‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Mathew 5:43-48
Two months ago today I went to the London Women’s Convention, a conference with solid and inspirational Christian teaching. The things that I learnt and began to understand there have helped me greatly over the past couple of months and I’m so thankful that I could be there. This year the title was ‘Authentic’.
I’d never really considered what the word ‘authentic’ actually meant, using it lightly without understanding its true depth. I knew it was about being genuine, honest, being real, but Linda’s talks opened a far greater understanding of what it is to be authentic. She talked throughout the day of how being authentic is about accepting that we are weak, accepting that we can’t be perfect and instead of hiding this, learning to run to our Father, who is perfect, and has shown us His love.
It has become clear to me, over the past years, how much our society demands perfection, how much we are pressured to create a perfect image, to pretend to others that we have everything sorted, that everything is under control. Throughout my years at school, the unspoken expectations to hide the imperfections in our lives really did affect me. I really struggled, though I didn’t show this outwardly, and I went through periods of feeling very down and trapped in a place where I didn’t want to be. I didn’t like myself, both because of all my imperfections and because of the negative thoughts that increasingly occupied my mind. I definitely had friends at school, but I made myself feel very lonely, not asking for help or confiding in others when maybe I really needed it, being too proud to accept that I couldn’t deal with things on my own. When in fact this was the one thing I needed to understand.
I needed to accept that I am weak, that I struggle and that I do many things wrong. Because only in this could I turn in humility to the God who had been waiting patiently for me, calling my name, to the only one in whom a solution is found.
Yet, if this is true, what can it mean when Jesus commands: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Does this not suggest the opposite, that we need to attain the same perfection, the same holiness, of God? Well I think it means something quite different.
It is easy to take the words ‘be perfect’ and set them against our imperfections, it is easy, I find, to see ourselves as failures, to see others as perfect and to compare ourselves with the perfections we see in them. It is easy, therefore, to hide the truth about ourselves, to cover up our imperfections and to try and create a façade of perfection instead.
But in fact, the call to ‘be perfect’ is not about making ourselves seem perfect to everybody else. It actually reveals something wonderful about God, our Father in heaven. Because, yes, the law in the Old Testament does demand righteousness, perfection. But Jesus is the fulfilment of this law. The law is a mirror showing us that we cannot do this ourselves, that we are so very far from perfect. But God is perfect and through Jesus’ sacrafice this status is freely given to us.
Because Jesus is the only man to have led a perfect life, the only one to truly follow the will of the Father in every aspect and moment of his life. And yet he died for us. He was rejected and scorned. He was tortured and send to a cross to die by those he came to save. He was crucified, and in this he took on God’s wrath for us, he took on the punishment that we deserved, he faced the rejection of God in our place, so that we could be forgiven.
True authenticity comes in facing the truth, accepting that ‘I can’t do this’ and turning to God.
Because the right response is to run to Him, not to hide the truth, or to hide everything that we’ve done wrong, but to run to our Father to get rid of our sin. Because the extent to which we are not perfect shows us just how much we need our Father, because perfection is not something hat we can achieve, not something we can do, but only something that can be given by God. Because He loves us, and when we are helpless, broken and unable to do anything on our own, He is there, waiting for us to run to Him, to give us freely the perfection and righteousness that we do not deserve.
And we find forgiveness, strength and hope in Him. When we are helpless He shows us His love. And when we are weak He gives us His strength.
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Corinthians 12:9
And in every moment of every day God is willing to give us His strength. And we are called to rely on Him in every moment too. Because being authentic as a Christian isn’t just about accepting our weakness and resting on God’s strength, but about living our lives in the identity we have as adopted children of God.
But of course, this is so much harder in practice than it sounds in theory. We face many challenges to being authentic. We face the fear of rejection, of loosing reputation, of being judged by others when they see our true selves.
But this is where the freedom is found in placing our identity in God. We are sinners and yet have God’s forgiveness, if only we turn to Him. God knows our heart and loves us all the same. And we therefore have the freedom of being honest to God, the freedom of admitting to God, and admitting to others the truth about ourselves.
And so we are called to remember God’s mercy, to day by day, come to the foot of the cross, and remember what God has done for us, the sacrifice that Jesus made. And with this we can have greater joy, day by day, in his love and forgiveness. Because living as a Christian is about living in the light of God’s goodness and grace, about being honest with God, being honest with those around us and remembering the identity we have in Christ.
‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ – 1 Peter 2:9
And being real is so important, because the freeing honesty we have in knowing God’s love allows us to show others that we are there for them. Because we struggle too, because we aren’t perfect either. And this has been so very important in my life. Because the authenticity and honesty of my Christian friends has been so significant in showing me the gospel.
Throughout school I had two Christian friends and we became more and more close throughout the years. I was struck by how loving and supportive Kez and Beth were, and how authentically they shared their faith. I saw something different about them in the way that Jesus had transformed their life. They were honest about their life as Christians, they didn’t pretend that it’s a life without struggle. And they didn’t leave me alone in my own struggles, but lived life with me, standing by me as supporting me, Just as my church family does now.
The first time I came to The Globe Church I met a group of people who genuinely cared for me, who didn’t judge me or talk to me only out of obligation, but who wanted to know me and to welcome me into their church. Outside of my family I had never really known the same love that the people in my church have shown me. And this love has been constant. As others have opened up, been honest, been authentic, this has allowed me to share my struggles too. And the love and the support I have found has been amazing.
And yet, still, authenticity doesn’t stop there. It is important to be authentic with the ones we love, but it is also important to be authentic with God.
There is a danger in seeking the approval of others and a freedom in finding God’s approval. I think we love to hear others praise us, flatter us. And yet if this is what we prize then we are forgetting the approval that our Father has freely given us. And if we forget God’s grace in this, we are forgetting the freedom we have to be real, to be authentic, before Him.
We have an inbuilt desire for approval and yet we find it, I find it, so easy to search for his in all the wrong places. We long for approval because this is what we are made for.
We do not need to work to please others because through the sacrifice of the son Jesus Christ, our Father has forgiven us, has given us perfect approval. It is all God, all glory goes to Him.
There is great freedom in the Father’s approval. We already have the verdict, we are forgiven.
And in response is it not fitting that we should turn to God? And as a Christian is it not so very important that we long to be in such a depth of relationship with our Father that we look forward to prayer, that we give time to our Father and enjoy the relationship that Jesus sacrafice has given to us?
Two weeks ago at The Globe Church we looked at the baptism of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. Our pastor, Jonty, brought our attention to the words that follow Jesus’ baptism, the words spoken when the heavens are opened and God’s voice is heard:
This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. – Mark 3.17
I had never realised how important these words were, or how much they would come to mean to me, but I simply want to share one thing that Jonty spoke about that should change the very way we act and where our identity is placed. Because the Father says this of his son, but he says it also of those who are following him. When the Father looks upon us He sees in us the same perfection that he sees in his son, who truly is perfect. This is the power of what Jesus did on the cross, he took on all our sin, all our failures and all that we have done and will do wrong, and died for us. So that we could made perfect in God’s eyes.