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.

Comments


  1. I do agree with your call for "authenticity ". Someone once said " Be yourself, everyone else is already taken". Furthermore, I find I am at my best when I am being myself. I am reminded of David who took Sauls armor off and decided to be himself. Turned out to be a good move. I find myself to be most effective when being authentic.

    However; please allow me to add a word of caution to your premise about appearance. In particular, I take issue with this statement in your blog. You wrote " 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".

    In contrast, I believe a healthy church will care a LOT about appearances, including personal image.

    I suppose the question should be, does God care about our personal attire for church or whether or not the appearance of our building is as good as it can be to promote a worshipful experience? And I believe he does. Often, what we wear is an expression of our heart and God has great concern for our hearts. What does it say about our attitude toward God when we come to church dressed no better than yesterday's ball game? The psalmist says ""Give unto the LORD the glory due his name", worship the LORD in the beauty of his holiness". I choose to make Sunday dress special to express to others that I consider it an important occasion and in turn to encourage them to consider it just as important.

    In the spirit of authenticity, I find it a bit disturbing at the casual come as you are attitude of many of today's churchgoers. Does this reflect their true attitude toward worship? Or is only what is convenient and of personal comfort the important thing? Personally, I try to avoid a nonchalant attitude with my dress that says there is nothing special about church. I strive for others to know that I consider church more important than the back yard barbecue, a trip to Walmart, or a sporting event.

    Yes, even our dress sends a message to others as to what we think of church. In addition, our dress influences others in their worship experience. We should clothe ourselves in a way that will edify and strengthen the worship of others.

    In conclusion, a healthy church WILL care about appearances and sinners saved by grace SHOULD be concerned about their personal image.

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    Replies
    1. I really appreciate this comment, Dick. Your words carry tremendous weight as you are a man I respect a great deal. And I don't think I disagree with you much here. I think where we may differ is more--how much emphasis should we put on clothing or our personal appearances while coming to church. Half a century ago it was understood that when you come to church, you wore your very best. No questions asked. And for the reasons you stated: the church is God's house. The time spent there is a time set apart for His worship, and we want to give him our very best.

      But I don't think the way we dress deserves the amount of emphasis we traditionally give it. Here is why:

      1) God has always preferred internal purity to external appearances. As David prays in Psalm 51:16-17

      "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
      you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
      My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
      a broken and contrite heart
      you, God, will not despise."

      David understood that God did not care for externals, but for David's heart. The purpose of the sacrifices and offerings in the OT was that through the external acts that God required of His people--their hearts would grow closer to His. The outward acts were not ends in themselves, but calls for God's people to draw near to Him--and shadows of the ultimate sacrifice to come.

      2) There are severe warnings about inconsistencies between the internal and external in our worship throughout Scripture:

      Jesus says in Matthew 23:25-26: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."

      And Isaiah writes in Isaiah 29:13 "And the Lord said: 'Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,'"

      This does not mean that because of the hypocrisy of some, we should not try to honor God with our lips or by external means. Not all obedience is internal! But our focus should be on the heart, for God's focus is on the heart. And if the heart is clean the exterior will surely follow.

      3) There is no New Testament directive that I can find that calls us to dress our best in church. (1 Timothy 2 discusses women dressing with decency and modesty, 1 Timothy 4 requires that elders and overseers be respectful which surely overlaps dress, and 1 Cor 11 addresses the issue of head coverings--but nothing I can find that commands that we dress our best in church.)

      This does not mean that we should dress like slobs of course, or come to church flippantly. But our focus should not lie on looking the best we can for God externally--our focus should rather be on looking the best we can for God internally. Are our hearts clean? Are our desires pure? Is our sin confessed? You may argue that the two are not mutually exclusive--and they are not. But human nature likes to go to extremes and will most likely emphasize one over the other. My fear is that considerable emphasis on appearance in church will distract people from what matters most: the heart.

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