This is our final installment in the Redeeming Words series. Along the way, we have been asking and answering a simple question: How are world-shaping words defined differently in the Bible and in our post-Christian world? We have looked at words like Faith, Truth, Heaven, Tolerance, and Compassion and have seen how the Bible defines such words in a very different way than our world. This search has led us to ask some other very important questions: What do these different definitions reveal about the Biblical worldview over against a secular worldview? How can we build bridges of communication to this world and help highlight the truth that our dark world desperately needs? What is the price of misunderstanding?
If we care about reaching our world, then we must care about these words. Why is this? Because language is the lens through which we understand life. Language brings definition. Definition brings clarity. Clarity defines perspective.
Each morning, I wake up and my world is a blur. Without my glasses, I am nearly blind. When I am at home, this is not much of a problem. I know my way around my familiar bedroom and house. But when I am in a hotel room or staying as a guest at someone’s home, it can be a little disconcerting. I reach for my glasses to bring resolution to the world around me. When I put them on, the blurry becomes distinct, defined, manageable.
Words do the same thing for us. When we misunderstand language, or use poorly defined words to describe our experience, our world becomes blurry. Our words about the world actually have the capacity to confuse our understanding of it.
Our last word in this series may be the most important, most practical word that our culture constantly misunderstands. That word is Authentic. It is not that our culture fails to grasp the basic meaning. We all know that “authentic” means “real, true, not counterfeit.” The problem is this: Our world fails to realize what makes a thing authentic rather than counterfeit. This is especially true when it comes to being an authentic person.
Which is what we all want to be, isn’t it?
For our world, authenticity is gained by looking inside ourselves, checking our feelings and living up to our deepest desires. “Discover who you are.” “Do what you want to do.” “Find the real you and become that person, no matter what the world says.”
Currently, we are seeing this perspective played out in all sorts of ways. Perhaps the most obvious is in the current debates about gender and sex. The idea that gender is in no way defined by sex at birth, far from being the fringe perspective it was less than five years ago, has become the dominant perspective in most major academic and political conversations. It is working its way into curriculum, policy and everyday life at a speed no one could have predicted.
At the heart of this movement is a conviction: People must be allowed to be their authentic self no matter the cost. This authentic self might contradict biology. It might contradict religion and societal norms. It might buck the system and make waves. If so, then prevailing society must pay the price and make adjustments.
Here is the problem with such a view of authenticity: It tells us we will find it in the wrong place. One of the things I love about our culture’s current mood is that it says, “Don’t go with the flow. Don’t be defined by others’ expectations.” There is something good and courageous in this.
Where this perspective falls woefully short is in this: It says, “Look inside your own heart. Ignore every other source. Discover for yourself.” The Bible, on the other hand, says that our Creator is the one who defines what it really means to “find yourself.” We discover our true identities not by looking within ourselves but by looking into God’s Word. More specifically, we discover what it really means to be authentic by looking to Jesus Christ.
Jesus talked about this in Mark 8:34–36:
And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (ESV).
The sad irony of our world’s faulty view of authenticity is that it only leads to deeper confusion. It leads us further from the shores of truth and out into a sea of subjectivism. When we are the only reference point for reality, we quickly get lost. We need a North Star if we are going to steer our way through lives.
Christianity offers such a North Star. We offer the reference point of God’s Word in Scripture. We offer a target for our lives, towards which we seek to grow into authentic people—Jesus. And we offer something even more amazing: Help in that journey. We confess much more than that God wants us to become like Jesus. We actually believe that Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit so that his “DNA” will be stamped on our soul. Step by step, he is moving us toward our true self as we are conformed to his image.
Friends, the beauty of the Christian worldview is that it makes sense of our world in a way that nothing else can. When we pick up God’s Word, we are putting on our glasses. We are gaining definition and perspective. We are moving from a blind, stumbling search for something to light our path to an enlightened journey into goodness, beauty, and truth. That is good news!
Adam T. Barr (MDiv, ThM) serves as senior pastor at Peace Church near Grand Rapids Michigan. In addition to his work in the local church, Adam speaks and writes on Christianity and culture, helping followers of Jesus understand and apply God’s Word in an increasingly post-Christian society. His most recent book, Compassion Without Compromise, is available through Bethany House. Adam is also a contributing writer and adjunct teacher on the Organic Outreach International team, serving as the Director of Cultural Apologetics and hosting our Organic Outreach Podcast.