The lie of the Authentic Self
Just be yourself.
Be true to yourself.
Nobody can tell you who you are.
I am who I am.
I’ve just got to be authentic to me
These are all commonly used phrases and deeply held social convictions that stir all around us. As with most lies, these statements are partly true, making them enticing but dangerous to believe.
One of the things that I love most about my pastor is his willingness to be authentic. During any sermon you can tell that the topic he is addressing isn't just something for the audience to hear, but something he has wrestled with, and he has allowed God to work on in his own heart and character. I love this about him and we should all strive to be authentic. But we must also make sure we are clear when we use the word authentic. Our culture has redefined “authentic” to mean, “doing whatever makes us feel good as long as it doesn’t go against our personal convictions.” My pastor has demonstrated the real definition of authentic: being honest and genuine, allowing God to challenge and change him. This is how true authenticity should be approached. You see my pastor isn’t interested in an “authenticity” that allows him to do whatever makes him feel good. He constantly demonstrates that his highest authority is God, not the authentic self the world promotes.
The world, on the other hand, has sold us an authentic self, devoid of God. When we buy into the world's description of the authentic self we are promised freedom and joy, but delivered relativity and hopelessness. When we live authentically to who God says we are, we are promised freedom and joy and though it is delivered through struggle and faith, this promise does not disappoint. This is because it is an authenticity set in a foundation of truth.
Without Christ, the authentic self is simply scary moral relativity. How can anyone argue that what you do is wrong, if you are just being true to yourself? With this view there can be no rebuke to anyone doing anything socially questionable or grotesque, as long as they can explain it as being “true to themselves.” So instead of telling people they can’t or shouldn’t do anything-- we must ask the question, “Are you being authentically you?” If the answer is, “yes,” however gross the action is, it must be celebrated. This is animalistic anarchy at worst, and philosophical idiocracy at best.
With Christ, this moral relativity gets demolished because we understand the authentic self is only true if it is rooted in the correct view of who we are in Christ. This is where our culture would argue that the Christian perspective is restrictive and oppressive. How you might ask? As Christians, we realize we start with sin. Since Adam sinned, sin entered the world, and we inherit that sin. We understand that there is, from our beginning, a problem: The authentic self is a sinner self. To the culture, this outlook on self is nothing more than a negative guise used for the Church to place a false guilt on people. As Christians we know nothing could be further from the truth. It is sin that is oppressive, and it is Christ who offers the freedom from the false authentic self to live “life to the fullest.” Our first act of accepting Christ is being authentic to God and offering ourselves, with our sin and all, to God, to wash us clean by the sacrifice of Christ.
Yes “just be yourself” sounds so good, and talking about sin in our lives seems oppressive, but don’t buy into that. The world's solution to the pain and sin is "just be you," but this is not a solution to the problem. It’s like wanting to get healthy, but not liking exercise. So what do you do? You buy the infomercial product that promises great results without doing anything. Yeah it sounds great, but when you look at the reviews and try it out for yourself, you realize its offers fall far short of what is promised. You’ve got to do the real thing to get the real results.
The real thing to finding your authentic self, is placing your faith in Christ... and the real result is a more authentic you than you ever imagined- authentically rooted in God.