Oxford defines “authentic” as made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original. As believers, the “original” we’re seeking to resemble is our intended design – our redeemed self. If it weren’t for the fall of Adam we might resemble God’s original design. But sin causes us to fall short. So we look to Christ as our proxy.
As a result of this fallen state, our relationships with others often disappoint. Struggling to live authentically with those around us we long for something more genuine. Striving for authenticity leads us to ask 2 questions:
- What does “living authentically with friends” even mean?
- In what ways do I see myself falling short?
When thinking about living authentically with each other, we often focus on what WE need. What WE’RE SEEKING in order to meet OUR EARTHLY NEEDS. In effect, we’re living for ourselves – for the here and now. Not surprisingly, what GOD wants us to think about are HIS DESIRES for the BODY OF CHRIST and its ETERNAL NEEDS?
Changing our pursuit to focus on God’s desires will reveal the authenticity our hearts long to discover. We’ll find it when we do 5 things:
- Grow Up…by striving to mature in our faith
- Lift Up…by placing unity ahead of our selfish agenda
- Build Up…by loving those around us in a Christ-like way
- Look Up…by turning to our Heavenly father for strength to persist
- Give Up…by dying to self and being renewed
Let me start by saying this: If you want to live authentically with the people around you…you’re going to have to GROW UP! In Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul tells us directly to grow up, but he emphasizes the point with phraseology like, so that we may no longer be children, and put off your old self.
Paul makes the same point in his first letter to the Church at Corinth when he penned, When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways 1 Cor 3:11 (ESV).
If you’re a parent…you can appreciate this sentiment. After all, our kids are born having seemingly mastered sinfulness yet it takes years to train them to say please and thank you. The childish ways our kids innately have down pat include: selfishness, immaturity, bickering, complaining, laziness, short-sightedness, instant gratification, and much more. What parent hasn’t said to their kids, or at least thought the words, “Would you just grow up!”
Although I wish I’d outgrown my own immaturity I know there are areas in my life where I’m still childish. Putting aside these ways is the first step to authentic relationships.
If we accept that God wants us to grow up…the question becomes, “To what end?” Paul answers this question in Ephesians 4:11-14 when he writes:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, unity of the Spirit.
God has provided vast resources to equip us, and the point is that as we mature we will in turn build up the body of Christ. It’s unity God wants us to achieve through our maturity. Again, Paul’s words scattered through Chapter 4 of Ephesians sound the call for unity. Phrases like, bond of peace, one body, unity of the faith, and we are members one of another.
Not to be deceived into thinking you’re unified with those around you, consider whether the following topics ever divide you and other believers?
- Theological differences
- Schooling decisions (e.g. home schooling vs public vs Christian)
Being unified doesn’t mean “single-mindedness.” Rather, it means we don’t let our differing opinions stand between us and the most important thing in our life…Christ! Why? Because disunity in the body harms God’s Kingdom. It’s like graffiti all over the good news of Christ.
Personal maturity and a commitment to unity are a great start towards authenticity…but there’s more. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 in Paul says, Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.
This next mandate for us is to build up those around us. As image bearers of Christ we are to display for others God’s best qualities. The Bible is packed with lists of such qualities, but Ephesians 4 offers a fairly complete list.
- Speak the truth
- Share with anyone in need
- No corrupting talk
- Give grace
This list is discouraging when I think about how far away I am from truly living this out with those around me. As if knowing we’d look for ways to distill this down to something more manageable, Paul reduces it to its essence in Galatians 5:13-14.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
In a word, it comes down to LOVE. Loving those around us more than we love ourselves.
Growing up, Lifting Up and Building Up will stretch you…and at times wear you out. Attempting this on your own strength might result in weariness or despair. God knew this would be the case so he encouraged us through Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9-10 (ESV).
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Not wanting us to go it alone, God stands with us in our fight against weariness. He offers much support, but two of His most powerful resources are His Spirit and His grace.
- Walk in the Spirit: But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
- Lean on God: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV).
While our fallen selves will naturally think we can accomplish this under our own power, living authentically requires something supernatural. Fortunately, we have God’s Spirit and grace as our helper.
Are you starting to see how living authentically with others is about putting them first? Making their needs a priority over your own. In short, the final step in living authentically is about dying to self. That fundamental tenet of Christianity that is so hard for fallen and sinful people like you and me. It’s hard to grasp and it’s even harder do to. But as John the Baptist said just after baptizing Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30 (ESV).
Not to be discouraged, Paul explained to the early church that through the process of self-denial, we are in fact being renewed.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV)
C.S. Lewis put a beautiful bow on this entire concept when he wrote the following in his classic book Mere Christianity:
Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
This is my hope for you as a believer in Christ (or someone curious about what it means to follow Christ). That in doing these 5 things you will come to enjoy what it means to live authentically with your friends. By living this way:
- We will mature…in our faith
- We will be unified…as a body of believers
- We will serve one another…in love
- We will keep our eyes fixed on God…looking to Him for strength
- We will die to self…knowing that it is part of our own sanctification
Question: Do you feel challenged or convicted to live differently in any of these 5 areas? Would the relationships in your life look any different if you simply decided to grow up and build up? Please take a moment and share your thoughts. You can leave a comment by clicking here.