A Perspective on Grace
Q: Is wearing female undergarments under your male clothing a sin?
I think it is a matter of degrees. We live our lives the best we can with what God has given us. If a pair of panties gets you through the day, then maybe that is better than being in a perpetual funk or yelling at everyone because of your ongoing emotional frustration. We are quick to take a pill in order to relieve stress or depression without any thought of it being sinful. You could look at CDing (cross-dressing) as a way to relieve stress and as a sort of therapy. But the question remains: “Is it a sin?”
I think it can be. However, it is really a question of our motives. A “clear conscious” could be a gauge, but I’m not sure how “clear” you would need your conscience to be in order to validate or normalize the action of cross-dressing.
My pastor once asked if a person who cross dresses is making an “uneasy truce with the devil.” He was wondering if a person who stopped struggling was giving up the “fight for holiness” and settling instead for second best. Wasn’t God big enough to cure all or struggles? I understand his concern, but I think that question has some serious flaws in its assumptions. One assumption is that a Christian life is a functionally sin-free one. Another misconception is that sin is somehow “tacked onto” our being and therefore not part of our nature. A third assumption would be that God’s chief purpose is to clean us up so that we may be presentable to Him.
Although there is some truth in all these assumptions, but because of our limited human experience and understanding I have seen the application of these truths to be both dangerous and harmful. The real question we should be asking is “What is the nature of sin and grace?” If we can understand that, de-fining specific sins becomes subject to our relationship with Christ.
I know that from the day we accept Christ (especially those brought up in the Christian church), we are indoctrinated with the idea that we must be sin-free. In order to strive for this, we are given life examples to emulate (moral heroes to follow). The problem is that these heroes (Biblical or otherwise) are only human and fall far short of God’s holiness. In fact, the standard for a completely righteous life is beyond our grasp. This understanding of our sin nature was not meant to cause eternal despair, but rather to encourage us to seek utter dependence on God’s grace and forgiveness. However, the concept of grace is something we cannot fully comprehend, for we have no earthly equivalent. God’s grace and forgiveness is as far beyond our understanding as his Holiness is beyond our reach. (Colossians 1:13-14 / John 16:7-16)
In trying to flesh out the grace of God, we tend to use a glorified version of our best-selves in guessing His responses. Because our mirror is dimmed, we sometimes mistakenly expect God’s response to be similar to our own. In response to our sin or failure, we may imagine God saying, “I forgive you, but don’t do it again…or else.”
We do not understand the goals of God, nor do we comprehend the purpose of our own journey. We try to please or appease God through what we would consider righteous acts. So instead of pursuing and embracing the full spectrum of grace, we set small goals for ourselves with the thought, “If only I could change this about myself, then I would be righteous.” (At least that was my thought.) (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Perhaps you believe only one or two things in your life need changing (ie: wearing panties and swearing). Maybe it’s a very long list. The problem is that no matter how long the list is, it will never be long enough. Our imagined righteous standard (the level we aspire to and can understand) will still be far short of God’s infinitely higher standard. I suppose what I am saying is, even if our conscious is “clear” in regards to our actions, perhaps it is clear because we have once again lowered the standard of God to align with our personal comfort zone. We have recreated God once again in our image and made Him less than He is. Less powerful, less godly, less tolerant.
The flip side of that coin is just as bad (perhaps even worse). It is the failure of the Pharisees.
They conquered their perceived sin, or abstained from it through sheer will power. They took pride in the fact that all of the items on their list were checked off. They sought after righteousness as though it could actually be grasped. They thought that there was a certain lifestyle or set of actions (or in-actions) that by themselves would be pleasing to God. This righteousness is a form or self-righteousness and in fact is more displeasing to God than those who understand and see their own sin. Hence the reasons for all the run-ins with Jesus. Jesus’ strongest words were for those who asked questions like, “Is it wrong to…?” (Matthew 19:3 / Matthew 15:1-2 / Matthew 9:11)
There is nothing wrong with asking “real questions.” A real question is one that is open to a truthful answer and not just a confirmation of a presupposition. The question, “is something a sin?” is a just one. However, isn’t it true we usually already know the answer before we ask the question? When we ask that question, are we just trying to find a different answer that will be easier for us to live with? Why do we do that? Perhaps it is because we are uncomfortable with grace. To admit we have sin would be to admit we need grace and that would put us totally at the mercy of God. We feel the need to have some control over our existence (the earthly and eternal). Since we cannot meet our assumed godly standard, we end up either rejecting God altogether, or lowing the standard to make it more attainable. Both ac-tions separate us from the reality of grace and from God. This is the real power of sin; to create a situation that separates us from God.
Four ways that sin causes us to reject God come to mind.
