Written By Tan Chew Suan
Chew Suan got to know Singapore Youth For Christ in her teens and now serves as a full time staff in Teaching Ministry. She counts it a great privilege to devote her time to the studying and teaching of God’s Word for the purpose of equipping gospel workers.
I thought it was going to be our usual Christian Students’ Meeting—sing a few worship songs, listen to a bible teaching and pray. But my seniors decided otherwise that day. They wanted us to have an impactful structured experience on what it meant to suffer for Christ. We were led blindfolded into a classroom and told to make our way, on our knees, through the legs of a maze of tables. When we reached the end, I stood up, thinking it was over.
“Piak!” Suddenly, I felt a slap on my face and heard my senior’s voice asking, “Will you forgive me?”
What I felt in my heart was seething anger, but what came out of my mouth was, “I forgive.” Knowing the model answer, I gave it, but what I truly felt inside was the opposite: I was full of anger and resentment. But why did I give an answer contrary to what I truly felt? It was simply because I wanted my seniors to think of me as a gracious and teachable Christian—which they did, because they could not see my heart.
This was not an isolated event in my Christian life. There have been many occasions when I presented myself as more prayerful, more diligent in my Bible reading, more faithful in a given task, and more loving toward others than I really was. I was more concerned about whether fellow Christians believed I had been ungracious toward others, than whether I had truly been ungracious. In short, I cared more about what people thought of me than about what I truly was.
The Pharisees’ Problem
In the New Testament, there was a group of people who also cared more about appearing righteous than about being truly righteous. They were the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Jesus had very strong words for them. He said in Matthew 23:25-28: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
The word “hypocrite” is translated from a Greek word that refers to an actor playing a role. Thus a hypocrite is not someone who he appears to be. Likewise, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees appeared to be good and righteous on the outside, but they were selfish and wicked on the inside. Jesus’ injunction to them was first, to clean the inside, so that the outside would also be clean.
The word “first” showed Jesus’ priority. Who we are inside takes priority over who we appear to be outside. This is because what we really are, will be shown in what we say and do. If we are good and righteous, our speech and actions will be good and righteous. However, if we are selfish and wicked, while we can pretend to say and do the right things, we are just play-acting; we would not be authentic, we would be hypocrites.
That’s not to say that we necessarily belong to the same camp as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Fundamentally, they believe in their own righteousness to save themselves, whereas as Christians, we believe in Jesus who came to call sinners (Mark 2:17), of whom we are included. I don’t believe I can clean up my own heart, but I trust in Jesus’ work on the cross for the cleansing (Heb 10:19-22).
But if in my Christian walk there is no integrity, and the goodness I show outside is not found inside, then I am behaving exactly like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. If that is the case, I too need to pay heed to Jesus’ injunction. Who I am inside must take priority over who I appear to be. Let me be more concerned when others think more of me than who I really am, than when they think less of me. Let me be more concerned about genuine goodness than the appearance of goodness. Let me be authentic. This is my prayer.
The “Authenticity” Problem
When I look at some of my younger Christian friends, they don’t struggle the same way I do. They are brought up with the mindset that they are to be true to themselves, to follow their heart. There is something admirable about this stance. It speaks of a certain integrity; what you see is what you get. They speak what they really think and they act out of what they really feel, they don’t put up a pretense. They are less concerned about how people view them; they are more concerned about being able to express their true selves. So unlike me, they struggle less with hypocrisy in authentic Christian living.
While there is the correspondence between the inner self and the outer image, which is a plus point, there may be a potential danger when being authentic to oneself is seen as the ultimate good. This is because we have been corrupted by sin and thus do not think, feel, and act as we should as God’s image bearers. By God’s grace, He redeemed us through our Lord Jesus Christ and part of the redemption goal is for us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29).
Thus Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesians 4:21-24, “when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The potential danger then is this: We, as Christians, forget that in Christ we are a new creation, and we think, speak, and act as though we are still in our old self. In so doing, we may think we are being authentic in expressing who we are, but in reality we are being inauthentic to who we are in Christ. Thus authentic Christian living requires more than just a correspondence between the inner self and the outer image, it also requires that my inner self corresponds to the image of Christ.
The Means To An Authentic Christian Life
How can I truly live an authentic Christian life? First, by the help of God, I need to be a person of integrity. I must resolve not to act hypocritically but to be the same person inside and outside, with whomever, at whenever, and in whatever situation. Second, through God’s Word and through the Spirit’s work of renewal, I need to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ. To be like our Lord Jesus Christ in all that I think, say, and do, so that I reflect my true identity in Christ. The hymn by Thomas O. Chisholm captures beautifully what it means to live an authentic Christian life. May this hymn serve as our prayer.
Living for Jesus a life that is true
Striving to please Him in all that I do
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free
This is the pathway of blessing for me
O Jesus, Lord and Savior
I give myself to Thee
For Thou, in Thine atonement
Didst give Thyself for me
I own no other Master
My heart shall be Thine throne
My life I give henceforth to live
O Christ, for Thee alone
Living for Jesus who died in my place
Bearing on Calv’ry my sin and disgrace
Such love constrains me to answer His call
Follow His leading and give Him my all
Living for Jesus, wherever I am
Doing each duty in His holy name
Willing to suffer affliction and loss
Deeming each trial a part of my cross
Living for Jesus through earth’s little while
My dearest treasure, the light of His smile
Seeking the lost ones He died to redeem
Bringing the weary to find rest in Him