Do you have a moral responsibility to be authentic? The authenticity movement within our culture and its parallel within the church make this persuasive claim: You are being an inauthentic hypocrite if you refuse your desires. Beginning in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus preaches a sermon directed at his disciples, the church. This sermon is crucial for evaluating the authenticity movements’ claim, especially for Christians. Jesus is passionately anti-hypocrisy. He says to his disciples, “…you must not be like the hypocrites” (6:5). Is the authenticity movement right that acting in a manner contrary to your desires automatically makes you a hypocrite?
Surely, all of us have had to do things that are contrary to our desires. On weekday mornings, most working adults have had the desire to stay in bed. Are you being inauthentic by going to work in spite of your desires? In this situation, if you skip work, laziness would likely identify you, not authenticity. It requires integrity to keep your word and remain diligent in spite of desires to do otherwise. If the authenticity movement isn’t calling people to skip work whenever they feel like it, what is it encouraging us to do? When does the act of denying our feelings stop being positive to the development of character and start being hypocritical?
In the broader culture, the push toward authenticity has been decidedly focused on sex. If you do not desire to get married but have a strong desire for sex, you should feel free, if not obligated, to act out those feelings in whatever way you see fit. If you don’t feel like taking responsibility for the lives created through your sex life, you should be able to avoid that responsibility by whatever means. To fight this radical autonomy in the area of sex will pigeonhole you as being "inauthentic" and a likely hypocrite, so says the culture.
Within the church, the authenticity movement has focused primarily on the spiritual rather than the sexual. It is conspicuous how this feelings-driven form of authenticity is so selective in its application. Many Christians look at the authenticity movement in the broader culture and readily recognize its destructive results. Yet those same Christians fail to see the havoc wreaked in their own spiritual lives by the very same movement.
The Christianized authenticity movement (CAM) calls believers to “authentic spirituality.” On paper this sounds good, but, in reality, it tends to leave Christians isolated from the church and spiritually anemic. The church has historically and biblically required structure, commitment, and accountability within its fellowship (Matt. 18; 1 Tim 3; Hebrews 13). All three of these principles have been discounted by CAM, which says that genuine spirituality is individualistic, spontaneous, and radically egalitarian. As a result, Christians have lessened their engagement with other believers and with the institutional aspects of the church, including public worship. I would point you to another blog I’ve written called “Do we have to go to church today?” to see why I think this has contributed to the spiritual anemia prevalent in evangelicalism today.
This all brings us back to Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. During Jesus’ teaching, he raises concerns about spiritual disciplines that were commonly practiced by Jews in the first century. He addresses giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. Had Christ agreed with CAM, he may have said something like this: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who are compelled to regularly practice spiritual disciplines, but if you do give, pray, or fast be sure to do so out of a sincere desire.” But Jesus doesn’t say this! Rather he says, for example:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:5-6).
Jesus bemoans the religiosity of the Pharisees, because their practices look godly but are actually rituals for the sake of self-promotion. Jesus is identifying genuine spiritual practice by whether or not one’s motivations are God-centered rather than man-centered. All the while, Jesus assumes that his disciples are disciplining themselves spiritually through regular practices of mercy, prayer, and even the kind of self-denial required by fasting.
Hypocrisy should not be defined as a denial of desire. As we saw above, acting in accord with one’s commitments in spite of desire is often recognized as integrity in the context of the workplace. The same standard should be applied to our spirituality as is applied to our careers. A Christian who believes that God is King and seeks to obey the Bible is not acting as a hypocrite when he attends worship, even in spite of conflicting feelings. Rather, he is sticking to his guns, you may say. He is having integrity!
True authenticity for the Christian means living as the new creature, re-born in Christ, that God says he is (Eph. 2:8-10). When we live in this Christ-honoring pattern, our desires tend to align with our actions (Matt. 6:21). God renews our hearts and minds through ordinary means like prayer, attending worship, having fellowship with other believers, giving to the poor and to the local church, fasting, etc. We need more Christians who are honestly, though imperfectly, striving to live in a manner worthy of the calling to which they have been called (Eph. 4:1).