There is a trend sweeping today’s Christian culture that is filled with mountains, streams and adventure. It’s about having real conversations with real people and letting your hair down. It feels good. It feels natural and spiritual at the same time. It’s one of those fad trains we suddenly find ourselves riding without knowing when we hopped on. It’s: #liveauthentic.
The movement even spawned its own parody: The Socality Barbie Instagram account gained more than 1 million followers for posting ironic, scenic photos of a Barbie (like the one pictured above) with captions like “Everyone you will ever instameet knows something you don’t,” “I just want to drink coffee, create stuff, and sleep” and “That 3 minute hike was so worth it.”
It does have a positive ring to it, doesn’t it? Everyone wants to be considered authentic. It speaks to the organic you. The messy you. The real you. It means moving away from familial, traditional and social pressures in order to embrace your true self. Be messy. Be nerdy. Sassy. Flawed. Just don’t be fake. Fake has become the ultimate character flaw.
On the surface, it sounds biblical. After all, there is no biblical motivation to be fake. We can’t hide our sin from God, and we certainly don’t want to be like the Pharisees who were called out for being hypocrites. Some of us are more caught up in saving face than being honest about our sin. But is #liveauthentic the solution?
We have to dig a little deeper into this trend to see where it lines up with Scripture and where it simply spiritualizes a worldly philosophy. How did it start? Where did it come from? When we probe beyond the backpacking pics and makeup free selfies, we see that there are some potential pitfalls in the #liveauthentic mindset.
I was talking to a brother in Christ the other day about his addiction to cigarettes. He shrugged it off, explaining: “I know I shouldn’t, but I enjoy it, so I’m going to. It’s part of who I am.” While not arguing his choice to smoke, I walked away unsure how to respond to his willingness to be enslaved by it. He was honest, but also honestly unwilling to change.
Like many fads in mainstream Christianity, #liveauthentic can be an overcorrection. Getting a tattoo to express your creativity and joy in the Lord can morph into passive-aggressive rebellion against the burden of Christian perfectionism. Quitting your job to travel the world with your family can change from a bold way to trust God into an excuse to avoid responsibility.
These attitudes might help us rightfully push away the label “hypocrite,” but they might wrongfully provide us an opportunity to take pride in “not being perfect” and “loving myself the way I am.”
When accepting our sinful nature turns into embracing sin, there is a problem. It might suppress feelings of guilt, but it overlooks the fact that the “real” us was dead in sin and misery until God had mercy on us by sending His Son Jesus Christ. Embracing sin tosses a blanket over our need for Christ. It’s not the type of authenticity that should characterize a Christian.
A Self-centered Foundation?
The desire to #liveauthentic can lead us not only to disguise our flaws, but romanticize them. I recently heard a teenager excuse her bad attitude by saying, “I’m just being real.” But that’s a confidence based on self, not on Christ.
When the #liveauthentic movement says, “Being me is the most important thing—more important than how I affect others, more important than being responsible with my daily tasks, and more important than tackling the sinful habits in my life,” it has become self-centered at its core.
That doesn’t fit very well with the model of love Paul describes in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” The worldly, authentic “self” competes with authentic love because true biblical love is a denial of self—a concept utterly foreign and ridiculous to the world.
A Cure for Boredom
If you type #liveauthentic into any social media outlet, you will find inspirational quotes about discovering yourself, selfies in front of breathtaking backdrops and status updates about mid-life career changes.
We can rejoice in these unexpected opportunities and worship God for His beauty in nature. But we have to be aware of an underlying restlessness masquerading as authenticity. It’s a restlessness that threatens to steal contentment from us in our ordinary, day-to-day lives.
We feel there must be more to life—and more to us—than what God has placed in front of us. Michael Horton, in his book Ordinary, commented: “Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be ‘easier’ than just being who you are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you.”
So What Does “Authentic Living” Look Like for a Christian?
Does #liveauthentic fit into a Christian worldview? Absolutely. Biblically, Christians have the ability to live the most authentic lives of all. Rather than looking inward or to nature, we are pointed away from ourselves to the authentic perfection, authentic peace and authentic beauty of another: Jesus Christ.
It’s true that living authentically means accepting our bodies, circumstances, voices, hands, etc. the way they are. But accepting what we cannot change is not the same as romanticizing what we should change. Paul urged the believers in Philippi: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). So where do we draw the line?
Authentically, we are sinners by nature. To the person who says, “I am who I am,” I would ask: has this become your excuse for refusing to curb sinful tendencies—being unlovingly blunt, a glutton, irresponsible, being moody, etc.—and if so, how is Christ glorified in your #liveauthentic attitude? Being you is not more important than being like Christ (Philippians 1:21).
Paul had a personality. He was feisty, honest, emotional and passionate. But his greatest desire was to represent Christ, not himself. “It is no longer I who live”, he said, “but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Paul says that the mystery of the Gospel is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We don’t just make room. We get out of the way. That’s how worthy Christ is and how honored we should be that He would dwell in sinners like us.
We are not the wandering souls pictured under #liveauthentic on Instagram. We are not on a quest to find our purpose in life. Our purpose has been gifted to us. It is not a mystery. As Christians, the picture on our I.D. card is Christ.
There is a place to #liveauthentic in the Christian life, but it is rooted in Christ, not ourselves. If Christ isn’t enough to define us, what is?