“Getting Better Doesn’t Matter?” Steve Brown, Billy Graham, and God’s Silent Sanctification

Approaching one of the stickiest wickets in American Christendom, Steve Brown, with candid experience and […]

Ethan Richardson / 10.23.12

Approaching one of the stickiest wickets in American Christendom, Steve Brown, with candid experience and humor, brings us back to the inner-pharisee that is almost always conjured in talk about sanctification. I may not be so prone as Steve Brown to say that our neighbor’s baggage is as shocking as he lets on, only because we so often have the same baggage, but he is only using that as a device to point to the bigger (or deeper) picture: that when we get into the scorekeeping game, it inherently becomes a cover-up game. He then describes a sanctification that happens as life makes you “old as dirt”–but that this often goes unnoticed–and that it’s better that way. This comes from Three Free Sins, chapter heading, “When Getting Better Doesn’t Matter.” 

There is always something going on in every life that others don’t know about. After listening to confessions for most of my professional life, I have a couple of reactions to those confessions. The first is an awareness that the people to whom I listened were just like me. The second reaction is always: “I didn’t know that about you and never would have known if you had not told me.”

In fact, if you’re reading this book and want to have some good friendships among believers, want to go to our parties and share in our fun but can’t buy into all the stuff about Jesus. I can help. First, if you’re reading this book, you’re out of your mind. And second, you can learn to fake it so that nobody will know. I can teach you a few words that you must use, I can help you look the way you ought to look, and I can show you the minefields to avoid and the places to affirm. In fact, I can show you how to be so phony that nobody will ever know.

One time Mr. and Mrs. Billy Graham were in church together, and Mr. Graham, by mistake, put a twenty-dollar bill in the collection plate when he meant to give a ten. He reached for the twenty-dollar bill, and Mrs. Graham slapped his hand. “I meant,” he whispered, “to put a ten-dollar bill in the offering.”

“In God’s eyes,” Mrs. Graham quietly assured him, “it’s a ten.” 

…Goodness is easy to fake, and when people affirm your apparent goodness, two things happen. First, the feeling you have about your own righteousness will establish a pattern that will spiral upward (or downward) to cause the false mask you wear to be even more real than who you are. And second, God will notice.

…Think of the most obedient, wonderful, faithful, and holy Christian you know in your church. Now listen. If he got drunk at a Christian party and confessed his deepest and darkest secrets, you would be shocked. Now look around your community on the streets that run by the church. If you picked someone at random and looked into his or her heart, you might substitute that person for the “saint” you just lost in church. 

…One of the questions asked of those being ordained in the Methodist Church (I was ordained a Methodist minister) is this: are you moving on to perfection?

When I was asked that question, I thought about it and decided that I might not be a very good and spiritual person, but I was, after all, being ordained and that made me somewhat better than most others. I figured that I was “moving on to perfection”…at least sort of. So I answered yes.

I was very young and now I’m old as dirt. Over the years, God has granted me the severe mercy of failure, pain, and an awareness of how I’m about as messed up as anybody I know. If I were asked that question again (the question of getting better), I would have to answer that I hoped maybe I was getting better. “But frankly,” I would have to say, “who the hell knows?”