By Brandon Lemons
This is the final article in a series on Friedens’ tagline, which is “Deep roots. Authentic relationships.” The first four articles focused on Friedens’ deep roots historically and theologically. This is the second of two articles on “authentic relationships.” Last week, I explained why Friedens places such a high priority on relational ministry, and this article examines why “authentic” relationships are important to us.
Let’s start this study of authenticity by looking at our relationship with God. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with God if we are not authentic with Him. In this context, I’m using “authenticity” to describe being real and honest, without any pretense or mask or hiding of who we really are. God sees everything about us, no matter how much we try to hide or deny what is happening on the inside or in secret.
First Samuel 16:7 says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Because we humans tend to evaluate people based on external appearance, our temptation is to focus on how we look outwardly. There is a temptation to manage how others perceive us. This “perception management” leads to inauthenticity.
Churches are notorious for being places where people feel pressure – whether real or perceived – to look good externally. We may feel the expectation to live up to a certain standard of godliness. We may try making it look like we have our stuff together on Sunday mornings, even if the rest of the week was a mess. Songs like “Truth Be Told” by Matthew West and “Stained Glass Masquerade” by Casting Crowns do a great job of describing the perils of inauthenticity among Christians. I encourage you to look up these songs. Many problems result from living with a mask rather than being authentic, including: lots of anxiety and insecurity; a struggle to relate well with others; and a distance from God.
First John 1:5-10 describes the difference between being honest about our sins and weaknesses versus trying to hide them. One key point is that if we confess our sins, which is about being honest, we will receive forgiveness and experience a close relationship with God. Also, “if we walk in the light [stop hiding our sin and brokenness] …we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). Without the honesty that drops the masks and pretense, it is impossible to have true, authentic relational connections with one another. It just becomes two people’s masks interacting while the individuals hide parts of who they really are.
It is so freeing to be real with others, with ourselves, and with God. This authenticity opens the door for us to know others deeply and to be fully known, which can also help us experience increased levels of healing and wholeness in those areas where we struggle. Plus, as the apostle Paul recognized, it is in our weaknesses that Christ’s strength and grace are most powerfully experienced (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This is why Paul wasn’t timid when sharing about his own checkered past (1 Timothy 1:15), his current struggles with sin (Romans 7:14-25), and the difficulties and anxieties he faced (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
“Authentic relationships” is both a description of who we are at Friedens and an aspirational value of who we strive to be. I believe that, by and large, Friedens’ congregation lives in a down-to-earth manner. We are normal people who are seeking to follow Jesus. We welcome others with open arms and warm hearts, regardless of their background. I love hearing stories of how people who get connected with Friedens feel comfortable being real about their challenges rather than feeling like they need to have it all together. It’s about humility – not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought and not putting on a mask to impress others.
It’s important to acknowledge that Friedens doesn’t always live out “authentic relationships” perfectly. No group does, especially when it’s a large group that is always changing. That’s why “authentic relationships” is also an aspirational value. We still have sin in our lives, which causes all kinds of problems. So part of authenticity is readily admitting we don’t always have it all together. But by acknowledging that we don’t have it all together as individuals and as a church family, it helps us get back on the road toward the authentic relationships that are so life-giving.
Let’s close by looking to Jesus. Here’s a question: Besides His disciples, what types of people did Jesus seem to most enjoy being with? Those who readily acknowledged their flaws. Those who were most authentic. Not the religious people who pretended to have it all together, but the tax collectors and prostitutes who recognized they were messed up. For His association with these types of people, Jesus earned the derogatory nickname “friend of sinners.” In retrospect, this nickname is beautiful, because it shows His heart for people who are broken…which includes all of us. So authentic relationships with one another are deeply rooted in the Gospel. The Gospel enables us to be authentic, because rather than needing to prove our worthiness, Jesus’ love and grace fill us with an identity and confidence that frees us from needing to put on a show to impress others.