I’ve had Panda Express for lunch a couple of times this past week and I’m not ashamed of it. I will happily admit that I enjoy Panda Express. Quite a bit, actually. The orange chicken is top notch and the kung pao chicken and broccoli beef are both also quite good. But I will also point out that I do not consider Panda Express to be Chinese food. It isn’t. Sure, they call it chow mein but that’s not really chow mein. If you’ve ever had real chow mein at a real Chinese restaurant, you know what I mean. So while Panda Express is good, it surely is not authentic. Herein lies an important truth: Just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s authentic. There is a considerable difference between the two and we must be careful to recognize it.
Authenticity is an oft used word in Christian circles these days. Just about every church you know uses it to describe one of their core values. Most every small group, community group, life group, recovery group or whatever else sort of group there may be holds it high as a marker for their particular gathering of people. This is completely true in my context. We talk often of our desire for authentic relationships, authentic worship, authentic passion, etc. But what we really mean by these statements is that we want our relationships to have some level of honesty, we want our worship to look & sound natural, not contrived, and we want our passion to feel as though it came from some place deeper than our thin, emotional surface. The problem is, none of these things actually describe authenticity, because here’s the deal: Just because something is honest, natural, or deep doesn’t mean it’s authentic. Again, there are considerable differences here and we must be careful to recognize them always.
So if being authentic is not the same as being good, honest, natural, or deep, then what is it exactly? The dictionary defines the word authentic this way:
Having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence.
Authenticity requires that we find our origin, our beginning somewhere else. We might achieve a certain level of goodness or honesty in and of ourselves, but authenticity demands that we live up to a standard beyond ourselves, showing ourselves to be authentic by the unquestionable evidence displayed in our lives.
Authenticity begins and ends with Christ. He is the way, the truth, the life, and we are as authentic in as much as we express the way of the kingdom, the truth of his love, and the gift of his life in thought, word, and action.
Authenticity cannot be achieved by skill or effort. It is only achieved when we determine to step into the background of the story and allow God to stand front and center. It is achieved when, and only when, we hand the pen to the Author of life and invite him to write.
Authenticity really isn’t about you or me. It’s about the life of God pulsing within us, changing us, and expressing itself through us in real time. It’s about the evidence of the divine illuminating the darkened surfaces of our former lives, bringing healing and restoration in the broken places, both our own and others’.
This is what I believe it means to live an authentic life. It’s definitely not easy and I don’t presume to have it figured out by any means. I am stumbling my way through a fairly fabricated, synthetic existence. But I also know that there are immeasurable open spaces of freedom when we walk through the door of authenticity. My hope is that we’d have courage enough to walk through that door and begin living beyond ourselves.