One of the most thought-provoking statements in the Gospels must be that of the Samaritan woman to her fellow townsmen: “Come, see a man, who told me all things that I ever did” (John 4:29). Equally compelling is her following question: “Is not this the Christ?”
I doubt seriously whether we would be excited about meeting such a man. Imagine what this means: long-forgotten words and deeds exposed, shocked and embarrassed by the unexpected reminder of secret sins. “All” includes the thoughts of the heart: the filthy pool out of which sins slither. In her case, it was a life of sensuality, marriages, and divorces, her discontent, worldliness, and vanity. Put your “all things” in place of hers. Would we not fear such openness to others about meeting such a man? We must then let some of our skeletons out of the closet to prove such an astounding claim.
Once a hider, this woman is unconcerned about all this. She seems relieved, abounding in joy, very much willing to share with the whole world her new found freedom: from herself, from her past. Unlike her, we might very well flee from such a person: too much danger of exposure here. We like our masks, our pretending and pretense, for others to think well of us. We might occasionally let out a little of our failures, just enough to appear humble, to show we have a history, but almost always with the added claim that this is all behind us now. We are now doing quite well. Not this woman.
She was insistent. Apparently, she went house to house, quickly, or perhaps to the center of town activity. Her confession surprised few. Her past could not very well be hidden. Yet, whereas everyone likely knew about “this woman” – she was likely the object of many quiet sneers – now they are hearing the story from her. As an aside, is there anything like honest confession to put suspicion to silence, to put the conscience to rest? As the Proverb says, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged” (16:6).
But she has more to relate than a sordid past; she has a person to present. She is convinced that this is the Christ. Who else can he be? He knew her inmost secrets without her breathing a word to him. In his light, her darkness was penetrated, its tyranny overthrown, its fears removed. The light was painful, at first, and she had tried to change the subject to one of the theological disputes of her age. Light forced itself upon her. This man said he would give her living, satisfying water. He answered her doctrinal question, but it was the personal probing that gripped her attention. Then, he identified himself. In response to her “I know that Messiah is coming, which is called Christ,” he said, “I that speak unto you am he.” This was enough for her. She believed and was cleansed. She believed and confessed: her past, her Savior, her living water.
We must meet this man. What a surprising relief it is to do so. That he knows all we ever did means he knows us better than we know ourselves. It is not simply that we need no longer hide and pretend in his presence but that meeting him we learn who we truly are. All has not been well with us. We have been troubled, weakened, and ensnared in many sins and hurtful lusts. We licked our deadly wounds, but they were not healed. Many excuses we make and remedies we try without obtaining relief. What others know or suspect about us is troubling, yes, but having to live with ourselves is far worse. There are moments conscience simply will not be satisfied by our many public masks and private delusions, when a little light creeping in throws us into utter confusion and despair. Yet, we could not find the cure and did not even understand the disease. This is us: until we meet such a man, until he tells us all we ever did.
This man alone can save us. It is not simply that he alone knows the truth about us. He is the truth. Before him, all lies must flee. His light does not content itself with a few edge sins; he goes right to the heart of our most guarded secrets, our most tender self-deceit, and our most cherished idols. The wonder of the gospel is that though Jesus Christ knows all our filth, as well as our attempts to cover it up, he still died for us. Here is love unfathomable and mercy immeasurable: though we were sinners, Christ died for us. Our blindness, delusion, and light-resistance could not quench his love or prevent his sacrifice. We were utterly helpless, totally depraved, and completely dead in our sins. Darkness was our home, our false friend; we loved it because our deeds were evil. Still, he would not be put off. “I must go through Samaria” (4:4); there is a woman there I must deliver. She is hated, isolated, and enslaved. She deserves to be, for her sins are many. I alone can deliver her. I must tell her all she ever did.” Can we ever understand or adore the love of Jesus: that he came to our corrupt Samaria, confronted us with the truth about ourselves, and brought us out of our dark caves of self-preservation? Never.
Never also means now. In the course of our lives, we have constant need to meet this man, the God-man. Even as believers, darkness is always lurking: lusting for a corner here, a spot there. Our reflex is still self-preservation: perhaps not under a full mask but a partial one; not full-blown self-deceit but enough to keep up the pretense that all is well. How we still crave the acceptance and praise of men, to be thought better than we are, to avoid the direct light, to hold on to self. We must meet him. There can be no sincerity before God without him: no saving brokenness, no growth in holiness, no healthy conscience.
For this reason, David prayed: “Search me and know me, and see if there be any wicked way in me” (Ps. 139:23). It is as if he cried: “Lord, I still feel my corruption, bubbling within; I still cannot know myself unless your light comes to me; I want you to tell me my sins.” Here is a remarkable thing about the redeemed. Though the whole world hides from the light of God’s holiness, believers want it. We are unsettled by his dazzling, penetrating brightness, to be sure, made more than a little uncomfortable, forced to cry out for mercy. But here is our only safety, the only way we are prevented from returning to masks and hiding: when God’s holiness and total knowledge of us does not scare us away from him but draws us closer; when the heart is no longer terrorized by fear of hell’s terrors but flooded with desire for heaven’s fellowship. I need light, the lover of God’s holiness confesses. I need to be told all I ever did, am doing.
This is the fountain of that sincerity apart from which there is no saving faith or health. Hypocrites put on the appearance of religion. They give up a few side sins to hold on to more cherished ones. For them, godliness is all about avoiding the light of self-truth, of keeping the respect and approval of men above all else. It is doing outward good while still in the chains of inward corruption. The hypocrite does not want to be told all he ever did, and he certainly does not want others to know it. He repents like Pharaoh: when the heat gets too great, temporarily, partially, from a desire to preserve his position, his self-delusion; or like Judas: when it is too late, without any hope of mercy, out of personal despair, when his lies are finally exposed. The weight of his guilt does not lead to the Christ but to the devil, to the end of a rope. When the hypocrite reaches this place, he would rather end it all than face his true self. He is too bitter that the delusion had to end. He loves himself more than mercy, God, and truth.
Sincere hearts and full assurance of faith are the dearly purchased blessings of the gospel. They must be fed. Our need for them is great at all times: for open, honest, sin-confessing and sin-forsaking churches and homes; in a culture that has a mask of self-deception tightly welded to it, with too much noise and too many videos to face the truth; that we might run through our communities and towns, making the confession of the Samarian woman and bringing them to Jesus. It is found in only one place: before the Christ. We must hear from him daily what we have done and be taught by him who we truly are. There is no despair here, and no need to fear. When he tells us the truth, he saves us. He brings us into the light of God’s holiness. O, the refreshment, the liberty, and the hope that comes to us before the throne of God, standing there without hiding, having our self-deception burned up in the light of his holiness, having him speak peace and mercy to our hearts! There our Savior is: our faithful Advocate, honest Friend, powerful Savior.
As the church comes before the Lord Jesus and hears the truth about itself, our silliness – a gospel without conviction, preaching that flatters, sonship without responsibility, and psychology that excuses – will be forsaken. We shall hide from our sins no longer. Liberation and light will open our mouths to confess: come meet this Man, this Christ. Throw off your grave clothes; put away yours masks. Come to holiness, to light, and to hope. Come to Jesus. He will tell you all you ever did. He will give you joy, true peace, and everlasting life. He will save you from the most impotent savior of all: yourself.