Principles for Authentic Living
Growing up, I had a complex that I sometimes still suffer from. This complex is that of seeking mans pleasure with my abilities and my work. I strove to make my father happy with me by what I did and this continued into my college life. The best picture of this was when I was interning with a youth pastor named Nick. One day he sent me to the store to get some chips and pop. When I got to the store (I can still see it now) I had a small panic attack. What kind of chips do I get? What if I get the wrong ones? I can’t disappoint Nick with my chip choice (sounds ridiculous, I know but this was me). I called and asked what type of chips he wanted. He was frustrated and told me to pick the chips I wanted to pick, and that he didn’t care. I realized in that moment, that I was being trapped by my desire for acceptance by my mentors. This people pleasing controlled how I interacted in class, determined how I did ministry and even how I preached. I wanted the kids I was teaching to approve of and like me as well. I was being controlled by this reality.
I was allowing people’s opinions of me to supersede God’s opinion of me. I think sometimes: We care more about how others see us than how God does. The Corinthians were not immune to this either, as we saw last week they were asking questions on what would make them “holier” than others. Here we see this question behind the question- “do I need to change now for others that I’m saved?” It’s not a question of conduct, but more a question of personality and position. The question is more to the heartbeat of: Do I need to change something outward to be accepted?
We’ve all lived in inauthentic places where, in order to please those around us, we needed to change the way we talked or walked in order to be accepted. Some of this was happening in the Corinthian church and happens in today’s church as well. The truth is this: We don’t need to change our personality or position to be accepted by Christ. He loved us and died for us. We didn’t need to change in order for Him to love us. He loves us as we are, not at we should be. He still challenges us and convicts us and there will be things he calls out of us, but we need to live authentically in our life and not pretend. So, the question Paul is really answering in this passage, is How do we live out our Christian lives authentically? Here we see Paul answering several different questions with two very strong principles. The first one we see is in order to live an authentic Christian life, we must
- Be who God called you to be (vs. 17-20)
In this portion of Scripture, Paul was dealing with a very important issue in the life of the entire church at the time. The issue was that of the Judaizers. There was a group of Jewish Christians who were forcing Greek and Gentile believers to become circumcised. They would state to these followers of Christ that if they didn’t become circumcised they were not fully Christian, by only half Christian. They would declare that those who would not receive circumcision would not enter heaven either. This caused much confusion for young gentile believers and they began to wonder aloud what else they needed to change or do in order to be fully accepted by Christ. Paul’s discussion on divorce and remarriage (7:10-16) dealt with some of these issues, but here he takes on the issue of what an authentic Christian looks like. He declares to the people in the church at Corinth that if they were saved as a Gentile, they needn’t become a Jew and take the mark of circumcision. Likewise to the Jews, he declares they can keep the mark of circumcision and there is no need to cover it up. If Christ called you as a Gentile, remain Gentile and vice versa for the Jew.
In the American Christian sub-culture, similar things can happen today as they did then. It has taken a slightly different form than forcing people to be circumcised (thankfully) but yet it still happens. A Heavy-handed legalism has taken root in American Christian culture, where there is a cry for people to be something completely different than what they were prior to being saved or for certain behaviors they deem “unholy” to cease. There is this sense of Jesus plus something else we do or don’t do is vital to salvation. Yet Jesus stated clearly that He is the way…the only way. Many times we will be tempted to fake it or put on a face, but I declare to you, be who you are. To live authentically, we have to embrace the reality that it’s OK not to be OK sometimes. God may call certain things out of us, but what God asks us to change, he empowers us with the ability to do so. When God empowers the change in our lives, it is authentic change. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we change and grow and transform. God knows what needs to change in us, men do not. We in the Christian sub-culture like to think we know what needs to be changed in someone’s life, but only He knows. Change motivated by man’s desires is not authentic change. Rather it is people pleasing and approval seeking. Simply put- don’t allow people to determine how you change and grow, leave that to the Lord. God may use others around us to speak truth into our lives, but if there is a sense of “conform or leave” that is not the way God would go about seeking transformation in the lives of people. There is always a sense or heart of restoration when certain things are pointed out.
Paul not only dealt with the issues of being who were are called to be in order to be authentic, but he also discussed status, for many in the Corinthian church were not all wealthy, or even free. Paul then declared, in order to live our Christian life authentically, we must see that:
2. Significance is determined by our position before God, not our status among people (vs. 21-24)
Paul then declares to the slaves within the church that they are on equal ground with those who are not slaves in the eyes of God. In the day of the Corinthian Church, there was no place like the church, where free men and slaves, Jews and Greeks were all equals. Only God could bring about such a beautiful picture of the full Kingdom. He was here stating that if God called you, no matter what your position in life was, you were accepted into the beloved and on equal ground with anyone else. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Many people try to be the “Christian Elite” and end up developing cliques of the “better Christians” and the “Worse Christians”. If you grew up in the church, or have been in any kind of youth group, you know this to be true. Here, Paul is debunking that theory. He bought all of us with the same price. That is why Status means nothing in the eternal picture. It is our relationship to Him that counts. This too, is a word of encouragement to those in a “lower” social status. He is stating that through Christ, they and by extension, we needn’t worry about our status because if we are living for the Lord, we can live without anxiety in any and every situation.
That last phrase in verse 24- “…let him remain with God” is crucial to catching this whole idea of living out our Christian lives authentically. The Greek word used there Meno has a sense of dwelling, or abiding. This sense of resting in the fullness of God; no matter what condition or place in life we were called into His Kingdom, we can remain with God…He is the sustainer of our life and the giver of the ability to live. When we rest and abide in Christ, we are secure and we can have the capacity of living the authentic Christian life. When we are not remaining in Him, we begin to desire to please others by our actions or our status. We attempt to be something or someone we are not. Yet, when we remain and abide in Him, we can be who we really are.
An author and friend of mine calls this staying in the River. The river is where the Holy Spirit is, the flow of the river is where we get our empowerment and our ability to know God and be known by Him. He discusses this issue of when we get out of the river and into the woods, we begin to trip and stumble where we wouldn’t have, had we remained in the river. There we can float on the power of the river (that is God), rather than attempt to stumble through the wooded area on our own strength. He says of those who are saved by Christ, that we should be River Dwellers, those who make their home in the river.
He was simply echoing this verse, as we are to remain in God, abide in Christ, dwell in the river. It is there and only there that we can live authentically. There we can be honest and see God grow and change us, not us simply forcing change to please others.
May we seek to live authentically in our lives. May we also be a people who don’t force conformity upon people, but rather be a people of love who can live lives of dwelling in Christ that cause others to desire the river life as well. May we not be a clique for certain people, or force people to do as we do. Let yourself be guided by Christ and His Word and allow the Spirit to call forth and empower change.