Be Real with It
Stories are powerful things. I was encouraged this past Sunday at church as several members stood up in front of the congregation to share what God has been doing in their lives. What followed from one person in particular was a personal story of severe brokenness and addiction—and how the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ never let Him go.
I think it is important that personal stories of Jesus’s victory over the chains of sin are shared frequently in the church. More frequently than is common. Too often we dress up in our “Sunday bests” and put on our happy faces when we go to church. We clean ourselves up; and ensure that everyone sharing our last name looks good and is on their best behavior. There, of course, is nothing wrong with cleaning up and looking good for church, and I am quite thankful the people who sit next to me in church don’t smell too bad! The problem is the motivation: Why are we so concentrated on putting our best foot forward when we go to church? While some may do this out of tradition, or to present their best to God, it is more likely that most of us do this for no other reason than to display to our friends and church leaders a boosted portrait of ourselves. No one wants to be the talk of the church. No one wants to be looked down on for their lack of “spirituality”.
But a mature and healthy church body will invite authenticity in its members. Why would we worry about appearances when we have lost ourselves that we may find Christ? Why would we pretend everything is always “fine” when we have brothers and sisters who will help and pray for us in our areas of struggle? Why would we hide the work God is doing in our lives when it would encourage someone who is going through the same? A healthy church will care little for appearances because they will know who they really are: sinners saved by grace. And generally speaking, sinners saved by grace are not too worried about their personal image.
Therefore, it is my conviction that we Christians should strive to be a little more “real with it” toward our fellow believers. Rather than isolating ourselves, we should not be afraid to get in each other’s business a little more. As members of the Body, it is our responsibility to know how our brothers and sister in Christ are “really” doing, and be honest when questions are asked of us. Instead of passing off the facade of familial perfection and marital bliss, we must recognize that we have bigger fish to fry than our personal reputations. We have sin to conquer in our lives. We have a race to run and holiness to chase. We need brothers and sisters, and brothers and sisters need us.
Here are a few reasons why authenticity is important for the church.
Authenticity can encourage us.
Maybe it is just my personality, but I often get into spiritual lulls of discouragement. Maybe I see little fruit in my own life, or maybe I observe precious little work that God is doing in friends and family. I know God is good, I know I have an amazing inheritance through Christ, I know I have been adopted in the family of God—but as I look around I notice that things could be better. Last time I checked, several of my friends remain enslaved to sin, many others are hurting, and I still lack much boldness for the gospel. The world is still a broken place of confusion and suffering (a reality I am ever reminded when I check a news website). Sometimes I am left to wonder: Is God still doing anything?
But stories of God’s power in real people’s lives (like the one I heard last Sunday) help to wake me up to the reality that: Yes, God is doing things. Yes, He is alive and working even in the Western church with amazing power. Praise Him that we don’t have to go to a different hemisphere to see souls being saved and patterns of sin being broken! His Spirit is still moving and still convicting of sin. He is still enabling Christians to walk in the light right here and right now. Stories that testify to that reality need to be shared for the encouragement of the entire Body.
Authenticity can unite us.
How many times have you heard people say that churches are just full of a “bunch of hypocrites” and “holier than thous”? This is one of the world’s favorite accusations of the church, and we do not always have much room to disagree! Frequently publicized moral failure in church leadership and contradictory lives of Christians unfortunately fan the flames to their skepticism. But authenticity in the form of public confession of sin, or the sharing of personal struggles shatters the world’s narrative. Honesty and brokenness convey to the world that we in ourselves are no “better” than anyone else. We never have claimed to be! Only we have a great God, who is working on us and making us to be more like Him.
Authenticity also can bring us closer to each other within the church. If someone confesses their struggle with alcoholism or pornography, they will no doubt encourage someone else who thought they were alone in those same sins. If you alert a mature believer of your personal hang ups, it will allow them to help you along, check up on you, and pray for you. Members of the church cannot speak to what they are not informed about; and authenticity lays the groundwork for both real relationships and ministry to happen.
Authenticity can strengthen us.
I will say, however, it is not enough to just be authentic. “Being real” is not the end goal. It is not enough to hear someone’s struggle and give only the reply, “We will be praying for you, brother,” and never speak about it again. It is how we respond to that authenticity, how the church reacts over the long haul that really matters. Vulnerability is a powerful tool, but if it is not followed up with accountability, relationship, prayer, and enduring love—it will likely be wasted.
James 5:16 says “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” In the context of healing in the church, James pushes for the church to have a culture of confession. That the church would become a place where confession and prayer are habits; and as habits, they are practiced again and again. Why? In order that we may pray for each other and be healed.
Similarly 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Walking in the light is often understood as walking in purity and not in sin, but light also implies exposure and openness. Darkness hides, but light reveals (Which is why we tend to like darkness rather than light (John 3:19)). Therefore, walking the light enables us to have fellowship with one another, and helps us to be "purified" from all sin.
So as a general challenge to both myself and you, let’s try to get a little more uncomfortable with one another. Let’s pursue authenticity. Maybe this means responding a bit more candidly when someone asks “how you are doing?” next Sunday. Or maybe it looks like seeking people out who you can share your story with. Maybe still it means taking the time to invest in people and ministries where you can be available to simply listen to the real stories of others.
Only let us not waste the incredible resource the Body of Christ is--by being distant and superficial.