I recently posted on my social media feed the following statement: “Authenticity should flow from what I am still learning versus what I already know.”
Little did I know how much that statement would resonate with people.
So before I go any further, I need to share a story that will help give context.
The Wheels Come Off
Karen and I had only been married a couple of years when we moved from Rockland County, NY to Hershey, PA and took over a home of middle school/high school girls at a residential school.
With only two years of marriage behind us, we were now “parents” to ten teenage girls. Yes, teenage girls…all from very diverse family backgrounds and many facing significant challenges. We were also about to start our own family, as Karen was pregnant with our first. The fast pace of life changes took its toll on our marriage.
The home we took over had a reputation of being “a killer of callings.” It was toxic, and trying to change the culture and manage the day-to-day in the home was ripping our relationship apart.
Our marriage was quickly crumbling. There was a period of time where we couldn’t even speak to each other without fighting. In the best interest of the kids and putting on our “Facebook faces” (everything is great), we kept our struggles to ourselves.
Eventually, through conversations and counseling, both our marriage and student home got to a place of health, and we came out of this situation realizing something: We weren’t the only couples struggling to keep their marriages thriving under tremendous pressure.
So what exactly is authenticity? Well…that would depend in what you believe.
Brene Brown, who has become our modern day “evangelist” for authenticity and vulnerability states, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” I really like that, but it falls short of Biblical Authenticity. If the purpose of my life is to just “be real,” what purpose does that really serve?
I have been a part of those "be real men” prayer breakfasts, where after breakfast and speakers you are ushered into small groups of men and encouraged to share your deepest darkest secrets. Not only are those moments extremely awkward, but I don’t believe true authenticity is actually achieved. For example, if I am a jerk, does it really matter whether I am a jerk in front of you or behind your back? I am still a jerk. If authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are, the question we all need to wrestle with is, “who am I created to be?”
Working with at-risk kids for over 20 years, I have heard my share of these kinds of phrases:
“I ain’t nothing but _____ trash, and I always will be.”
My worldview, or lens, will greatly impact what I believe is critical about authenticity. Authenticity from a secular perspective, as real as we try to be, will never truly fulfill our deepest longing.
Being authentic is not an end to itself, but a critical component to discover who I was created to be. It is a tool, not an end state. The question then needs to be asked, “Why is authenticity so important to my journey, especially as a man?”
Because every human being longs to be known and loved as we truly are. The good and bad; the beautiful and ugly; the highs and lows. All of it. To be unconditionally loved in a conditional world. This is why a relationship with Jesus Christ is so important, whether you believe in Him or not. The very foundation of the Christian faith is our God sent His son to die for me, without conditions, in my uttermost ugliest of moments (dead in my sin), because He loved me. Unconditionally.
The Gospel not only hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but the church's ability to authentically, sincerely, genuinely share that hope through broken and messed up people.
As we will see, Biblical authenticity requires courage, but not recklessness. It requires a balance of Truth and Grace. Grace and Truth about ourselves. Grace and Truth about others—but most importantly Grace and Truth about God. Our attempts to achieve authenticity are experienced and revealed as we walk this path of life. Not when we try to throw it into the microwave of personal and cultural opinions as we strive to “be real.”
I don’t think any man has embraced that better than the Apostle Paul himself. A man of authenticity who gives us a biblical model of authenticity.
The Authenticity of the Apostle Paul
The transparency and authenticity of Paul is honestly quite refreshing in a Christian and/or Secular culture that longs to elevate its own voice and brand to position ourselves for success. When was the last time you heard from an “expert” or pastor—“I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” Imagine your pastor standing in front of your congregation and stating those words. Some would be removed from the pulpit for their lack of “leadership” and “vision.” Yet this very sentiment is what our hearts long for and in fact, what secular culture longs for: authenticity.
Here are 3 characteristics of Biblical Authenticity found in the apostle Paul that we need to model as men:
Our Lives Must be Gospel-Centered, not Me-Centered.
The Apostle Paul makes this clear: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.”
The takeaway for me is this: a year from today will those closest to me see someone transformed by the Gospel? The fruit of what He is doing in my life is the only way someone will know if my life is continually being transformed by the Gospel. Oftentimes, we want people to only see all that is going right, or smart, or my way, or…how perfect my life is. Social media allows this perception, but for true authenticity to work people need to see me when I don’t have it all together; when I fall apart and when I struggle. They need to see the transforming nature of Christ to taste the fruit.
This is never clearer than 2 Corinthians 4:7-10: “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body.”
In other words, we need to stop acting like we have it all together.
Our Lives Should Model Humility, not Pride.
In his book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller writes, “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth, and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.”
Our normal condition is always trying to prove to ourselves, others, and God that we are somebody. A condition that left unchecked and surrendered to Christ will continually leave us bankrupt.
In 1 Corinthians 4:3-6, “It is of little importance to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even judge myself…It is the Lord who judges me…who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God…the purpose is that none of you will be arrogant, favoring one person over another.”
The purpose of our lives is that, as Christ transforms us, people will not be drawn to us but to Christ.
In other words, we need to stop making it about us, but about Christ as we serve others.
Our Lives Must be Sincere.
Let these passages of Scripture resonate in your heart.
2 Corinthians 6:4-6: “Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love.”
2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
1 Timothy 1:5: “Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”
2 Timothy 1:5: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.”
If I asked people to describe you, would the word sincerity make your list? Yet as we see, sincerity is central to the hope we find in Christ. How can they trust Him if they can’t trust you? Sincerity is our ability to live honest lives without hypocrisy and, because we act as if we have all the answers, we oftentimes rob Christ of His glory because they see a finished product instead of a work on progress.
Sincere Biblical Authenticity
I opened up this post telling you a story. A story about the struggles my wife and I had early on in our marriage. Truth is, we still struggle despite what you might see on Facebook or Instagram. One powerful lesson we learned from our early struggles is that we were not alone in those struggles. And so we started openly sharing about them.
Most recently we have come out of a hard and difficult season as we adjust to living and leading a ministry here in New England. There will always be a fight for our marriage, but I don’t share that so that you sympathize with me. I share it because I want those around us to see Christ transforming us and our marriage. I share so that others can pray for us, encourage us, and at times exhort us.
The Apostle Paul summarizes the Biblically authentic life we all need to model.
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
Go and live authentic, imperfect, messy lives before a broken world so that others may see Jesus redeem and transform you into His image.
Roy Baldwin is a husband, dad, and son. He currently serves as CEO for Christian Heritage, a foster care agency in Nebraska. He is the former Director of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family and Executive Director of Camp Monadnock. Roy has worked for over 25 years working with at-risk youth and families. You can learn more about Roy at LinkedIn.