Our churches are filled with people who outwardly look contented and at peace, but inwardly are crying out for someone to love them… they are confused, frustrated, frightened, guilty, and often unable to communicate with their own families. But other people in the church look so happy and contented that one seldom has the courage to admit his own deep needs before such a self-sufficient group as the average church meeting appears to be.
Taking It to God
Relationships are not built on illusions; they are built on the real struggles of life. We can spend so much time projecting the perfect Christian image that others never get the chance to know who we really are. We might blame others for not caring when we have not given them anything real to care about. Our “mask” has become our worst enemy.
The Power of Confession
We do not confess our sins to one another as a condition for God’s forgiveness. We do confess our sins because Jesus’ work on the cross has already secured our forgiveness. Scripture invites us to confess our sins to one another so that we can invite others into our struggles (James 5:16). The reality is that we are all struggling. There is no temptation, weakness, or doubt that does not also cause others to struggle (1 Corinthians 10:13). Our fear of letting people see beyond the image we want to project denies us the friendships for which we crave. Closest friends know the most about you yet love you anyway. When you are around them you fell no compulsion to pretend. You find yourself living authentically in their presence. The freedom to confess our sins, expose our doubts, and allow people see into our struggles accomplishes three things:
- It allows others to know us as we really are, which helps cultivate relationships.
- It allows us to seek forgiveness from the people our failures and weaknesses have wronged and look for ways to make restitution.
- It allows God’s light to shine on our brokenness and others to come to our aid which greatly enhances the healing process
As Relationships Mature
However, we are not to open up the darkest places of our lives and submit our choices to strangers or new acquaintances. This will happen naturally as friendships deepen. Being honest with people is not easy because most of us have been abused or manipulated by others precisely at our weakest points. Consequently, we are not to be open with others just because they call themselves believers. Rather we are to allow relationships to grow so that people can appropriately handle the depth of our sharing. As we learn to freely love people around us, we will find scattered throughout those relationships people who demonstrate the same love and care for us. Through our contact with them, we will discover that they are a safe place to unpack some of our baggage. You will find yourself journeying with them to ever-deepening levels of authenticity.
The Measure of Fellowship: How to gauge the effectiveness of your group
Compare the amount of gossip that goes on in the group with the amount of confession as the two are mutually exclusive. You will not find people’s weaknesses being whispered about in corners when they are not trying to hide them. Sin always thrives in the shadows. Where people are learning the freedom of authenticity, there are fewer shadows in which to hide (John 3:19). Those that hide their own weaknesses will make sport of highlighting the weaknesses of others. Those who gossip only do so because they are frustrated by their own failures and only feel good about themselves when tearing down others. They exaggerate the weaknesses of others and make negative assumptions about their motives. These tactics destroy fellowships and splinter groups. Each side goes away feeling superior to the other, never realizing that their perceptions of each other are largely based on their own imagination. Where real fellowship exists, gossip has no place. Gossip is easily exposed by honest questions and stopped when people are unwilling to further rumors. If someone is trying to share gossip with you then stop them before the details and say: Before you go any farther, let me call that person over and arrange a lunch together so we can all sort it out – this will quickly stop gossip. We can live among people where nothing harmful is shared about another person outside his or her hearing. Where honesty is so prevalent that there is no room to hide in the darkness. This does not mean we will walk in perfection. We will walk in freedom and sincerity so it can be known who we are and engage in the process of transformation.
The Freedom of Authenticity
When making a tough decision involving others realize:
- It is not always possible to be sure we are right and others wrong
- We can be blinded by our own ambition
- We may not be smarter or more spiritual than they are
- Our decision may be an act of our independent selfishness or wrong desire in our heart
- Make the decision that reveals who you really are inside
Pray to our Heavenly Father stating this is the best decision you know how to make and ask Him to let it be seen for what it is, if wrong then let everyone know and if right then please confirm it. Only when we are willing to live in the truth will we be free to do what God wants. Finding freedom from the tyranny of other people’s opinions is one of the greatest joys of life in Jesus. When you live for other people’s approval, you are owned by anyone who chooses to lie about you. We are to liberate people from the desire for approval rather than exploit it to get them to “act more Christian”. Jesus did not come to train a generation of actors but to transform people to live authentically in the world. Living authentically is the freedom to be known exactly as we are – strengths and weaknesses rolled into one. People who understand God’s heart love this way of life. Less enlightened ones will expend their efforts trying to appear better than they really are.