The first is caused by repeated failures in our fight against sin. Through frustration, we may consciously reject him as a hard, unloving taskmaster who has no real interest in us. Perhaps we feel this way because our load seems too heavy. Perhaps we have sought deliverance through prayers, but our petitions go unanswered. Perhaps we have been beaten down by a series of life-events out of our control. Whatever the cause, the result is that our focus is on ourselves and our sins, not where it should be – on God and His work of grace. Sin and guilt forces a wedge between us and grace. We feel as though God’s grace could never apply to us because of our unworthiness. The fact is, God’s grace applies to us because we are unworthy. (Matthew 9:11-13 / Romans 5:19)
The second way sin causes a division between us and God is when we lower the standards of God to a level that we can attain. Like the Pharisees, we replace the Holiness of God with an adherence to cultural norms or a shared sense of moral values. This leads to a rating system of sin. We determine that some sins are worse than others. Some (as we see them) minor sins everyone within our chosen group may commit, so these are OK. We then choose other sins that only a small percentage of our population struggle with, and avoidance of these sins becomes our litmus test for righteousness. Those poor unfortunate souls who struggle with these “pet sins” become our new favorite projects. We work hard on removing the splinters from their eyes, so that they will become more like us. Our focus is on their sin, not grace. As a result, we cease to pursue God’s Holiness at all and tragically develop a glorified image of ourselves in His place. The pursuit of righteousness has turned into intolerant self-righteousness. We have embraced the song rather than the singer. (Matthew 23:24-29 / Matthew 7:2-5)
The third is much like the second in that we lower the standards of God to a level we feel more com-fortable with. However, in this third scenario we declare certain sins not to be sin any longer. Sin be-comes subjective. We surround ourselves with people of like mind and embrace a twisted form of grace that does not include a declaration of our own depravity. We cease to take responsibility for our actions using expressions like, “I was made this way.” In fact we may go so far as to make our “sin” part of our letterhead. ie: “The First Church of the Filthy Rich” or “Criminals for Christ.” Sin has control over us in that the pursuit of justification is more important than the pursuit of the character of Christ. The fact that “we cannot help ourselves” does not automatically make it right to indulge. We need to accept the truth of our sin nature. (Matthew 23:13-15 / Matthew 24:4-5)
The fourth is to wallow in guilt where we are trapped in that place of repeated attempts to “please” God through our actions. We cry out from the depths, unable to find release from our sin nature, but con-vinced that this place of anxiety and self-condemnation is where we should be. After all, aren’t we more pious when we are depressed? We cling like a codependent to a stone image of God. We take the thorn of sin embedded in our skin, and twist it to remind us of just how unworthy we really are. We spend much of our time fighting our “sin” convinced that this is our plight. Ironically, the truth is we are un-worthy, but it is only part of the truth. The greater truth is that we are redeemed. Guilt somehow makes us forget that. Even so, we still have a desire to pursue God, but our accuser never ceases day and night to remind us of our unworthiness. Sin has us trapped in an endless circle of defeat, short-lived victory, and purging. (Galations 3:3-5 / Galations 3:21-24)
All four scenarios miss the real point of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Which is this: Grace is the only option for those who want to draw near to God.
I think the real power of sin in our lives comes from setting our daily agenda through guilt. Our per-formance should not be the measure of the reality of our faith, but sin would have us believe it to be so. If we defeat (for a season) sin through struggle, we are in danger of becoming like the Pharisees. If we fail in that struggle, we may fall under self-condemnation and adopt an attitude of separation from God. Whether we win or lose, sin has set our agenda. Our focus is mistakenly on ourselves and our actions. It no longer becomes a matter of what we should do, but what we should not do. The fight against sin has caused us to take our eyes off of God and His real calling for us. Don’t be a slave to the agenda of sin. Admit you will never be good enough and embrace instead the free gift of grace. Only in this way will you enter into a thankful, living, loving relationship with God. (Galations 2:19-21)
A truly positive godly life comes from admitting our sin and accepting grace as sufficient. God was not taunting the Apostle Paul when he said “…my grace is sufficient.” God loves you as you are. You are redeemed just as you are. There is nothing left but to accept forgiveness and grace. You are God’s child because He desired it to be so. Stop condemning yourself. God does not. (Galations 4:4-7 / 2 Corin-thians 12:9)
The fabric of your life was created from many different threads. Know and admit that everything you do has a measure of your sin nature woven into it. You are now and always will be a sinner saved only by grace. Rejoice in what God has done and cling to Him. Just be thankful and do not condemn yourself, because God has already paid the price. You don’t have to pay him back. (Romans 3:9-23 / Romans 6:23) In the light of God’s astounding grace, all our righteousness and positive works are no better than filthy rags of sin. Jesus set us free from the power of sin. He has freed us up to follow him without guilt and without worry. Fall on your face and just accept his grace, no strings attached. Your relationship with God and those around you should be your principle focus. Don’t be distracted from that pursuit. (Galations 5:1 / Romans 5:1-2)
PS: Oh, I almost forgot. Wearing panties – is it sinful? For those of you who MUST have concrete guidelines: The light colored pink ones are, but not the powdered blue ones. Black or white is OK, but not floral patterns. Silky ones are OK as long as they are not a cotton/wool blend. Tassels are a plus. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Personally, I just try and match my socks. (Kidding of course!)