The dictionary defines authenticity as, “The genuineness or truth of something.” Anything that is authentic is the real thing.
When we are walking in dependence upon the Holy Spirit—when the life of Jesus Christ is flowing through and empowering us—we are living authentic Christianity. We don’t have to pretend to be religious people by looking a certain way. We don’t have to sound holy or act in a sanctimonious fashion; we need only to surrender to the Spirit who indwells us. This truth is so liberating because it takes the focus off of us and puts it right where it belongs, the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s His Life flowing through the life of the believer that makes us authentically Christian.
In light of this truth, it’s amazing to consider why some churches would place such great emphasis on Christian behavior. Oh, don’t get me wrong, behavior is incredibly important; however, it’s the source that distinguishes authentic Christianity from mere religion. The means is vitally connected to the result. Without the Holy Spirit as the means (the source), the end result is glory-less. Self-effort either puffs up or condemns the believer, and therefore God receives no glory from it.
Having come from a conservative denomination, I am well aware of the demands of holiness that can be imposed upon a church membership. Both the spoken and unspoken requirements can be incredibly burdensome. I did my best to conform to all the moral standards, but I continually fell short of what was expected of me. Even upon those rare occasions when I accomplished some degree of success, I vacillated between spiritual pride and guilt. Pride for having achieved some measure of success, but guilt for not being quite good enough.
After years of “practicing” the Christian faith, I learned how to be a very good pretender. I gave people the impression that I was more holy than I was. And in those areas where I was able to accomplish a form of godliness, I conveyed superiority and judgment. I’d look down my nose at those who struggled in areas where I had “some degree” of success.
Curious enough, I wasn’t the only one living this way. I observed this same incongruence in other believers. We were pretending to be holy, but underneath was a horrible sense of condemnation and fear—fear of being exposed.
How transparent do you think we were with each other? How authentic was our communication? During prayer times we’d share our requests with the understanding that we were managing everything quite well. If we were struggling with an attitude of unforgiveness we’d be sure to let others know that we had the upper hand on the situation. It was often inauthentic and contrived fellowship. I remember walking away feeling disconnected and greatly concerned that I would be found out—that people would discover that I wasn’t as Christian as they thought I was.
Do we need authenticity and transparency in the church today? Desperately! But how? Through what means?
There are some writers who “suggest” that people, particularly young people, are growing intolerant of mainline evangelical churches because the membership is often hypocritical and judgmental (true enough, we are often known more for what we condemn than what we cherish). These same writers recommend creating more “seeker friendly” churches where people are encouraged not to bring their Bibles. Some suggest that not attending a formal gathering of Christians is the solution…just doing your own thing with Jesus is their revolutionary thought. Others give us a list of spiritual disciplines to perform with the belief that it will enhance our experience (Sounds like a lot of work…more self effort?). Someone else recommends that theology is like a series of springs holding up a trampoline…more flexibility than we ever imagined? Too much flexibility is another gospel…
But what if the shift didn’t involve new approaches, program or methods? What if what we need is a return to the Gospel, not a move from it? Perhaps the reason we ended up in this condition in the first place is that we neglected the fundamental teaching of the Gospel? I humbly submit to you that it seems what we’re leaving out of our thinking and theology is the reality of Jesus Christ living in us, through us, as us. We so often leave Him out of our discussions of what’s wrong with the church—that’s why we end up just doing “another” thing that still requires so much self-effort. Where’s the focus?
There is danger in spinning off—spinning off from what didn’t work at “the former church” to something that is more to our liking. It can end up being a movement from something we considered bad rather than toward a very good God. Why are we moving? Where’s the focus? If it’s not on Jesus Christ as the Source, then it’s just another move that leads us toward inauthentic Christianity. We can call it authentic, but we’re just being authentically us—doing Christianity “our” way instead of “their” way.
Remember the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time we do the same thing…… A different kind of Christianity isn’t about the Christian, it has to do with the Source who lives in and through the Christian.
As I read some of the Emergent Church literature, I find myself thinking, “What is your point? Are you giving me hope in Jesus Christ? Are you building up the Body of Christ in love? Are you telling me that the Living Lord is the only One who can live the Christian life? Are you telling me that He is the Source and there is no other?” In some cases, what is written is a form of spirituality without power and strength. Sometimes there is only a minimal reference to the Holy Spirit. The message is often “now do these certain things” and you will find the spiritual experience you are looking for.
The Gospel message is not legalism; it’s not license; it’s not doing our own thing; it’s not learning to be more religious or holy. Christianity is the truth and reality of Jesus Christ being alive and active in the believer. The Gospel message—Christ in you, the hope of glory—is as relevant today as it was when the Holy Spirit moved into the lives of those first century Christians. We need to remind ourselves that Jesus is still alive today! He is active and He eagerly waits for us to turn to Him as our life. He is authentic and real, genuine and pure, and ready to take over every aspect of our life (and the fellowship of Christians) if we will let Him.
What’s left for us to DO? Surrender. Not a very popular message today, but without availing ourselves to the Holy Spirit we’ll just create another movement and miss the whole point of Christianity—Christ living in you, through you, as you. That’s revolutionary! That’s radical, authentic Christianity! A Christianity that gives all the glory to God.
I pray you will discover your roots in Him today.
The audio file, Authenticity is another aspect on this topic (click the link to play). May God richly bless you.