There is perhaps nothing more desirable than to be fully known—completely seen and understood—and yet still loved. As Ed Welch put it, “To be truly known with nothing to hide … is life at its best.”
Yet, while the prospect of being known brings excitement, it also instills fear. As Tim Keller put it, “To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.”
This paradox of emotions is what prompts us to be transparent up to a point but to stop short of full disclosure. We seek to share enough of ourselves to make us feel like we are loved and accepted for who we really are, but not enough to risk being rejected. Some walk this tight rope for decades. Yet, deep down, most of us sense that we were created for more.
To find clarity amid this paradox, we must understand where our desire comes from, where our fear comes from, and how the gospel speaks unrivaled hope into this clash of emotions.
Exploring Our Desire
While Scripture doesn’t tell us much about humanity before the fall, the Holy Spirit does give us two words to help us understand our sinless condition: naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). In other words, before sin, humans lived in the blissful freedom of being perfectly known and accepted by God and one another, without any fear or shame. Fully known, fully loved.
The first step in finding clarity amid our conflicting emotions is to recognize that our desire to be fully known is not sinful, but rather a healthy longing to relate to God and others in the way God intended. God himself desires to be known, and we were created in his image! Our longing is a God-given expression of our humanity.
Exploring Our Fear
After sin entered the world, our state of “naked and unashamed” was immediately replaced with a state of “hiding and afraid.” In the words of Adam, “I was afraid because I was naked. So, I hid” (Gen. 3:10). In the blink of an eye, the thought of being known morphed from a comfort to a threat. Tragically, this became the new normal.
At the heart of our fear of being known is a fear of rejection. And the most painful form of rejection is not being rejected for something we did, but for who we are. Notice that Adam does not say, “I was afraid because I ate the fruit.” He says, “I was afraid because I was naked.”
Adam’s sin plunged him into a deep sense of personal inadequacy and unworthiness. His sin created a separation between him and God and between him and Eve (Isaiah 59:2). He tried to repair this brokenness by covering up his shame, but it didn’t work. Even with his self-made covering, he still felt afraid (Gen. 3:8).
We’ve all felt this. Even in the moments that we think we’ve successfully hidden our flaws, we still don’t feel secure. In fact, hiding often amplifies our insecurity and anxiety (Proverbs 10:9). If hiding cannot give us the freedom we long for, what can?
The Gospel: “I know you and I still love you”
Perhaps there is no more comforting word in all of Scripture than the word “still” in Romans 5:6-8:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Notice the recipients of God’s love: weak, ungodly, sinners. Next, notice the timing of God’s love: God loves us while we are still weak, ungodly, sinners.
This passage corrects at least two common misconceptions about God’s love. First, it makes it clear that Christ’s death didn’t “persuade” the Father to love sinners. That is not the gospel. God does not love you because Jesus died for you; Jesus died for you because God loves you! Second, this passage reaffirms that God is not waiting until you “do better” to start loving you. His love doesn’t fluctuate with your always-changing performance. According to Romans 5:6-8, God loves you perfectly, even at your worst.
The beauty of the gospel is not that we are strong and sinless, but that God loves us and rescues us while we are still weak and sinful (which, in turn, motivates and empowers us to pursue new obedience). As A.W. Tozer put it:
Jesus Christ came not to condemn you but to save you—knowing your name, knowing all about you, knowing your weight right now, knowing your age, knowing what you do, knowing where you live, knowing what you ate for supper and what you will eat for breakfast, where you will sleep tonight, how much your clothing cost, who your parents were. He knows you individually as though there were not another person in the entire world. He died for you as certainly as if you had been the only lost one. He knows the worst about you and is the One who loves you the most.
God’s message for you is this: I know everything about you. I know you are weak. I know you are ungodly. I know you are sinful. But I still love you. No, not after you clean yourself up. Not after you are glorified. Now.
True freedom comes not when we have successfully hidden; it comes when we realize that we have been found out, but are still accepted, through God’s gracious love and forgiveness. Through faith in Christ—and by living in continual, true repentance—despite our weaknesses and sins, we can once again enjoy the freedom of being fully known and fully loved.
Listen to “Fully Known, Fully Loved” here.
Read “Special Needs and the Goodness of Dependence” here.
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