He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”

Luke is telling the story about one of the interactions Jesus had with the Pharisees.  Outside of sin, the only thing that Jesus repeatedly railed against and seemed to unilaterally hate was legalism and its’ practitioners.  Anyone that tried to justify themselves through adherence to some strict set of rules, but didn’t operate from a truly transformed heart, seemed to really infuriate Him.  Samuel says it this way, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

If you keep people at enough of a distance, it is possible to have them not see the real you… for a while.  Those we live with (our families) and those we work with (who get us 40+ hours a week), will eventually see the real person inside.  It doesn’t matter how hard we work to keep appearances up, God always knows our true heart and unfortunately, for most of us, everybody else eventually does as well.

As leaders, we get the privilege (or curse, really), of not really having to appropriate the authentic thoughts of others.  We can choose to isolate ourselves both practically (in an office or through absence or availability) or philosophically (not being open to criticism or challenge).  Completely unchecked, all of us are capable of all manner of despicable things.  Look at history, unchecked power goes in terrifying directions.

Were the notorious villains of history truly evil people or just people whose unquestioned power took them to really evil places?

One of the great barometers for whether or not we are operating from a transformed heart, open to change and in the process of ongoing transformation, is how well we receive criticism.  Are we truly confident enough in the validation we have received from the Father and present enough with others to receive the challenging input of the effect we have on them?

I am a recovering legalist.  My legalism taught me to operate with a lot of false humility… to offer just enough of a thin veil of transparency and the appearance of being humble.  I thought it would keep everyone far enough away where they couldn’t see the true person inside.  It didn’t work for very long.  The reality is that law-based faith is really born of deep insecurity.  The law is simply the veil we apply to keep others from the truth about who we really are.

One of the surest signs that we are operating this way is whether or not we are defensive.  Defensiveness puts us in the position of advocating for ourselves, not God.  It is amazing how thin-skinned we can get when we are extending a lot of energy to convince others of something you and they both know isn’t true.  At the root, defensiveness basically says that what I want you to believe about me is more important that what you or even God thinks about me.  Like it or not, those closest to us, the ones we love and lead, see the truth.

  • How defensive are you?
  • Do you regularly receive input on both the beneficial and challenging impact of your leadership?
  • When is the last time you honestly asked someone about the effect you have on them?  Did you make meaningful and obvious changes based on their input?