Humility is another word for honesty. It is not pretending to be other than we are (hypocrisy), but acknowledging the truth about what we are
Living authentically will free you of other people’s attempts to manipulate you. Trying to “act Christian” will often lead you into a no-win situation. Being nice to those that manipulate you will only draw you deeper into their web. Authenticity will not allow us to stay silent in the face of exploitation. Remember, Satan routinely exploits the altruistic nature of Christians. Have you ever walked away from situations wishing you had had the courage to say what you were really thinking rather than just smiling pleasantly and pretending to agree? We do not have to have to allow ourselves to be anyone else’s victim. Even if we speak when we should not or are insensitive to someone else’s needs – authenticity allows us to go back, apologize for our errors, and offer appropriate restitution. However, we are not to be rude and obnoxious in the name of “being real”. Realize any one of the “one another” scriptures can be abused to justify absurd behavior. Authenticity is never an excuse to be rude or condescending to others. While we are free to speak truthfully, we are admonished to do so with the love and tenderness of Jesus Christ.
Now while Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil, and she poured it on his head as he was at the table. When the disciples saw this, they became indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor!” When Jesus learned of this, he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a good service for me. For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me! When she poured this oil on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13 NET) How could that woman walk into a room where every person except one held her in contempt? Only because the only one who did not despise her was the only one who mattered. Jesus had touched her life and forgiven her. What anyone else thought was irrelevant. The best way to encourage a confessional climate is to model an authentic lifestyle yourself. You will be authentic with others to the degree that you are honest with yourself. You will be honest with yourself to the degree that you will open your whole life to Jesus. When we are honest on the inside, we will find ourselves naturally authentic with others. We will be authentic even with people we do not know well. Jesus will free us to be genuine in every situation.
We will never again feel the need to project an image or pretend agreement when it is not in our hearts. That does not mean we will bring every person into the depths of our struggles. The depth of confession will grow as relationships do. Confessions of our deepest temptations and struggles do not need to happen in gatherings of the body. It will more likely take place in relationships birthed from gatherings. Express your confession only to a Christian brother or sister who you know will treat your confession as God would. One who will:
- listen with compassion
- help you see the truth about your sin so you can live forgiven and free as well
- stand with you in the struggle to walk in Christ’s freedom
People who are being transformed by God’s love are the safest places to fall. They are the people you want to catch you in your worst moments. They will understand your struggle and love you in it even as they will lend a hand to help you walk out of it into God’s truth with His power. If you have three to four people with whom you can share your deepest temptations and struggles then you are indeed blessed. You have found the great treasure but do not stop there. Ask Jesus to transform you so you can free others to live in the light instead of having to hide in the darkness. (2)
Authentic Relationships Series:
- Authentic Relationships: Introduction
- Authentic Relationships: Loving One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Forgiving, Accepting and Bearing with One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Being Devoted to Another and Honoring Another Above Ourselves
- Authentic Relationships: Greeting and Being Hospitable to One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Being Kind, Compassionate and Sharing with One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Serving, Carrying Burdens and Building Up One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Instructing and Admonishing One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Praying for One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Confessing Your Sins to and Being of the Same Mind Toward One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Submitting to One Another
(1) Left-click on the underlined phrase to open another article in a different tab with more explanation.
2) This blog adapted from Authentic Relationships: Discover the lost art of “One Anothering” by Wayne Jacobsen (http://www.lifestream.org) and Clay Jacobsen. ISBN-13: 978-0801064517
(3) See attached PowerPoint that can be used to lead a class through this study.