“Authenticity Is NOT a Fruit of the Spirit”
Authenticity. It sounds as Christian as the Gathers, baptismals, and choir robes. To younger Christians especially, being authentic has become the sublime expression of Christlikeness. (Sometimes, more so than actually behaving like Christ) The call rings through the halls of our churches in sermons, bible studies, youth groups, small groups, and countless devotionals. Christians need to be more authentic! Canigetanamen!? It preaches well, but is authenticity really all that we claim it to be?
Perhaps we respond to that message so heartily for the simple fact that no one likes a hypocrite. We all know from painful experience that one hypocrite unleashed in the body of believers can cause immeasurable, lasting damage. Our distain for hypocrisy is justified by the ferocity and frequency of Christ’s attacks upon the hypocrites of his day. In Matthew 23 alone, Jesus referred to the Pharisees as “children of hell,” “blind fools,” “blind guides,” dirty dishes, “whitewashed tombs,” “serpents,” and “brood of vipers.” A hypocrite is simply an actor (from the Greek term), who plays a part that isn’t real. The Pharisees weren’t actually pious examples of God’s will for man, they just played one on TV. Hypocrisy is not simply falling short of Christ’s example of perfection, it is pretending to be a follower of Christ when you live in open rebellion to Him in your heart and private life.
While rightfully recognizing that hypocrisy is a serious offense, we’ve been led to wrongfully believe that authenticity is its antithesis. I cannot find one Scripture that explicitly or implicitly commands believers to be authentic. There is no Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, and Authenticity. It is conspicuously absent, and we can’t wring it out of passages that condemn hypocrisy either. To this observation, I offer one simple conclusion. Authenticity is not found in Scripture because it is not a Biblically compatible concept. Now, before you pull out the torches and pitchforks, hear me out.
Scripture’s antidote to hypocrisy is purity of heart, not authenticity. While the term “pure in heart” is found only in Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:8), and in Psalm 73:1, the concept is central to the entirety of Scripture. Time and time again, God’s people were called to have hearts that lined up to their outward expression of faith. (Is. 29:13, Psalm 51:16-17) We may be tempted to see authenticity in those passages, but there is an important distinction to be made. While authenticity and purity of heart share the goal of making a person’s heart condition match his outward life, they differ in the fact that authenticity has a person turning inward to find and live out his true self, while purity of heart has us reach outward for the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our life from the inside out. One is an internal alignment to a subjective standard, the other is an internal alignment to God’s objective standard.
The idea of authenticity finds its roots in the popular secular feeling that fulfillment comes from embracing one’s true self. That belief is diametrically opposed to the Christian understanding that our true selves are fallen, sinful, and helplessly in need of redemption. (Jer. 17:9) Authenticity says my goal is to be who I really am, while purity of heart says my goal is to be completely transformed from the inside out. Actually, being authentic is by itself a pretty low standard. One of the most authentic people in the world is the guy at the bar who’s had one too many beers and is ready to give you the unvarnished entirety of his life story. He’s being authentic. Actually, when you think about it, Jeffrey Dahmer was being authentic when he embraced his inner cannibal.
The impact of confusing these two ideas is that in the life of believers, the goal of authenticity can displace the goal of being holy. We are called to spend our entire lives on a journey of sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18); an upward call (Phil. 3:14), as Paul puts it. Christians who’ve made authenticity the goal find it much too easy simply maintaining the status quo of comfortable old behaviors. Since they aren’t hiding their sin, they reason, they’re being authentic Christians. And, that may be true, but they aren’t being pure in heart. Conflating holiness with authenticity has led to justifying sin as my “true self” rather than choosing the hard path of resisting temptation in the pursuit of purity through the power of the Holy Spirit.
One slightly less detrimental, but no less real effect of the elevation of authenticity is that Christians have become confused about why and how we share the details of our Christian walk with others. We were intended to walk the Christian life with fellow believers and to share with them, and at times even confess to them (James 5:13). The goal of that process is to lift each other up in encouragement and hold each other accountable to the call of a holy life. It requires us to be honest and pure of heart, but not authentic. If authenticity is our goal, the focus of our sharing with others is our own self-expression. We don’t want to be challenged, or corrected if needed. We want other people to affirm our authenticity. That attitude in turn, often leads to the mistaken belief that if we aren’t always brutally honest, or don’t constantly share our deepest, darkest struggles with the entirety of our friends, relatives, fellow church members, the checkout lady at the supermarket, and that homeless guy down on the street corner, we might be a hypocrite. Combined with social media, it turns into a perfect storm of constant drama and co-dependence upon the assurance of like-minded people that one has, indeed, achieved ultimate authenticity.
Pure in heart doesn’t mean sharing everything, it does mean that everything I do and say accurately reflects the motives and values of a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. It means that when I self-evaluate with the light of Scripture, my instinct is to forsake sin, rather than merely own it. It means that I neither feign perfection, nor embrace sin that’s comfortably “me.” It means that the focus of my life and communication is not my own emotional rollercoaster, but Almighty God’s faithfulness. It means lifting up God’s truth as the standard for my life and for others’, while understanding that a lifetime of pursuing Him will find me nowhere approaching God’s surpassing righteousness. To be pure in heart means that I have no hidden motives, no secret agenda, no self-serving plan, no desire to manipulate, and that everything I say and do reflects the simple goal of glorifying Christ, and drawing others to Him.
Ditch the authenticity. Be pure in heart.