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You and I are not omniscient. We can’t know each other’s hearts. We can never see the whole picture. We’re bound by earthly limitations. There’s no getting around it; human beings can’t make perfect judgments with unadulterated wisdom and absolute knowledge—only God can. The problem is we still try. Christians take character seriously because God does (1 Pet 1:16), but being a sinful human limits my ability to make judgments of others based on appearances.

When we expect Christians to look a certain way and do all the same things, when we have expectations for how children of God must appear, we’re functioning with a small view of God. When we have a small view of God, it handicaps us and those around us.

The Bible shows us God uses suspicious outward appearances to accomplish the spiritually miraculous. Take the Book of Esther, for example. God isn’t even mentioned. Instead of blazing, outright force to save his people, he works among the seemingly immoral and questionable to bring about his purposes. Esther, by visible accounts, is in an identity crisis. Going by two different names, living amongst Gentiles, spending time partying with haters, this Jewish woman faced critical decisions for the sake of God’s entire people.

Will she do the right thing or not? 

She does the right thing, but through festivals and parties. She does it hidden in the quiet providence of God as he accomplishes his will through means we naturally would be critical of. Between a drunk, a bigot and a woman keeping her ethnicity a secret, God arranges what he wants. He’s not preoccupied with what upstanding Christians might think about this later. He’s busy doing what he wants for his own glory; no signs and wonders, just a beautiful woman lying about her identity for God’s good purposes.

While we prefer good appearances to build ourselves up or condemn bad appearances to tear others down, God turns human ideals upside down to display his wisdom and glory. God cares about appearances differently than both worldly and Christian cultures.

Throughout scripture, he’s left a trail warning us that while appearances are important, they serve him in different ways than we might imagine.

Jesus hung out with morally corrupt people. 

Jesus didn’t rub shoulders with royalty. He made kings angry and defied the status quo. He didn’t play to the expectations of “holy” people either (Matt 16). He welcomed harlots and washed feet (Lk 7; Jn 13). He ate with reprobates and healed people that didn’t matter to the world around him. He didn’t trend his gifts among the popular; he spent his gifts on sickly road-side lepers who could barely grab the hem of his dirty cloak (Matt 8).

Jesus pursued fishermen as his disciples, not the rich and famous. 

There’s nothing worse than a fish smell, but this is where Jesus went. He chose men who spent their day catching food for others (Lk 5:1-11). They didn’t have academics or money, they weren’t beautiful or worldly. Jesus chose to give himself to men who, by all appearances, lived meager existences with no influence or social platform.

God turns the unlikely into heroines. 

Rahab may take the cake as an indiscreet heroine (Joshua 2). She was a whore who, again, saved God’s entire people group and her family. She trusted God when no one else did. Maybe even more shocking, God’s men listened to her. God tells us through Rahab that all are welcome. Not only are prostitutes embraced, but he’ll do glorious, unexpected and astounding things through them to reveal himself.

God uses Paul to teach us. 

Then of course, there’s Paul. Rough around the edges—fights with his friends, Apostle Paul. Paul who doesn’t take no for an answer and opposes powerful, religious leaders. Paul, the king of killing God’s people. Paul, who admitted being the worst of all sinners, equipped with thorns he couldn’t get away from (1 Tim 1:15; 2 Cor 12:7)This is who God chose to speak to and through. He chose Paul to show what kind of God he is: he chooses the weak, he loves the ungodly (Rom 5:6-7), he is kind to those who don’t deserve it (Lk 19:1-10).

Jesus came as a peasant baby.

Jesus arriving as a defenseless baby to a poor family is perhaps the most profound example. He didn’t choose a palace. Born in a stable around animals and dirt, the Savior King Jesus came as a baby to humble parents. He didn’t come with obvious majesty; he came with a shocking lack of dignity. Jesus came purposefully weak (Heb 4:14-16). His very entrance displays with persistent intent: God uses appearances to turn our fleshly hearts upside down.

God’s Unlikely Appearance 

With meticulous intent, organizing the opposite of what our hearts naturally expect, God uses what appears scandalous to accomplish the good and glorious. He uses the shocking and sinful to show glory and redemption. He chooses the unlikely and unassuming to achieve greatness. Why? So that through the failing appearances of others, God’s glory astounds.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 

You and I are scandalous jars of clay that must be broken to display “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory” (2 Cor 4:6). To assume we are better is to miss God’s grace that saves us. God doesn’t require perfection, beauty, popularity, or success and certainly not the acceptance of other people—no matter who they are. God requires a confession of weakness and need.

When we get blinded by our earthly cultures and demand certain appearances or insist on being right in any given situation, we miss a big God.

God doesn’t triumph his purposes in the Bible through upstanding, morally right men and women who wear, eat and say all the right things. He accomplishes kingdom work through God-fearing people who look nothing like we’d expect. Will we trust him enough to see it?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do we get self-righteously angry when people sin instead of being slow to anger, full of compassion, remembering we’re all jars of clay?

  2. In what ways do you care about appearances?

  3. Do you have expectations of other’s appearances?

  4. When people fail these expectations do you trust God or condemn the person?

  5. How can you be more unassuming of others in order to see God’s work in the unlikely?

  6. Do you trust your culture more than God?

  7. Do you trust your church traditions more than God?

  8. What is your motivation in appearing a certain way to others?

  9. If your motivation is to be “all things to all people” does that include the hurting, the wounded, the lost, the weak, those who we tend not to listen to?

This article was originally posted at Gospel Taboo.

Rebekah Hannah

Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor with Anchored Hope. She has a passion for teaching the sufficiency of Scripture for everyday life. Having a Masters of Divinity in Theology & Biblical Counseling, she enjoys writing, teaching, equipping, and counseling. Rebekah is married to Andrew and has three daughters, Maggie, Charley, and Ellis.