Paralyzed by Authenticity

Have you noticed how cool authenticity has become?  The conceal your flaws, put a smile on your face, never let them see you sweat, culture of our parents and grandparents has given way to a culture where the most prized virtue is authenticity.

Marketing is all about being authentic, politicians get elected because they come across as authentic, Oprah’s advice is to be your true authentic self; the rising generation loves nothing more than authentic conversation, over authentic cuisine, at a restaurant with authentic atmosphere.

The rise of authenticity has spilled over into the Church as well, and for the most part, that’s a good thing.  After all, Jesus espoused an authentic righteousness and condemned inauthentic pretense (Matthew 23:25-28). Christianity goes far beyond external actions, and is concerned with the motivations, desires, and ambitions of the heart.  Jesus doesn’t ask if you have committed adultery; He asks if you have lust in your heart.

So I think the resurgence of authenticity has been healthy for the Church.

But it can also become a crippling pursuit.  I’m noticing a lot of people (including myself) being paralyzed by an overemphasis on authenticity.

It’s not enough to just do a good deed, the deed has to be perfectly motivated and void of selfish intentions or else the deed is nullified.  It’s not enough to go to church, your heart has to be “into it” or the experience is useless.  It’s not enough to evangelize, evangelism has to be void of pride and motivated by love for the lost or it becomes selfish exploitation of others.  We even do it with the very grace of God; it’s not enough to have faith in Christ, I have to wholly trust Him, and if there is even a hint of doubt, distrust, or self-righteousness, then we’ve nullified salvation by grace.

This all-or-nothing line of thinking leaves us stricken with guilt and often leads to all-out paralysis.  If you are unwilling to do something unless it’s a purely authentic deed, then you will never do it.

I was recently talking with someone who struggles to read her Bible because it always turns into a self-loathing affair.  She feels guilty for not truly enjoying her Bible, or she fears her reading is motivated by self-righteous legalism, or she’s troubled when she doubts what she reads, or reading it one day only serves as a reminder that she doesn’t read it every day; it’s much easier for her to just shut down and neglect God’s Word than to have to deal with the guilt of an impure approach to God’s Word.

I think many of us can relate to this struggle.  Our obsession with authenticity has left us drowning in a sea of introspection.

We really need to hear that it’s okay to be a hypocrite and one big mixed bag of motivations.  It truly is. Not because God doesn’t expect pure undefiled authentic holiness, but because Jesus truly is able to make right those who fall miserably short of these holy expectations.

Is your love for Jesus accompanied by love for self?  Of course!  Is your trust in the gospel accompanied by doubts?  Of course!  Is your motivation for virtue tainted with pride?  Of course!  Can Jesus still handle you?  Of course!

Your suspicions about yourself are true—you really are a fraudulent mess.

Your suspicions about Jesus are untrue—He really can handle your fraudulent mess.

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to sit around all day examining our hearts for traces of duplicity; we can just acknowledge that they exist, trust that Jesus can handle them, and live life.

Truth be told, there’s no such thing as authenticity this side of glory.  The puritans would say that even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Authenticity is a heavenly expectation.  The day will come when we will be purged of all hypocrisy and enjoy a wholly authentic existence, but we simply aren’t there yet, and it’s wrong to expect it.

You’re a hypocrite…deal with it!  And the way you deal with it is to know that Christ has already dealt with it.

Rev. Robert Cunningham