My wife usually accompanies our daughter and her family when they go out trick-or-treating on Halloween.
A few days prior to that occasion she was talking with our young granddaughter about the costumes they were going to be wearing. My wife detailed how she was going to be dressed up as a rather mean and scary character in order to coincide with the theme the rest of the family was following with their outfits.
As she finished describing her menacing appearance, our granddaughter tenderly looked at her and commented, “But you’ll still be Nana.”
I’m not sure if she wanted to comfort my wife with that truth or if she may have been looking for some reassurance in her own mind.
But she knew, or at least hoped, she would be able to see beyond the mean-looking exterior on that occasion and know that this person was still the kind and caring Nana whom she dearly loved.
It’s a good reminder to us that no matter how we appear on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
Unless it’s Halloween, it’s unusual for people to make themselves appear meaner or more evil than what they really are. More often it’s the opposite situation. We try to dress up in the costumes of goodness and holiness when our hearts are far from those actual conditions.
It’s reminiscent of Jesus’ description of the scribes and Pharisees of His day. He declared to them, “For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
Those religious leaders were dressing up like perfect little angels, but in reality they were more like graveyards. Underneath their righteous costumes, they were hypocrites who were full of sin and moral filth. Not only were they spiritually dead, but they were dragging others down with them.
Sometimes we today are guilty of a similar deception.
We try to be good. We make an effort to do the right thing. We may even seek to live outwardly by the commands God gives us in the Bible. But when we look beyond those surface actions, we know we’re the same unrighteous person on the inside.
We might do a kind deed to help someone, but in our hearts we know we’re actually full of selfishness. We outwardly conform to one of God’s commands, but inwardly we know we would do differently if we could get away with it.
No matter how godly our costume, we know we’re still a sinner whose heart is far from the purity and love which God expects.
The good news is that we don’t have to remain in that condition. The Bible tells us that God can change our hearts. Through faith in Christ we can receive more than a better outward appearance – we can get a new and clean heart.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
God can so work in us that those outward acts of righteousness become more than a costume hiding what’s underneath. They become the true expression of what’s in our hearts. God can go beyond making us appear loving, kind, and unselfish – He can transform us inwardly into that type of person.
So don’t just wear a costume of godliness. Surrender your heart to the Lord and let Him change you on the inside.
The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.