When I was 21, I signed a Nashville pub­lish­ing deal. As a shy teenag­er I had dis­cov­ered song­writ­ing as a form of prayer, ther­a­py and self-expres­sion. Now, giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to turn my intro­spec­tive hob­by into a career writ­ing mate­r­i­al for oth­er record­ing artists, I fig­ured I’d bet­ter make my songs less intense­ly per­son­al. I began writ­ing lyrics on more gener­ic top­ics, hop­ing any vocal­ist could relate to them.

I soon got a call from my pub­lish­er. Why,” she asked, are you sud­den­ly writ­ing ter­ri­ble songs?”

That was the day I learned, as a gen­er­al rule, the more per­son­al some­thing is, the more pow­er it pos­sess­es. Any con­tri­bu­tion we wish to make holds much greater poten­tial if it’s an authen­tic expres­sion of who we are.

Authen­tic­i­ty” has become, right­ly, a buzz­word. We crave it in cul­ture, rela­tion­ships, church­es and lives.

Some­thing is authen­tic when what­ev­er claims it makes for itself are con­sis­tent with its own inte­ri­or real­i­ty. Songs are authen­tic when they express some­thing their writer actu­al­ly feels. Mex­i­can food is authen­tic when the ingre­di­ents and recipes used to make it real­ly do come from Mex­i­co. Peo­ple are authen­tic when their hid­den moti­va­tions match the things they actu­al­ly say and do.

It’s the inner con­di­tion of a per­son that deter­mines whether his or her authen­tic­i­ty is a good thing. The man who leaves his fam­i­ly to be true to him­self is being authen­tic, but not good. Con­verse­ly, most of us know some­one who is gen­uine­ly him­self – unmasked and trans­par­ent –in ways that are very good indeed. When a person’s inner and out­er real­i­ties are both healthy and aligned, she becomes a pro­found­ly pow­er­ful presence.

Late­ly I’ve noticed a trend regard­ing authen­tic­i­ty in some of our church­es. We’ve right­ly reject­ed an empha­sis on an out­er appear­ance of holi­ness if it doesn’t match the real state of a person’s heart. Instead, we hon­est­ly acknowl­edge our bro­ken­ness. A lot.

It’s good to get real about the truth of our con­di­tion. But what would hap­pen if we focused less on down­grad­ing our exte­ri­or empha­sis on holi­ness, and more on upgrad­ing the inte­ri­or pos­si­bil­i­ty of it?

What if we were to not only unveil our faces, but with unveiled faces con­tem­plate the Lord’s glo­ry” until we dis­cov­er that through Jesus we are being trans­formed into His image with ever-increas­ing glo­ry, which comes from the Lord” (2 Corinthi­ans 3:18)?

If we are inten­tion­al about allow­ing Jesus to grad­u­al­ly trans­form us into His image, I sus­pect two rad­i­cal things will happen.

First, we’ll actu­al­ly grow in holi­ness. We’ll begin to authen­ti­cal­ly want to do and be what we might have pre­vi­ous­ly been tempt­ed to fake. This won’t make us pre­ten­tious. The more we are trans­formed, the clear­er we will see our brokenness.

The Apos­tle Paul, the man who called him­self the fore­most sin­ner” (1 Tim­o­thy 1:16) was also sure enough of the trans­form­ing work of Jesus that he could con­fi­dent­ly tell oth­ers, Fol­low my exam­ple, as I fol­low the exam­ple of Christ” (1 Corinthi­ans 11:1). We can expect to become authen­ti­cal­ly hum­ble and gen­uine­ly holy at the same time.

Sec­ond, we’ll dis­cov­er, in the words of C. S. Lewis, The more we let God take us over, the more tru­ly our­selves we become.”

I used to read John the Baptist’s cry — He must increase, but I must decrease!” (John 3:30, KJV) — and imag­ine my own per­son­al­i­ty reced­ing into a gener­ic state of Christ­like­ness. But John only became more com­plete­ly his con­fronta­tion­al, unshaven, locust-eat­ing self in Jesus’ pres­ence — holy, but in an authen­ti­cal­ly John the Bap­tist sort of way.

Holi­ness is, among oth­er things, a whole­ness giv­en to us by God. We should expect to become more whol­ly our­selves as God works with­in us.

I’m writ­ing these words fresh from a funer­al for a woman named Heather. A sud­den ill­ness took her from us, and we mourned the awful rup­ture of her depar­ture. But we also laughed as we cel­e­brat­ed Heather’s won­der­ful peculiarities. 

She was a five-foot-noth­ing dynamo, a neat freak known for pulling out a Swif­fer at red lights to clean her car’s dash­board, a wood­work­ing genius who asked her hus­band for wrench­es rather than ros­es. Her pas­tor told us this: Heather,” he promised, is more Heather now than she ever has been.”

For the dis­ci­ple of Jesus, authen­tic­i­ty is not so much a buzz­word — it is a destiny.

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From July/​August 2016 issue of Faith Today. Shared with permission.

Originally published June 2016