to you for giving, we are going to send you Dane Ortlund’s devotional; it’s called In the Lord I Take Refuge. It’s a 150-day devotional, which is beautiful; and it’s amazing. We’ll send that to you.
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Ann: So tell me when you believe a man is really serious about truly wanting to change.
Dave: When he gives a bunch of money to church. [Laughter]
Ann: —said the pastor. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; “The last part of a man to be converted is his wallet”; no, that is a joke.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
So tell me when you believe a man is really serious about truly wanting to change.
Dave: I think men, or women, when we get real about who we are, and how desperately we need Jesus—when we realize we are at loss—completely in life and eternity without a saving Christ.
Ann: So you’re saying that’s necessary, and you are looking for that?
Dave: Yes; I mean, I’ve met with a lot of guys, who are playing games. You can just feel it when they are sitting with you, and I think [of] them not being truly honest about their sin—and I’m not saying I haven’t done it; I’ve played games as well—I’m not putting myself above anybody, but I think honesty is a part of it.
Ann: So would you say, “When we hide, we don’t grow”?
Dave: No question.
I know someone, who has thought a lot about this. Dane Ortlund is with us, back in the studio of FamilyLife Today; Dane, welcome back to FamilyLife.
Dane: Thanks, Dave and Ann. Good to talk with you.
Dave: The reason I know you’ve thought about this a lot is you have written about it; you’ve preached about it. One of the things I found very inspiring in your book—Deeper, which we are going to talk about today—Deeper is a book you’ve written about: “How does a person change spiritually?” Real Change for Real Sinners; you write about this. Man, I resonated with your thoughts on, when a man, or a woman, or a person gets honest with themselves about who they are, they really change.
Again, I know you know this: you’re a pastor at Naperville Presbyterian; you’re a father; you’re an author. You’ve got five kids, so you’re watching this in your own home. But talk about that a little bit: “What’s this whole thing called honesty got to do with spiritual growth?”
Dane: Yes, thank you, Dave. Well, actually, I would be glad to keep talking about giving money to the church. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s where we should be. [Laughter]
Ann: —said the other pastor. [Laughter]
Dane: But what you just said is so profound, and true, and right, and something that we are professionals at: evading and escaping the health-fostering discipline of taking the mask off and being honest with a fellow brother or sister. Really, all we are talking about, guys, is the horizontal-izing of the gospel.
The gospel is a vertical thing; it comes from heaven to us because of what Christ has done—okay, that’s true—I receive it, individually. “What does it look like for the gospel in a church, to turn on its side, and become a horizontal reality?” Well, it looks like
1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light,”—Dave, this is what you are talking about; walking in the light is what you mean by honesty—“But if walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
We are masters, even as believers, of self-concealment. The gospel is the only resource in the world that gives us the courage and the power to speak to another brother or sister of where we are really at in our present. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I struggled with ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ or ‘Z’; and ten years ago, I got over it.” [Laughter] But what about where I am right now? That’s where the rubber meets the road.
Ann: So Dane, you are saying, “Yes, it is important to be that, and do that before God; but we need a brother or a sister that we’re doing this with on the earth.” Let me ask you: “So are you saying, if we don’t have that with someone, we are not going to go deep; and we are not going to change and grow?”
Dane: Well, yes and no. I mean, I wouldn’t want to make this formulaic and cookie-cutter, Ann, and say that, if you aren’t doing honesty and walking in the light with another brother or sister exactly in the right way, then you are stuck and hopeless. No! That would be awful.
Dane: The Lord has a different way of working with each one of us; but when John says, in 1 John 1, “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light,”—he doesn’t say—“If some of us walk in the light…” “If those of us, who really happen to be wired in such a way that need to do this in order to grow, walk in the light...” [Laughter] It’s indiscriminate and universal: “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light…”
We know that, when we have a sin that is taking root within us, and we keep it in the dark, that is where it grows strongest. That is what hell wants us to do: “Keep it in the dark, where it festers, multiplies, proliferates, grows, gets stronger,”—the roots go down.
But when we pull it out into the light—it’s like a mushroom or something that only grows in the darkness: it comes out into the light; it withers and dies—and we have a chance to grow.
Dave: But here is my question, Dane. I mean, in some sense, we know what you are saying is true; and yet, we still hide. We still keep our sins in the dark. We are afraid to bring them into the light. Why do we do this, and how do we get out of that rhythm?
