May 19, 2019
A few years ago, we had an interesting conversation with Glen Massey, who was at that time our College Pastor. The wewere the other Alliance pastors. He was talking about how college students valued what he called authenticityin worship. We asked what that meant. He said, they don’t like things to be too polished – too rehearsed – too practiced. In fact, he said, they like it when something doesn’t go quite right – when there’s a hiccup in the service. Someone forgets to make announcements and they have run up on stage; the worship team has to start over because they’re in the wrong key – things like that. That, he said, is what they see as authentic. Other words may be real or raw…or, imperfect.
By the way, you may be interested to know the words authenticand authenticitydon’t actually appear in the Bible. Perhaps sincere, genuine or honest are better words, but the truth is, those are different words. Our culture defines authenticity as being true to oneself, real, transparent, which by the way, also doesn’t appear in Scripture.
So this conversation was interesting, because we intentionally try to pursue what we call undistracting excellence. That is, we want things to go smoothly – not perfectly, that’s not the goal – but we want to pursue excellence so people are not put off by unnecessary distractions or mistakes. To be clear, mistakes are not necessarily sin – but, we try to eliminate them. But such mistakes are again seen as genuine, authentic, real.
And I suppose I understand that. It’s the same reason you lean forward in your seats when I step away from the podium. You know I’m going off script, and you’re waiting for me to make some mistake, put my foot in my mouth, as I often do. Now sometimes, people criticize my sermon preparation and delivery, or the worship team’s meticulous preparation on Thursdays. It goes like this: you guys write everything out, and normally stick to the script, which does not allow any room for the Holy Spirit. That sounds spiritual. But such criticism does not allow for the Holy Spirit to be in my office during the week when I’m writing, or when Hunter is preparing the worship service. It doesn’t allow for the worship team to hear from the Spirit on Thursdays when they rehearse – which I suppose is inauthentic, this practicing. It’s funny – I can remember those days when you’d walk into the auditorium and the song leader was over by the piano picking some songs with the pianist. Now that was painful.
Now I suppose we could have a rousing discussion about all that, but my concern is this: is it possible this pursuit of authenticity has replaced the pursuit of holiness. One author suggests, “In recent years, evangelical Christianity has made its imperfection a point of emphasis.” (Brett McCracken) Almost a badge of honor. We are all just a bunch of sinners saved by grace. That’s true. But upon what do we focus – the sin, or the grace, that saves and enables spiritual growth?
Here are my questions: has the evangelical church become more concerned about being real, raw, authentic than being holy, righteous, Christ-like? Have we become more committed to being true to ourselves than true to our faith? I’m just a broken sinner – you’re just a broken sinner – let’s celebrate our brokenness together. Rather than celebrating our redemption and encouraging and admonishing one another to pursue righteousness. Being like Jesus. You see, that is what a Christian or Christ-follower is – a disciple, someone who wants to be like his Master. Have we lost that in our pursuit of authenticity? Many suggest so.
And so, for example, we end up with a book titled:
- Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People
Now that’s true. But do we go from accepting our messiness to celebrating our messiness? And so, you can buy Christian stuff, like sweatshirts or coffee mugs that say:
- I Love Jesus, but I Cuss a Little
Or, you can attend churches with names like:
- Scum of the Earth
- Salvage Yard
- Messy Church (there’s actually a whole movement of those)
Or visit websites with names like:
- wrecked.org with categories like Hot Mess, Muddling Through and My Wreckage
And so the author I quoted earlier goes on to write, “But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ have evangelicals turned ‘being screwed up’ into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?”
If you weren’t with us last week, we finished the book of Hebrews. I begin a sabbatical this summer, which means I don’t want to start the next book, 1 Peter. So that leaves about four weeks, giving me the opportunity to discuss some Elephant in the Room topics – what Steve subtitled, Topics too Big to Ignore. We could just call it, things bugging Scott, but I’m not sure that sounded spiritual – but it did sounded authentic. There are things like:
- Has AuthenticityReplaced Holiness?
- Evangelism Includes Proselytizing
- The Inevitable End of the Sexual Revolution
I’m not positive what I’ll cover the fourth week, but it’ll be fun. Today, I want to encourage us by reminding us that brokenness is a means to an end, but not the end. Perhaps better said, brokenness is on the path to the end, but it is not the pursuit. Hebrews told us to throw off everything that hinders and the sin the so easily entangles. In fact, brokenness is not something to celebrate, but something to mourn. You see, holiness is what we should pursue, celebrate and encourage in one another.
Now, even as I say that, I understand we’re broken. I’ve said before I want Alliance to be a hospital where broken people can come and find grace, healing and forgiveness – not more condemnation. I talked about this last week when I suggested as redeemed followers of Jesus, we now have the ability to sin, and the ability to not sin. Again, not teaching sinless perfection. We still live in broken bodies, with broken people in a broken world, with the enemy of our souls opposing us. But we have the ability, by the indwelling, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, to say no to sin. And we should personally and corporately be pursuing holiness, encouraging it in others, and celebrating its victories, and mourning its defeats.
To be clear, this message is not to discourage repentance, confession of sin, transparency, a recognition of our great need of grace. In fact, I would say we need to confess and repent regularly – so that we change. Not so that we sit in it together, as if we are being authentic. Clearly, James tells us to confess our sins to one another. 1 John tells us, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And that’s not a salvation verse, that’s a sanctification verse. In other words, it’s written to believers, encouraging us to continue to confess sin. In fact, John goes on to say, if we say we have no sin, writing to believers, we’re lying. But then he writes, obey God’s commands. Walk in the truth. If we continue in sin as a practice of life, the truth is not in us.
