Summary: How to be authentic in church.
Have you ever asked, “If I were a first time visitor, what would be my impression of this church?” Would you feel so welcome? Does the church have to resort to gimmicks to attract visitors?
Charles Swindoll, one of my favorite authors, wrote: “I can assure you, when people discover that a church promotes authenticity, when its leaders model it on a consistent basis, they cannot stay away. It’s like an invisible magnet that draws them in.”
This morning we will talk about “Being Real Matters.”
Charles Swindoll defined “authenticity” this way: “Authenticity occurs when real people say real things about real issues with real feelings. When you’re authentic you live what you are.” So, to be authentic is to be real. What happens when we are not real or authentic? We wear masks. We pretend to be what we really are not. Bruce Larson questioned this sad situation: “What’s wrong with the church in our time? It’s the place you go when you put on your best clothes; you worship; you eat together—but you don’t bring your life! You leave behind all your pain, your brokenness, your hopes, even your joys. The church, unfortunately, has become a museum to display the victorious life or finished products.”
Now, why do we pretend that we are strong when we’re in fact weak? It is because we think people won’t love us if they know what we’re really like, that they will only accept us if we follow a certain standard or behavior. That’s why we make it appear that we are super-spiritual. Yet we are actually struggling. We’re afraid people will think we’re not “good” Christians. We wear a mask that says we are okay. But we are actually crumbling inside. We don’t like it. But we think people don’t care. We don’t open up because we’re afraid of gossip.
But for us to be intimate in fellowship, we need to be authentic. It is hard to be intimate if there is hypocrisy. The Bible spelled it out for us in Ephesians 4:1-7...
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."
How do we become real? To make it easy to remember, I came up with the acronym R-E-A-L.
First, RESPOND to your calling. Verse one says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Note the word “then.” From chapters 1 to 3 of Ephesians, Paul talked about “the calling [we] have received.” Then from chapters 4 to 6, he discussed how “to live a life worthy of the calling...” Remember that the Jews and the Gentiles were enemies. Then when they became believers, Paul told them in Ephesians 2:16-17, “Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders.” During those times Gentiles, who became members of the Jewish religion, worship in the Court of the Gentiles. The Jews prohibit the Gentiles from entering the temple grounds. They will be stoned to death if they do enter. That’s why they called the Gentiles “outsiders” and the Jews “insiders.” But Paul declared that Christ on the cross “treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (v. 18)
This is our calling. We are called to a community. We are called not just to believe but also to belong. Let us respond to our calling by being authentic.
Second, EXERT every effort. Verse 3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” In the Greek, “make every effort” can be translated “do your best.” Therefore, we must give it our best shot to reach out to each other. We are already united. Paul commanded us to “keep” it. Let us stay united. We should not let anyone or anything to divide us. How do we do that? Verse 2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” To be humble means to consider others more important or better than you. To be gentle means to give up one’s rights for the sake of others. One commentary says that gentleness or “meekness is a virtue of the strong, those who could exert force to get their own way but choose not to.” To be patient means to accept the fact that we all have our shortcomings. Instead of giving up on each other, we are “bearing with one another in love.” Rick Warren wrote, in his Fellowship: Protecting the Church, “The sooner we give up the illusion that a church must be perfect in order to love it, the sooner we quit pretending and start admitting we’re all imperfect and need grace. We must remember that the church is made up of real sinners, including ourselves. Because we’re sinners, we hurt each other, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. But instead of leaving the church, we need to stay and work it out if at all possible. ... This is beginning of real community.”