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Today’s topic is on what it really means to be authentic. Here are links to three articles on this topic:

Why the Gospel of ‘Authenticity’ Has It Wrong by Ashley Abramson
“The brand of authenticity we participate in online glorifies messiness. We use long-winded captions as an opportunity to share the gamut of our emotions with the hope of connecting with and maybe even helping others, but is it possible we’ve lost sight of our identity as believers along the way? While it’s not necessarily sinful to share our ‘messiness’ with the world, it’s important to remember that the Christian life isn’t about staying stagnant in our sins and struggles. It’s about transformation and growth.”

The Power and Problem of Authenticity by Andrew Dragos
“The virtue of authenticity, or ‘being real,’ is both one of the greatest needs for the church and also its greatest threat. The church’s testimony regarding Jesus, salvation and truth is scrutinized largely by how well we display this claim to redemption. Nonetheless, the church must resist the temptation to make authenticity the chief end of the Christian life or even what receives the most emphasis in our self-reflection.”

Strive to Be Inauthentic! by Mark Galli
“At the level of manners, most of us cheer inauthenticity. The waitress spills soup in your lap. You are furious — the soup will surely stain the outfit you’ve bought for the occasion. But the occasion is special, and you don’t want to make a scene. Besides, charity requires you to be understanding. While the waitress babbles on about her sorrow over the spill, you say, with a forced smile, ‘It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.’”



au-‘then-tic: of undisputed origin; genuine; original; not false; real; not counterfeit

The word “authentic” has been a buzzword for quite a while now. It continues to pepper conversations, especially in online contexts.

And I cringe every time I hear it.

To be fair, I readily admit that I am somewhat particular when it comes to word choice; it’s part of being a writer and editor. I value precision in language, so it may be that I am picking on a word that is relatively harmless in its modern usage. But then again, maybe not.

We all want to be authentic, which isn’t a bad thing, but the word itself has been co-opted by leaders and used in ways that are not what it actually means. So, for the sheer fun of exploring a catchy-but-much-overused word, here are four reasons leaders should stop using the word “authentic” in their speech, in their writing, and especially in their self-descriptions.

1. It’s become a modern-day cliché, so to use it is to defy what it really means.

A cliché is any word or phrase that has become so overused it lacks original thought. And the very definition of “authentic” is to be original. So, if we truly wish to be an authentic person — a unique, one-of-a-kind original — then we won’t be inclined to use the same tired, over-worn words that everyone else uses.

2. It’s like the word “humble” in that once you describe yourself as possessing this quality, you no longer possess it.

Let’s talk about that beautiful but ever-so-elusive quality called humility. As the saying goes, the moment you know you have it, you’ve lost it. Full stop.

A humble person does not think less of themselves, but thinks of themselves less.* This means a humble person does not spend time articulating their personal attributes to others.

The same is true with being authentic. The most authentic people I’ve ever met never describe themselves as authentic. They simply exude authenticity without even trying because they’re not thinking about themselves at all.

3. It’s been reduced to the singular definition of being “real,” which is interpreted as “permission to let it all hang out.”

To be authentic is to be real. This is true. But it’s only partially true when we equate being real with complete disclosure.

Yes, if we’re to be authentic, we must live honest lives. But there’s more to being authentic than simply sharing everything about ourselves on Facebook or Instagram. True authenticity means more than letting it all hang out. It means being original. This is good news because we’re all unique persons. Even identical twins are known to be distinct from each other in likes and dislikes.

Here’s the best news: To be original is to become who we were originally intended to become. This is only possible, of course, if we’re completely surrendered to the will of the One who designed us. As followers of Christ, we know our Maker, but we live in a fallen world so we were born with a sinful nature — a nature that is bent on “missing the mark” of our true identity in Christ.

Authenticity, then, is really a matter of original identity.

To be authentic is to be the person you were originally created to be — the unique, one-of-a-kind you. And that is far more than simply “baring all.”

The more authentic a person is, the more they have become the person God designed them to be, which brings us to the next point, which is really the most important.

4. It’s a staple in our culture’s vernacular that emphasizes expressive individualism, which finds a person’s identity by looking inward instead of upward.

For some time, I have wrestled with the way the word “authentic” has been commonly used, but I couldn’t fully articulate why something deep in my spirit resisted getting on the “authentic” train — until I read this passage by Alan Noble. In his book, Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, English professor Alan Noble says:

In expressive individualism, we discover, create, or choose our identity inside of us and then express it in the world. . . . The key here is that meaning exists inside of us. All we have to do is live authentically according to it. . . . So the quest for authenticity has become a central narrative of the contemporary West. (68)

In other words, our culture tells us to look inside ourselves to discover our true authentic self; then we’re to express our authentic self to the world. But the Bible tells a different narrative.

The Bible says we learn who we are by looking — not inward, but upward — to the One who made us.

To be truly authentic, we don’t need to share every detail of our lives on social media. And we don’t need to look inside ourselves to discover our true authentic selves. Nor do we need to obsess over every personality test with their numbers and colors and capital letters. We are more than a personality; we are persons with unique histories, experiences, and relationships that combine to shape us. And the most life-shaping relationship is, of course, with Jesus.

To be truly authentic, we need to look to Christ. Because the more we know God, the better we can know ourselves. More importantly, the better we know God, the more we can become the person he originally designed us to be.

And that is the kind of authenticity worth striving for.

Click HERE to share your thoughts on the word “authentic.”

Click HERE to learn more about the series “Three on Thursday.”

*This definition of humility is found in Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life, entry for Day 19.