“Then Abraham had a child out of wedlock with one of his maidservants,” said the preacher at a church in the Bronx. “There was dysfunctionality in his family.” “…David had Uriah killed so he could cover his tracks with Bathsheba – I’d say he was pretty dysfunctional!” “With almost every great character of the Biblical narrative, you will find dysfuntionality. They were real; they were authentic. So when you look at all the problems in your own family, find comfort that you are not alone. God loves dysfunctional people.”
And that’s where the sermon ended.
In other words, don’t get too bent out of shape over sin; we all do it, and we should accept it because that’s what makes us somehow more “real” than people who say they don’t. But is this what God wants? For us to bask in our sins? Are we to view our messy lives as a sort of “badge of honor?”
In small-group Bible studies at the Christian college I attended, I lost count of the number of times sin was actually celebrated. Did you grow up keeping yourself sexually pure, guarding your eyes from vulgar entertainment, avoiding alcohol, and regularly attending church? Boooooring. Did you sleep with your date, try some marijuana on the weekend, or mock your “naïve” parents as you lived a dual, worldly life under their radar? Then you were patted on the back and held as a model of “authenticity.” And the juicier the sin, the more “authentic” you were.
“Authenticity” Has Become License
This search for so-called “authenticity” (or glorying in “dysfunctionality,” as the preacher from the Bronx called it) is a perversion of what it means to be a genuine Christian. Yes, every accountable adult has sinned. Yes, everyone has made mistakes. Yes, everyone carries baggage. But Christians are people who are now dead to sin (Rom. 6:3-4) – not people who revel in how much of an “authentic” sinner they are. Perhaps we need to re-assess our Christianity if we are more interested in identifying with people based upon our common sins rather than our common faith in Christ.
Of course, before we became Christians we all lived varying degrees of sinful, messy lives (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10). But now we have been “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). That is not to say we don’t still struggle with the temptation to sin (cf. Rom. 7:14-20), we just don’t find our identity in sin – we find our identity in our love and obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In turn, the most authentic Christians are the most obedient Christians (John 14:15).
Grace isn’t just about receiving God’s forgiveness for sin. If we stop there, God’s grace becomes license (Rom. 6:1). God’s grace is even more about receiving Christ’s help in turning away from sin and becoming obedient to Him (Titus 2:11-12).
“Authenticity” Is Now the Very Hypocrisy It Is Attempting To Defeat
I understand why my generation yearns for true authenticity. Too many of us grew up seeing fallen church leaders who were once revered, hearing sermons that were much too shallow, and receiving instruction from parents and teachers who didn’t exemplify what they taught. As a result, young people are repulsed by hypocrisy, and rightly so. We want people who are real, authentic Christians – not just people who are a polished veneer of fake Christianity.
Yet we must always remember that struggling against the urge to sin is far different than covering up one’s sin. There is a common notion that fighting against what you might feel like doing (sinning) is hypocrisy. Of course, this is a total misunderstanding. Hypocrisy is the failure to act on what you believe. Remaining true to your beliefs, regardless of how you feel, isn’t called hypocrisy – it’s called integrity. The most authentic Christians are those who are fighting – and winning – the war against sin (1 Cor. 9:27).
We should be just as repulsed by sin as we are by hypocrisy. What has been lost in this search for so-called “authenticity” is the pursuit of holiness. We have stopped praising those among us as they honestly endeavor to be holy and have started pampering the mistakes of the weak. We hold impenitent teenage single-mothers and deadbeat drug abusers as stellar specimens of “authenticity,” and we hold lifelong Christians in contempt who have been devoted to Christ and His church faithfully.
Listen to me: Having indulged in sin isn’t “authentic” or “dysfunctional” – it’s just plain weakness. If you want to get real, the most authentic thing you can do is to faithfully obey Christ.
True Authenticity Should Be About Holiness
Jesus, who never sinned (Heb. 4:15), is the most authentic human we will ever see. The more we become like Him, the more authentic we too will become. Christians shouldn’t pretend to be something they are not. But when we boast in our mistakes and our sins to prove that we are “real” or “authentic,” we are trading our holiness for worldliness.
We need to be clear on this: Sin is not merely “dysfunctional” or “authentic” or “real.” Sin is horrific.
Thanks be to God that we no longer have to be defined by our sin! Jesus didn’t save us from our sins so we could display our sins as “trophies of authenticity.” We should look at our sins with shame, because it was those very sins that nailed Jesus to the cross.