Authenticity in Christ
So much has changed in the last one hundred years. Imagine being born in 1920, and being alive in the year 2020. In just a single century, the cultural context in every region of the world has moved from industrial to informational (Gutenberg to Google), from rural to urban, and from modern to postmodern. These are tectonic cultural shifts that remained unchanged in the previous 500 years. What had been an environment of the kind of change that could be expected, anticipated, and managed for half a millennium has quickly moved to an environment of rapid change that feels disruptive and unanticipated. We are in mostly uncharted waters.
These foundation-shaking changes have generated new situations that challenge old presuppositions of how the world works. As a result, Christians’ view of the nature and structure of the church and how the church engages the mission of God has by necessity become adaptable, though not compromised. What remains constant in this time of rapid, discontinuous change is the eternal declaration of the earliest Christian confession: “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Whom we deem “Lord” is a bedrock essential for a believer’s identity as he or she journeys in grace. If we say, “[FILL IN THE BLANK] is ‘lord’” (and it really doesn’t matter whether it be another person, another thing, or oneself), it changes the entire narrative of our lives, including the ultimate goal and final outcome. But if we truly believe Jesus Christ is Lord, ordained to be so from everlasting to everlasting, there is only one rightful response: discipleship. Richard John Neuhaus reminds us that lordship is “not only an assertion of fact but a pledge of personal and communal allegiance.” Because Jesus Christ is Lord, we want to be like Him. We want to do what Jesus did and live like He lived. In Him alone, we find our identity and purpose. That is the definition of Christian discipleship and is still the way Jesus gets into His church.
Self-actualization is a popular spirituality today. When I did a quick Google search of “how to get in touch with my inner self,” I discovered 683,000,000 results. Scanning a few of these sites, I was encouraged to explore my identity by meditating, taking yoga classes, or keeping a soul journal.
There is a problem with these approaches: popular spiritualities that invite me to get in touch with my true self will never succeed, primarily because the only voice speaking is my own—a perpetual echo chamber. No matter how many strategies I employ to find my “real self,” and no matter how sincere I may be, it all falls short apart from an intimate relationship with my Creator.
Self-actualization is different from Christian authenticity. The former is based in self; the latter is based in Christ. Contrary to what some may think, to be “in Christ” is not to lose our unique self-identity. It is to discover that our identity can only be completely fulfilled in relationship to Him. Said differently, we come to know ourselves as we come to know God.
The spirituality of self-actualization directs one’s attention inward and downward. The pathway to true authenticity turns one’s attention outward and upward through prayer. This distinction is important. The reason we must pray is that only through prayer are we offered the possibility of hearing from Another who is not me, but who knows me.
There is no path to authenticity in Christ apart from prayer. It is true that as we pray, we come to know the heart, mind, and nature of God. It is also true that as we come to know God, we also come to know ourselves. In prayer, we are not merely talking to ourselves (looking inward); we are speaking to Another who is unique from us (looking upward). Even better, as we look to God in prayer, we find that the Spirit of God is also praying within us, communicating the will of the Father and laying bare the deepest secrets of our hearts. When we stake a claim to our identity in anything or anyone outside this relationship, it is idolatry. For, in Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
God is the only person from whom you can hide nothing. Before Him, you will unavoidably come to see yourself in a new, unique light. In truth, prayer may be the only reliable entryway into genuine self-knowing and authenticity of the heart.
When we come face to face with God, we are confronted with what is most true about us. In God’s presence, we experience real change. In this holy encounter, by grace, we finally find our true identity, and we are freed to live as God intended.
So the goal of our walk with Christ is not self-actualization (“I need to find my true self and what’s best for me”) or resignation to the forces of determinism (“I can’t help it; that’s just the way I am.”). In fact, from the perspective of Christianity, being true to oneself is to be true to the self we are called by God the Father to be, remade in the likeness of His Son. Following Jesus and becoming like Him is the unapologetic goal of our life’s journey. John the Gospel writer goes to great lengths to tell us that Jesus looks and acts like His Father: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (14:9), and that Jesus is the Word made flesh and, having come from His Father, is full of grace and truth (1:14). Who Jesus is and what Jesus does are two sides of the same coin, a reality that has important implications for our lives as Christ followers.
What if every Nazarene experienced true authenticity in Christ?
How would our families be different?
How would our churches be changed?
How would our villages and cities be impacted?
The peoples of the world await a church fully alive with authentic holiness disciples of Jesus.
David Busic has served the Church of the Nazarene as a general superintendent since 2013. Portions of this article were excerpted from his book, Way, Truth, Life: Discipleship as a Journey of Grace. Used by permission of The Foundry Publishing.
Holiness Today, May/June 2022