I’m going to throw out some Millennial Christian buzzwords and we’ll see what they have in common.
Broken. Screwed up. Being real. Messy. Recovering. Wrecked.
The one thing these words are centered around is “authenticity.” The Millennial generation of Christians has developed a fascination with “realness.” It can be seen in almost every aspect of our religious lives. We make depreciating jokes about church culture. We try to deviate from traditional church because, to some of us, it seems pretentious. We love to have informal sessions rather than formal worship services. We’re all about getting on the level where everyone is their real selves and make no room for hypocrisy.
It is my fear that this stems more from a desire to not be seen as a hypocrite and less from a desire to be really humble. We see the church-folks all dressed up and traditional and we react: “You know what? I’m going to wear my ripped jeans, play my kind of music in the church and let everyone know my struggles, because God loves me for who I am and I’m not going to pretend to be any one else.” So we basically parade our “realness” around like a scarlet letter in defiance of tradition.
Being a genuine, authentic person is commendable, but if not done in a truly humble attitude it does a few things that dishonor God.
1. Being “authentic” can become a sort of works based righteousness. When you parade your brokenness without true humility, you’re really trying to gain the sympathy and admiration of those listening. You want them to see you as “the real deal;” a Christian who has nothing to hide and nothing to do with the “hypocrisy” of traditional church people. But this is stealing from the glory of Christ. Instead of praising Him for rescuing you from the guilt and power of sin, you’re showing it off like a mark of credibility! He’s the one you should be focusing on, not yourself.
2. Being “authentic” can make you cynical about the Church, the beloved Bride of Christ. Yes the Church is imperfect; no one ever said she wasn’t. But if you go around trying to be “real” without true humility you are going to have a bad attitude towards Christians you deem are acting like hypocrites, even if they’re not. In your false humility, you’re puffing yourself up thinking that you’re the real thing while they’re the pretenders. This is Christ’s Bride we’re talking about, do we honestly believe He’ll stand for that kind of attitude against her?
3. Being “authentic” can make you satisfied to stay in your “messed up” state and forget that it is God’s will for you to be made perfect, conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). If your focus is on being “real” rather than being Christ-like, your spiritual growth will come to a halt. The Pharisees who prayed in the open to gain the praise of men got their reward (Matthew 6:2). If you want people to see you as unpretentious, they will… but you will have missed out on the true purpose of being a Christian in the first place.
4. Being “authentic” can distract from the work of Christ. You can go on and on about how you struggle with (fill in the blank), and your audience will be very impressed with your honesty, but you have just missed a great opportunity to glorify Christ by including how He rescued you from sin. Any mention of sin that passes from your lips should be accompanied by the message of Christ’s work on the Cross. That is the Gospel. As the well-known revival preacher, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, said: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”
Instead of trying to appear “authentic,” be humble!
First, look to Christ. See who you are in light of who He is. When you see your sin, see also His perfection. When you see your selfishness, see His selfless sacrifice. When you see your conditional love for others around you, see His love for you in spite of your many sins. Warm your heart to love Him with the coals of His love for you. You will feel no need to impress anyone with your “realness” when He is the great motivator in your life.
Second, pursue Christ. Drop everything – everything – in your life that distracts you from Him. Pray. Try to set a record for how long you pray and then break it over and over. If you don’t pray like your life depends on it, your spiritual walk will suffer – because your life depends on it. Abide in Christ, just like a branch abides in a tree, connected and integrated. Like Jacob wrestling the Angel, do not let go of Him! Insist, based upon His promises in the Word, that He finishes His work in your life for His glory. There is no room for pride in a life that is lived like this.
Lastly, be like Christ. Christ was a Man of Sorrows, but He didn’t parade His sorrows for everyone to see in order to be “authentic.” He simply walked in humility and obedience with God. Beware the temptation to throw off tradition for the sake of “authenticity.” Examine your reasons for doing so. You cannot afford to go about life depreciating yourself and the Church when Christ Himself has rescued you from helplessness and wrath and has made you “seated with Him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6).