I find myself nodding in empathy as she describes how she let angry words spew from her mouth. She had said hurtful things to her kids that she now regretted. I knew exactly what she meant. “I’ve been there too. Don’t worry,” I said, relating couple of my own mommy meltdowns. We commiserated about how impossibly difficult parenting is, and then moved on to other topics.
I had done what I’m wired to do: Make another mom feel like she hadn’t failed by relating a litany of my own mistakes. I had succeeded in keeping it real and being authentic, but I hadn’t really succeeded in helping her or myself in our journey toward what God has called us to: holiness.
Authenticity – another name for seeking man’s approval?
Authenticity in today’s Christian culture has become a platform on which to air our failures. We don’t want to pretend like we have it all together. We don’t want any claim to the “Goody Two Shoes” title. And we shouldn’t. In fact, I’m a pro at self-deprecating humor. I’m quick to divulge my 10 p.m. chocolate binge or that I feed my kids chicken nuggets three days in a row or forget my mother-in-law’s birthday.
The tagline of my blog reads, “Keeping it real.” But when I dig deeper I find I’m using authenticity as a tool to endear myself to others. We seem to have bought into the notion that authenticity equates with humility. But what motivates that humility? Is it the need to fit in or the need to be liked by our social circles? Authenticity seems to keep us in a perpetual state of confession rather than helping us move forward in becoming overcomers.
Authenticity is just the first step
Yes, in a world of pretense and self-righteousness and holier-than-thou attitudes, authenticity is refreshing. As Christians, however, we need to understand that while authenticity is important, it’s only the first step. It’s the beginning of a journey in realizing that we’re broken and deeply flawed, that we’ve messed up and got ourselves into tangles that we cannot undo.
And that’s where sanctification comes in. Sanctification moves us forward in your journey to be more Christ-like. Your story and mine is about redemption. We never work for our salvation. But when we work out our salvation with fear and trembling we have the opportunity to witness His undeniable power. Why not testify to that power at work in your life?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m definitely not advocating rolling out a new phase of Pharisaical Christianity. I absolutely believe we need to be honest, vulnerable and authentic as appropriate in different contexts. In James 5:16 we are urged to confess our sins to one another. But we also have a different role: to reflect God’s glory. And we can’t possibly do that when we only hone in on our failures all of the time. When authenticity becomes our badge of honor, it deflects from the glory due to God. There is a sense of delighted resignation: the “this is me” syndrome that undermines God’s sanctifying work in us.
Expanding the definition of authenticity
Unless we extend our idea of authenticity to include not just our fears and failures but also the vital and real changes that God orchestrates in our lives, we miss out on the complexity of the Christian walk. You can be real by sharing how you lost it with your kids. But it’s just as real to share that God delivered you from a temper issue or gave you the strength to reconcile with a loved one. As Paul says of his situation in 2 Corinthians 12, there’s a thorn in his side. He then goes on to proclaim that Christ’s power is made perfect in his weakness.
Like Paul, we may share our weaknesses with other believers, but we also share how Christ helps us overcome them. This is not about boasting in ourselves, but rejoicing in the finished work of the cross.
Jesus set the perfect example in the Garden of Gethsemane. He shows us His real, human, vulnerable, self when He cried out, “Let this cup pass from me.” (Matthew 26: 39). But He goes on to confess that He had the power to accept God’s will and live out that high and holy calling with humility.
The Word of God urges us to be imitators of Christ. There is a place for confessing our humanness, our mistakes, our struggles. But there’s no place for wallowing in sin or cherishing it in order to be more relatable. We don’t ever claim perfection. But we do claim Christ in us, the hope of glory.