Dane: The reason we do that is we don’t really believe the gospel. Here is what I mean: we are all walking through life. We are pinging back to us an assembled sense of our worth, and value, and importance of who we are, based on what we think others think about us; that is gospel deficit. What I am doing is—I am walking around—and that well should be full, based on what God says of me in Christ—I shouldn’t need to do that [depend on what others’ think]. In other words, God has already said, “You are My adopted son, and nothing is ever going to take that away from you, not even you can sin your way out of that.”
Okay; so when we are unwilling to take a sin out of darkness and into the light, before a brother, why are we afraid to do that?—because we are afraid of losing face, because we are afraid of being embarrassed; in other words, because we are basing part of our identity on what other people think.
Ann: Oh, and we all do that.
Dane: We do it! I’m doing it; I’m going to do it tomorrow.
So what if we actually stockpiled our hearts with the Scripture in the morning?—with a full sense of who we are, as members of the family of God—such that, actually, we are invincible: we can walk through life, and we don’t need to suck on the nicotine of human approval to get little drags.[Laughter]
Ann: That’s a good visual. [Laughter]
Dane: We are totally safe and free. So that’s one thought that comes to mind, brother.
Ann: I remember this pastor—it was in our church, actually—that he was giving this sermon. He said, “Imagine that the CEO, founder of this huge, multimillion dollar company, has you come up. He says, ‘I want you to know—you, to me, are magnificent—you are a great leader. You are a great mover of people; you are the most amazing person that could ever be in this job/that I’ve ever had in this job. I want you to know this is what I believe in you. I’m always going to believe in you, and you have a spot here.’”
He said, “So you start: ‘Yes, this is who I am.’ Then you go downstairs a few floors; and these guys are like, ‘You know what? You’re horrible; you’re a bad boss’; but you’re like, ‘I could care less what you say, because the CEO thinks I’m amazing.’”
I think that is why we have to keep going back to the Father, who is speaking life to us; and if we don’t, we start listening to the people that are beside us, saying, “You really don’t have anything,” or “You don’t have what it takes.”
Dave: Yes; so the question is: “If I understand who God says I am, but I also know the reality is: I am carrying around this sin that I am hiding,”—you do such a good job talking about: “Okay, you’ve got to get that into the light,—
Dave: —“not just with God, vertically.” Talk about the horizontal piece: “How do we do this with a brother or a sister?” or “Do we do it with a couple?” “Do we do it with a whole bunch of people? Do we stand in front of the church and do it?” What should that look like?
Dane: Yes; well, nothing cookie-cutter here. Each of us is going to have a different context, and a different set of relationships, and so on, guys; but here is what I would say: “We don’t want to do it exhaustively—‘Let me tell you the 113 things that I battled yesterday,’—but redemptive-ly.” Actually, we could be very self-focused in how we are bringing sin into the light in a weird way.
So here is what I would suggest. What if—if someone is listening and saying, “I would like to take a step forward, by the grace of God, in this way, walking in the light,”—here is what I would suggest:
Take a week and pray, reflect, maybe journal a little bit; and then a week or so down the road, jot down two, or three, or four possible names of a person in your church, of the same gender, who you believe you can be safe with, a trustworthy man or woman.
Whittle that list down to one person. Then gently, cautiously, but courageously, just say, “Hey, I don’t know about you; but I am an actual sinner. Would you be comfortable if you were a safe place for me, every so often, to just talk very openly about what I am struggling with, and then would you pray for me?”
James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed,”—not—“Confess your sins to one another, and give each other pep talks or fix each other.” So when we hear someone confess a sin, it might seem blindingly obvious what they need to do to get fixed; but we don’t do that. We pray for them; okay?
“So would you simply pray for me? Could we meet once a month for six months and do this?”
Put a time stamp on it; so that if it’s not going well, you have an out. [Laughter] Then meet with that person and dare to let them know where you really are at. I would guess—this has been my experience, Dave and Ann—when you do that with someone, they feel so honored by that; they will reciprocate. Before you know it, you have a little mutual two-way walking-in-the-light party going on; and both of you are getting traction in your Christian life.
Ann: Dane, do you do that at your church? I know that we interviewed your dad, Ray Ortlund; and he actually does this at a men’s group, where he preaches the Word. He says, “We just break into twos, and guys confess to one another.” Is that something that you’ve seen or experienced?
Dane: I’ve seen that happen at my dad’s church, and we’re moving in that direction. We are first learning how to honor one another. Now, the next step is going to be how to walk in the light together. It’s scarier; so we’re taking this one step at a time, guys.
