According to Merriam-Webster, a buzzword is defined as “a word or phrase that becomes very popular for a period of time.” There are lots of buzzwords within the Christian community that fill books and blog posts: gospel-centered, grace-based, and missional are just a few.
Today, I want to draw our attention to a particular buzzword within Christian women’s circles: one that I see used over and over again, and wonder at times if it is being misused or misunderstood. The word I’m referring to? “Messy.”
No, I’m not referring to the messy that a house can be, or the messy that a car can be (Oh if you could see my van’s floors. If you have, I’m very sorry), or even the messy that our appearance can take. Rather, the “messy” I’m talking about is the word that has come to refer to the imperfect character of a believer.
You hear it in phrases like this:
“We are all hopelessly messy people.”
“I invite you to know me in all my messiness.”
“I want to share my messy life with you.”
“Let my messy point you to Christ.”
“Jesus loves messy people like you and me.”
Now, let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further. There are usually two different meanings behind the use of this word for women. The first carries more of a “complicated” or “disorganized” or “not-pinterest-picture-worthy” kind of meaning. We women gravitate toward this kind of language because we desperately long for a reprieve from all the perceived perfection around us. We long to be accepted for the simple, blemish-plagued, stretch mark bearing women we are. We’re tired of comparing ourselves to supermodels posing in pristine model homes. For this reason, authentic, honest, down-to-earth writers appeal to us. (Did you catch all three of those buzzwords? Just checking.)
This is not the meaning I hope to address here. But rather, what I would like to address is the kind of “messiness” which is often confused with the former because they are often used interchangeably and without clear definition. The meaning I am referring to is simply “sinful.”
Ah, now we’re moving away from buzzwords. You won’t see many blog post titles trumpeting the word “sinful” in all caps. No, “messy” sounds much more pleasant: both cute and honest, with a good old fashioned dash of humility mixed in. Truly, describing yourself as “sinful” rather than “messy” in your twitter bio might keep you from attaining more than a few new followers, but it might be a little more biblical and a little more “honest.”
When it comes right down to it, this is often what we mean when we say our lives are “messy,” isn’t it? What we really mean to say is that we ourselves are sinners, living in a family of sinners, fellowshipping in a church of sinners, who often all sin against each other. This is the “messy” we are referring to–the imperfection we are trying to get across to our friends. Though, I would venture to say it might be better to describe ourselves as all-together dirty because in reality our lives don’t need a simple “straightening up,” they need a full-out cleaning. Truly, we need to be completely washed, not just organized. But for the sake of this post, we will continue to use the buzzword “messy” as a euphemism for “sinful.”
Boasting in Our Messiness
I see the rise in the popularity of this term connected to the gospel-centered movement, which seeks to glory not in our own good works (as if we had any), but instead in the holiness of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who both lived and died in our place. The ability to describe oneself as messy without shame is a fruit of the freedom found in Christ. We needn’t be worried about how we appear to others, or that our friends might see our imperfections, but only that they know the One who was perfect for us, for he has completely forgiven us and made us holy before the Father.
And so, there is great freedom for “humility” and “transparency” between sisters in Christ. We can let each other in; yes, we can let each other see our “messy.” In this way, we can join Paul in boasting in our weaknesses and proclaiming our utter sinfulness to the world because our desire isn’t to point others to us, but to the perfect Christ.
The Christ Who Washes Away Our Mess
The difficulty in the term “messy” however is that it is indeed a euphemism and euphemisms by definition blunt the forcefulness of the words they replace. While we can all agree that “messy” means sinful, calling it a mess instead of sin effectively lightens the weightiness of the idea. As I mentioned earlier, we need much more than a straightening up, we need cleansing! We are full of sin before Christ saves us, and continue to struggle against our sin nature after Christ saves us. Sin. This is the mess we are speaking of: SIN.
It was sin that separated us from God and this sin that demanded the sacrificial death of the Son of God. There is nothing cute about it, only serious, brutal, painful truth. But for the grace of God interceding on our behalf, we are sinners sentenced to an eternity of hell for our acts of rebellion. And what glorious grace it is!
It is the kind of grace that allows a Creator God, filled with love, to lay aside his garments and physically wash the filthy feet of his sinful creations. We cannot fathom this type of love, this kind of condescension, which is why Peter urged his Master to stop. “You shall never wash my feet!” he said. But the loving Savior rebuked him saying, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13). Every one of us needs to be washed by the cleansing blood of Christ in order to be forgiven.
But what about the sin that remains? What about the messy lives we continue to find ourselves in? Yes, Christ has washed us, but it seems like each time we get out of bed in the morning, we can’t help but get ourselves all muddy again with the filth of this world!
How gracious our Lord is to forgive our every offense! 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As we bring our sins to him, he promises to forgive and to cleanse, no matter how many times we mess up. He is not intimidated by our dirtiness. He lovingly bids us to come, daily bringing our sins, failures and weaknesses and exchange them for his righteousness and to walk in newness of life.
See him wash your dirty feet time and time again, dear sister. This is what our Savior does.
So, yes, we all come messy, but those who encounter Jesus do not remain messy. They are cleansed, continually cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus. We who were once considered unclean, are now counted clean and beckoned to live in freedom, putting to death the sin that still remains.
We proclaim our sinfulness only as a means of revealing Christ’s great and mighty grace. In every other respect, we loath and vehemently fight against it because it is rebellion against God and it cost our Savior his life.