In today’s culture, authenticity is something of a cardinal virtue. Gone are the days when being known for “having it all together” is an appealing quality.
And I think that’s a good thing.
Looking like you have it all together when you really don’t is disingenuous. In a world full of reality television, we crave genuine reality. Not the polished, sales-pitched version of it.
Everywhere I go, whether online or in person, someone is always trying to sell me something. And this is just the world we live in. But I’m not interested in buying anything. I just want to surround myself with people who are genuine.
So I’m always suspicious of people who never have a bad day or a weak moment. I want to follow leaders I know are being real with me. And I want to be the kind of leader that is real with others.
But what are we really talking about here? Not all “authenticity” is created equal.
Living an authentic life doesn’t amount to much more than virtue signaling if it isn’t actually a tool to drive us, and those around us, toward following Jesus more closely.
So how do we do that? Here are a few thoughts.
1. Authenticity is not about permission to sin.
Authenticity, if it’s a virtuous kind of authenticity, is never used as a smokescreen to give our sinfulness the appearance of holiness. True authenticity isn’t about giving up on striving to look more like Jesus.
“I’m just being real” is no excuse to give up on what God has called us to do. That’s just laziness. And it’s a sinister kind of laziness that we need to avoid at all costs.
Here’s what Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome.
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)
We should never make any provision, any allowance, for giving into the desires of our hearts that pull us farther away from Jesus. We don’t give into our temptations without regret in the name of being real. That doesn’t help anyone. Least of all, ourselves.
The bible often uses language of warfare to talk about us fighting against our sin. That’s apt. So we need to continue to gird ourselves for battle. Authenticity isn’t license to sin. It’s just the acknowledgement that we haven’t arrived yet.
Visibly struggling with our brokenness is authentic. Refusing to struggle against our brokenness is sin. Sometimes, we fall into sin. But we should never choose to dive into it.
None of us have fully arrived. Nor will we this side of eternity. What’s more is that we can see right through anyone who pretends that they have. And in so doing, they lose all credibility.
None of us have fully arrived. Nor will we this side of eternity. What's more is that we can see right through anyone who pretends that they have. And in so doing, they lose all credibility. Click To Tweet
2. Authenticity is about permission to wrestle.
Authenticity is all about acknowledging that the struggle exists. Temptation exists. Yes, even pastors and church leaders struggle against sin. I emphasize struggle.
Even the most mature followers of Jesus sin on a daily basis. That isn’t something we celebrate. But it is something that we must acknowledge.
When we pretend that we aren’t even tempted, we give off the impression that temptation is itself a sin. Which it’s not. Jesus was tempted. Jesus struggled. Struggling against our sinful desires is not itself a sin. It is a virtue.
In our efforts to appear holy, we may end up only appearing “holier than thou.”
Furthermore, when we fail to acknowledge the struggle, we may discourage others who are doing everything they can to conquer their temptations and yet are still struggling. They begin to think, “Is something wrong with me? Why is this so hard for me and not for them?” Little do they know that most of the people around them are struggling with the very same things. It’s just that no one is talking about it. And so we suffer in silence. Unnecessarily.
So authenticity is about being honest about what we’re struggling with. Honest about the thing we almost did and that we’re now ashamed that we even thought of doing. Honest about the emotion that flared up in us at a situation where it was not appropriate. Honest about when we failed and needed to ask for forgiveness and start over again.
And it’s one thing to acknowledge in a very vague sense “I struggle with sin.” But it’s an entirely different story to be open about the fact that, “Last week, I came this close to doing ___.” Or, “I don’t know why, but I went through with it. And I know it was wrong.”
Authenticity is being honest about the fact that the struggle is real and that the struggle is ongoing.
3. Authenticity is about community seeking transformation.
What this all boils down to is our need for community. We all need community. We need to know that we are not alone in the struggles of life and faith.
But the type of community that our souls need is community on a mission. Community with a purpose. And that purpose is that we would strain on toward the goal of being like Jesus–together. We want to build a community seeking transformation. A community embarking on a redemptive journey.
And the amazing thing is that as we struggle down that path together, Jesus himself empowers our transformation. Little by little, he begins to turn us into the people he was always calling us to be.
James says this.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)
The righteous person isn’t the person who never makes a mistake. The righteous person isn’t someone who would never even think of sinning. The righteous person is simply the one who has the faith to believe in the grace of Jesus and to do everything within their power to walk in the redemption that Jesus has laid out for them.
You can’t do that on your own. So we confess, one to another, that we might be healed. Healing from our brokenness only begins to happen when we commit to authentic community. And authentic community means being real about our lives. Not just the good parts. The appealing parts. The flattering parts. But the ugly parts too. The struggling parts and the sinful parts. The parts that are still very much works in progress.
This is why God gave us the church. It’s not meant to be a holiness contest where we seek to be the person with the most pristine record. It’s meant to be a holiness journey where we get to see Jesus take a bunch of imperfect people and mold them into something beautiful.
And what we begin now, we will see brought to completion when we see Jesus face to face.