I’m learning, and I’m a toddler in this; but I do have two men in my life. One is 78; one is a peer—my age—in his 40s. They know what is really going on in my life, and I’m not interested in being a Christian without that. Once you taste it, you move from being a 2-D Christian to a 3-D Christian; can I put it that way? Everything clicks into color; you’re like, “Oh, maybe, I am a real Christian!” [Laughter] It’s actually more of an adventure; it’s a much more enjoyable way to live.
Ann: Okay, I’m going to ask you guys this question because—
Dave: Oh, no! No, no, no, no; don’t ask us. [Laughter]
Ann: —because, I mean, maybe this is over-generalizing—but at least, for me, it’s been amazing for me to do this with women. In my world, it has seemed as if most of the time, it is easier for women to do—maybe not do this—but at least, have those friendships that give you an access to one another’s lives.
I’ve talked to so many women, who will say, “My husband doesn’t have a friend. I’m his only friend”; but they long for their husband to have that relationship with other men. How, as women/as wives, do we just pray about that for our guys? Is that the best thing to do?
Dane: Well, that would be a great starting spot; we could do a lot worse than that. [Laughter]
Ann: Because we want to tell them, “You guys need to go get a friend!” and “You…”; but not sure what works.
Dane: Yes; because our wives love us, so they want to see us grow and flourish; of course, yes.
I do think you are right. There is something in the wiring in female relationships that make it somehow easier to go there, perhaps. All I know is that I stink at it, and I am a man. The men I see in my world are not great at it, and we do need to grow in it.
My wife is my best friend, but there is also a kind of conversation that I can only have with a man. My wife is my deepest best friend, but he understands in a way that she doesn’t. That’s true; my wife would acknowledge that too. And it’s true for her. For me, there are certain things she can talk to a woman about that I do not understand, though, I am her best friend.
So what if everyone of us—if we are married—we have our spouse as our best friend, and then another person of the same gender as us, who knows what’s really going on in our lives? I think you are really right in what you said, Ann.
Dave: Yes, and I think, for a lot of us men, we are afraid.
Dave: We are afraid of being exposed/being known. I mean, I can’t speak for every man; but it’s like I want to be known. But if I told you what I really struggle with—oh, my goodness—I’m afraid of what you would think, not just my wife, but even another guy. So I think we continue to hide, with the shell sort of up that we’ve got: “Yes, we struggle like everybody else; but pretty much/I’m pretty good,” and “I’m probably a little better than you.” [Laughter] Do you know what I mean?
Dane: We do that; don’t we? We like to say, “Oh, yes, I’m struggling with some things”—or “this,” or “that,”—but I’m not going to tell you the specifics. [Laughter]
You mentioned my dad earlier, guys. Something I’ve heard my dad say, once or twice, is: “We can either be known or impressive.” Someone can know me—I think you are right, Dave—we deeply desire, men and women, for someone to know. That’s why Galatians 4 says: “God,”—in the gospel—“we know Him and we are known by Him”; but horizontally, too, we want to be known; but we also really want to be impressive. I can try to put up a big front, and no one knows what’s really going on in my life, and try to impress others.
But actually, here is the wonder of it: when a brother comes up to me, and they say, “Here is what I am really struggling with…”—and they are tearful about it; they are totally red in the face; they cannot believe the mess they are making of their lives—that’s when that man is most impressive to me—that’s, actually, what is most deeply glorious. So actually, being known is the way to enjoy the glory and the respect that we long for as men.
Dave: Hey, Dane, what would you say in regards to confessing our sin to our spouse? You talked about—you have a buddy/you have a brother—you also have your best-friend wife. Is it different? Is it similar? Is there a level that is different?
Dane: Wow; I do think it is a little different, Dave. I would not want to give any married person an excuse to be dishonest with their spouse on the one hand; on the one hand, I do think we want to come back to this idea of redemptive vulnerability versus crass vulnerability; in other words, openness and honesty that is redeeming in the way that it happens.
Let’s say you’ve got two 22-year-olds. They are getting married; they will want to be redemptive-ly honest and open with each other. Do they want to spend hours, and hours, and hours airing all their dirty laundry?
Ann: That’s what we did, Dane.
Dane: Okay; well, that might be healthy.
Ann: No! No, it wasn’t.
Dave: We’re here to say it was very unhealthy.
Dane: Okay! [Laughter]
Dave: We didn’t know it at the time, but now we say the same thing you are just about to say is: “That’s not redemptive.”
Ann: Yes, keep going with that.