Now I know most of us are aware of I Timothy 1:15. It’s a glorious verse which can bring great encouragement, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” See, Paul recognizes he is the worst of sinners. True. But it is his way of celebrating God’s grace in his life, not his brokenness and rebellion. Look at the verse in its context:
12I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service,
13even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;
14and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
15It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
16Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
Do you see, the emphasis is on who he was – but God’s grace saved him, and changed him, and made him faithful in service, an example of mercy, a recipient of God’s perfect patience. And Paul did not continue in his blasphemous life. He repented, and God changed him.
We’ll be in 1 John in about a year, but let’s spend a few minutes there this morning to address this concern – what I am suggesting is the church mistakenly replacing holiness with authenticity. Celebrating grace in our brokenness rather than grace in our forgiveness and our pursuit of holiness.
It is generally agreed the Apostle John, who wrote the gospel of John, wrote this letter later in life for two reasons: first was to expose false teachers, and second was to give believers assurance of salvation. I want to focus on that second purpose. How can I know for sure I’m a Christian – how can I have confidence that I truly know Jesus as my Lord and Savior?
Most agree the aged apostle gives three tests by which you can examine yourself to know you are truly in the faith. By the way, you must pass these tests to know you are a Christian, to know you are in the faith. They go like this:
- The Theological Test
- The Relational Test
- The Moral Test
Let’s look briefly at the first two, although they are critically important. The first is the theological test, introduced in chapter 2, verses 22-23:
22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
The very clear theological test is this – to pass, you must believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter proclaimed in Matthew 16. In order to be saved, to be a Christian, in order to have sins forgiven, you must believe Jesus is God in the flesh. He says in chapter 4:
2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spiritof the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
14We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
I think that makes the point – the theological test is confession of the Christological deity of Jesus. Which brings us to the second test – the relational test. He has much to say about this in his short letter. To pass the relational test, you must love other Christians – they are, after all, family – brothers and sisters in Christ. Look at these verses:
Chapter 2: 7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. [when? The commandment Jesus gave in the upper room at the last supper – that you love one another – by this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.]
9The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.
10The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
11But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
So clearly, the relational test that you must pass if you profess to be a Christian is this: you must love other Christians. You must love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, in my preparation for this sermon, I did a lot of reading – articles and blogs, for example. And because of the stream I landed in when I Googled the topic, there were lots of articles on Why I left the church. Yes, we’ve all heard, people are leaving the church – not the big C church – the universal church. But I’m leaving the little c church, the local church. Why? Lots of reasons given, but most of them revolve around this idea that I don’t like Christians. They’re embarrassing, unkind, arrogant – whatever. And it is true Christians can be jerks. But you can’t leave them – you can’t say, well, I love Jesus, but it’s His people I can’t stand, so I’m leaving the church. Talk about arrogance. Of course Christians are imperfect – but it’s what we have – we are family, and we need one another. I’m very concerned when I hear people leaving the church because they don’t like their brothers and sisters. Consider a couple other passages in 1 John – again, all over the book:
Chapter 3: 11For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
12not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
13Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.
14We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
15Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Those are strong words. And you say, I don’t hate my brothers and sisters, I just don’t like them. Or, I just don’t want to be with them, so I’ve left the church. I’m suggesting that’s a problem. How can you say you love them if you don’t want to be with them? He says again in chapter 4:
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
I could go on and on, since John does, but I think we get the point. So the first is the theological test – that you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The second is the relational test, you love the family of God – you love your brothers and sisters. And the third and last test is the moral test – and it goes like this. If you confess Jesus as Lord, you seek to obey His commands. You pursue holiness. You want to be like Jesus. I’m deeply concerned that in our pursuit of authenticity, we just sit in and celebrate our mutual brokenness. Like the second test, this is all over:
Chapter 2: 3By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
4The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
That seems clear – to pass the moral test, you must seek to keep His commands as a way of life. Now, it will sound like, in some of these verses, that if we sin at all, then we don’t know God. But, we must remember chapter 1 where John told us to confess our sins, and the one who says he has no sin is a liar. So, the truth here is we obey God’s word, God’s commands as a practice of life. It describes our lives – we are characterized by obedience. The one who walks in sin as a quality of life does not know God. The one who walks in righteousness as a quality of life, is a true believer – not perfect, but as a way of life. Back to chapter 2:
5but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:
6the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
If you call yourself a disciple, a follower of Jesus, you must walk as Jesus walked. I only read those verses to tell you this story. When our boys were young, one day we were doing family devotions in I John. I read that verse and asked, what do you think it means to walk as Jesus walked? They were silent for a moment, and one of them, about five years old, said, you know, in sandals and everything. Good guess, not quite. Back to chapter 2, 29If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.
Chapter 3 is key:
3And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
4Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
5You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.
6No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
7Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;
8the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
9No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
Do you see – it is clear we are to purify ourselves by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. We are to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Yes, we are broken, but we are to pursue holiness. Let’s not celebrate our brokenness as a badge of honor – let’s celebrate our redemption and the grace He gives to redeem us and make us both positionally, and practically holy.
So, let’s put that all together as we close by reading John’s summation of this letter in the first few verses of chapter 5. These three tests – the theological, the relational and the moral tests will jump off the page:
1Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.
2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
3For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.
5Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Do you see? You want to know that you have eternal life? Pass the tests. Believe in Christ as the Son of God. The evangelical church proclaims that pretty well. Love the church – the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to work on that one. And seek to keep His commands. Pursue and celebrate not brokenness, but holiness.