This is part 2 of a series on authenticity. You can read my first post here.
There’s something exciting about hearing a good story!
I’m learning that all truly good stories have depth. They have darkness and redemption, and oftentimes repeated patterns of both. But here’s the really great thing: we’re all being given a story - each one unique.
My favorite stories are testimonies – stories of redemption – hearing how someone moved from opposition or apathy for God toward a place of devotion. We don’t have to have walked the same path as someone else to understand the emotions – the power of moving from death to life...
Cody, my brother-in-law, was clearly a bit anxious as he stood in front of us to preach from the Word: what was on his heart was powerful because it was personal.
For the next 40 minutes, Cody shared his story: how God has taken him through situations, temptations and sins that ensnared him, and how he’s seen God in the midst of the struggle and learned to rely on Him through it. He pointed us to James 5:16, emphasizing the power that exists in confession and prayer and then to Ephesians 5:1-14 highlighting that not even a hint of immorality should be in us.
But what was truly encouraging was that this was not about trying harder to achieve holiness; this was about Jesus, who is mighty to save us and break us from the chains that have once ensnared!
While it initially seemed strange hearing Cody, the preacher, sharing openly about such honest struggles, it was ultimately refreshing. He expressed raw emotion and a heartfelt desire for him to lead his congregation in authenticity with each other.
What motivated him to share openly with his congregation is something that I believe ardently: authenticity is necessary in growing rich community. What I mean by authenticity is this: the willingness to put aside self and confess our sins to one another, to expose what was hidden in darkness to the light of truth, and to turn to Jesus - a proclaimed repentance.
I want to explore why this type of authenticity is oftentimes avoided within churches. But before exploring my first conclusion, I want you to see some background in Scripture.
The Old Testament is rich with passages that teach about confession of sins (Leviticus 5:5, Leviticus 26:40, Numbers 5:7, Ezra 10:1, Nehemiah 9:1, Psalm 28:18, Daniel 9:20). And then the New Testament continues this trend but also frequently refers to confessing the name of Jesus.
Matthew 3:6 and Mark 1:5: “were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Luke 9:18 – Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ
Acts 19:18: “many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices…”
Romans 10:9: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord …”
James 5:16: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another”
1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…”
1 John 2:23: “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also…”
Confession of sin in the Old Testament was frequently associated with the Law practice that followed it: a sacrifice of some kind. Confession now, as part of the Church Age, means that we expose our sin, but we then cling to the sacrifice that was made once for all: Jesus. With this as my foundational thought, I can now freely explore the reasons that I believe the church struggles to clearly and consistently model authentic relationship.
1. There has been a negative experience with authenticity in the past. Oftentimes, the confessed sin becomes magnified above the One faithful to free us - Jesus.
We're well intentioned in our attempts to help people out of the sin that ensnares, but the answers don't lie in self-help books or the shared wisdom of those who have been in our shoes. Remember, we each have a story, and each is uniquely created by the Lord. Jesus - who He is, His nature, His person - focusing on Him above the problem is the only consistent solution.
So how do we avoid this type of problem in the future? James 5:16 tells us to confess and pray. Why? Because prayer changes our hearts. It causes us to focus on One who is bigger than our sin issue and reminds us to reflect on the reason we can pray at all – the ultimate intercession has been made and continues on our behalf in the person of Jesus.
2. Another reason I believe authenticity has been avoided is that it requires us to invest in others in a manner that takes time and intentionality.
Within our fast-paced culture, these are two commodities that are tough to come by.
Solution? We learn the art of slowing down. God is not more pleased by busy-ness. (And this is a tough pill for me to swallow.) He has called us to live in community with one another, helping each other, praying for each other, sharing the Gospel message with others. If we are too busy running around, perhaps even doing things in the name of Jesus, that we don’t have time to uphold a brother or sister in prayer, I can confidently say that our priorities are shifted. True authentic community requires time and intentionality.
3. The major, overarching reason that authenticity is avoided is fear.
What if no one understands me? What if no one has ever heard of that struggle before? What if I’m rejected? What if someone betrays my trust?
These are all very real fears. I’m not contending in your pursuit of authenticity that you shout your struggles and sins from the mountaintops. Notice a few things that Cody did NOT say when he shared his testimony with us: specific details, specific stories of times in the middle of temptation or sin, graphic images of what it was like during that time. We must be wise and discerning in the level of detail that we share. And we certainly don’t need to share it with everyone. But freedom comes from regular confession (sometimes just to the Lord at the end of the day) and refocusing on our salvation found in Jesus Christ.
If we consider the communities that we feel most connected to, it’s those in which we’ve been most real: within families or amongst friends.
Don't hear my say that we should air all of our dirty laundry for the world to see. But what I do want to pose is an idea: people within the church must be authentic about the realities of life and the Savior that meets every need if we desire to grow in community. Without taking that risk, we’re weak. Without taking that risk, we’re putting a bandaid on a gushing wound.
Authenticity matters. Be wise. Be discerning. Know the Word. Pursue Christ. And don't fear.