Dane: Yes, just to be wise—it’s a matter of wisdom—not like, “I’m just going to air everything before you”; that can actually be quite hurtful. Maybe, it scratches an itch in me, as the one confessing it; because I feel like I’m being so open and honest and something; but you are asking your spouse or your fiancé to bear an enormous weight.
What is loving is to say: “What, if I am in their shoes, what do I want to know?” That’s what we want to do.
Dave: I think, as you go back to James 5:16, talk about confess your sins to one another. In some sense, you’re like, “Wait; wait; wait. Aren’t we supposed to confess our sins to God?” Yes, but He also says “…to one another,”—again, that’s not—“Stand in front of 100 people,”—but it is a brother or sister and your spouse: “…and pray for one another that you may be healed.” I think, often, we think healing is physical; and I think there is, obviously, that sense there; but it’s deeper; isn’t it?
It’s like, “Wow; he’s talking about: ‘You want to grow in Christ?—that’s going to propel you to that kind of healing, where your soul is set free; so that now, you are not in the dark; you’re not hiding; you’re not putting on a mask. You are literally being known by Christ and by a brother or a sister. Now you’re on a path to a true healing of your soul that leads to real growth in Christ’”; am I right?
Dane: I love the way you just put that, Dave. Healing is wholeness; you are integrated—integrity—you’re one. In other words, when you are hiding and got things in the dark, where they are festering, there are two of you. At that point, there are two Danes: there is the real Dane, that I am behind the mask; and then there is the Dane that I am preening and parading around the world with.
But when I confess my sins to someone else, then the two become one. It’s much simpler and less exhausting; and you’re whole. And I agree with you, brother, the healing there is not so much physical healing; internally, you are becoming whole. Shalom is washing over you as a human being.
Dave: I tell you what: you are listening right now; and you are thinking, “I stumbled upon this,” or maybe you were intentional today to listen to FamilyLife Today. Here you are: it’s the end of 2021; 2022 is right around the corner.
You want a first step to a new life—I know there is a brother or a sister, going, “Don’t say it,” “Don’t say it,”—you need to find a brother or a sister that you can be real with, take off the mask, bring what’s in the dark now into the light with God, with a brother or sister—possibly, a little bit with your spouse—that will be the best first step to real change in 2022.
Dave: Start today.
Bob: I’m thinking, right now, about a conversation I had last night with a married couple, who are in distress. There are a lot of issues in their marriage/in their lives, just a lot that they are trying to process. I remember looking at the wife and just saying, “Who do you have that you can just go to, and be real with, and process things with? Who are you leaning on? Who is supporting you in this?” She looked back at me and said, “There is nobody.” I said, “Well, we’ve got to ask God to provide those people for you; because the burden is too heavy to bear on our own.”
That is why the Bible tells us, in Galatians 6, that we are to bear one another’s burdens. If you find yourself feeling like the load is too heavy—like change is too hard—you need help. That’s what Dane Ortlund has been talking with Dave and Ann Wilson about today. It’s at the heart of his book, Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners, a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can request your copy of Dane’s book when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order. Our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book is Deeper by Dane Ortlund. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We have been so encouraged this week to have heard from many of you, who are FamilyLife Today listeners, who have heard us talking about the matching-gift opportunity that is available to us, here, during the month of December. We are trying to take advantage of a $2.3 million matching gift. We’ve heard from many of you, who have said, “We want to help with that.” You have called or gone online; made generous donations. Your donations have been matched, dollar for dollar; and that’s been very exciting for us.
There are still funds available in the matching-gift fund. So here, today and tomorrow, we want to do everything we can to challenge you/to encourage you to get in touch with us, and to be as generous as you can be. If you look at the ministry of FamilyLife Today and say—“This is something that I believe in; I think it’s important. God has used it in my own life, my own heart; I want to see it continue and thrive in 2022,”—the need for marriages and families to be centered and anchored in God’s Word has never been greater. That’s why our need for your generosity has never been greater.
You can make your donation today online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. When you do, that donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, until we’ve exhausted the money that is in that $2.3 million matching-gift fund. We are also going to send you a copy of Dane Ortlund’s devotional book from the book of Psalms; it’s called In the Lord I Take Refuge. So you can have Dane’s wisdom and counsel guiding you for the next 150 days once you get a copy of Dane’s book. Again, give your gift online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. And please do pray for us that we’re able to take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity.
We hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about one of the most significant ways God brings about change in our lives. It’s very effective, and nobody wants Him to use it: it’s the tool of pain or adversity. We’ll talk about why it is so significant and why it is something we need to embrace. Dane Ortlund joins us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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