Recently I was preparing for a seminar. As I was researching various sources I came across an article by a well-known pastor in this country. The article was excellent. Very helpful… even though it came from a writer that I don’t always appreciate. I rarely read his material—well, for various reasons. One reason is his behavior. He is one of the current breed of preachers who think it’s okay to be crude, to use profanity, and say inappropriate comments, even in the pulpit—all with the rationale of being “authentic.”
Now I suppose if this particular pastor is normally crude and profane in his everyday speech that it is valid to say that he is being authentic. At least he is not being hypocritical. He is not cussing at home and talking like a Puritan in the pulpit. He is genuinely being himself. But therein lies the problem.
I really don’t have a beef with preachers who say they are being “authentic” when they don’t put on airs, don’t try to be “holier than thou,” and don’t mask their struggles and challenges as human beings. We are all weak. We are all prone to failure. We all have shortcomings. I understand and appreciate this.
My problem is when people, preachers included, glory in their failures. They wear their weaknesses like a badge of honor. And if others don’t brag about how sinful they are, then they are viewed as hypocrites. I wonder of these “authentic preachers” have considered that others who do not publicly display their own personal challenges are not inauthentic, they are only authentically ashamed of their failures. And this is okay. There is no glory in the things we should be ashamed of! (See Romans 6:21, Ephesians 5:11-12) But then, of course, we have lost the ability to be ashamed in our culture. In America today, shame is dead.
There is second problem. If a person uses profanity, is crude, says inappropriate things or tells off-color jokes—and says that he is only being authentic—I ask, is this really the “authentic person” he wants to be? Is this crude and impure person that he genuinely exhibits before the world living the Christian life he desires to live? Indeed, should there not be a compulsion within each of us to be authentically pure, authentically holy, authentically righteous? Shouldn’t we want our authentic selves to be better than the unsaved people around us? Shouldn’t we want to be authentically different than the world—not only in the pulpit, but on the job, at home?
Or, as followers of Christ are we now completely satisfied with talking and acting and thinking like the world? Does our speech and our actions identify us as “peculiar people” or are we just like everybody around us? I think we should ask ourselves, is there an authentic difference between the way we live as believers and the way people live who do not know Christ? Is there?
It reminds me of an incident that occurred many years ago. I was on staff at a church in Charlottesville, Va. A good friend of mine (Jerry Steele, now a pastor in PA) and I were painting the outside of the church, getting ready for a weekend celebration. Jerry was on a ladder, about 25 feet in the air. The ladder slipped and Jerry fell, breaking and literally crushing both arms. When I came on the scene, he was lying face down on the ground. I could see the broken end of a bone sticking out of his elbow. His groans were horrible to hear. When the fire department and emergency crews worked to help him, and get him on a gurney for transport to the hospital, he cried out in pain. He also cried out in prayer to God. Later, some of the EMT’s commented that they were surprised that despite the excruciating pain he was in, he never cussed. Not one word of profanity came out of his mouth. When Jerry was asked about this, he simply replied, “It won’t come out of you if it is not in you in the first place.” Way to go, Jerry.
You see, in that moment Jerry was being agonizingly authentic. What was in him? Holiness. Righteousness. A desire to serve God. A heart that knew to call on the Lord in times of great trouble. Crudity and profanity were not present, so they did erupt out of him in a moment when it would have been impossible to be anything other than “authentic.”
I don’t now about you, but that is desire of my heart. Yes, I want to be authentic. And I want the authentic me to be same no matter where I am and what I am doing. So when I preach, I want people to see a Victor who loves God with all his heart—and that is who he really is. And when I teach, I want people to see a Victor who is pure and holy, because that is what he is striving for everyday in his life. And when I am home with my wife, I want her to see a man who is a person of integrity and moral virtue, because he is not pretending (not even for her), but that is just who he is. I hunger with all the passion of my heart to be authentically holy.
Yes, I am not perfect. Yes, I fail. Yes, I sin. Yes, I struggle. But I am not giving up, and I am not giving in, as far as being holy. I want to be an authentically pure Christian.
You see, though I struggle with my own flesh as much as any man, my sin challenges are not what defines me. What defines “who I am” is the new life I have in Christ. And after accepting Christ, sin may remain—but it does not reign. Sin is present, and I must fight against it. But the real me, the most authentic me, is holy and righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been given to me, and He has transformed my heart and soul.
Consider the words of two great men of the faith in this regard:
> “Every babe in Christ is holy, and yet not altogether so. He is saved from sin, yet not entirely: It remains, though it does not reign.” ~ John Wesley
> “For so long as we remain cooped up in this prison of our body, traces of sin will dwell in us, but if we faithfully hold fast to the promise given us by God in baptism, they shall not dominate or rule.” ~ John Calvin
So be authentic! Indeed. But do all you can to ensure that the authentic you is genuinely, sincerely and truly pure, holy and righteous. And never be satisfied with any less.
“God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.” ~ Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness