The Quest for Authenticity
The Quest for Authenticity
“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.”
It is easy to fall into the trap of externalizing our faith. The longer we are a Christians and go to church, the more we can become complacent in our faith. We know the lingo and rituals, and we can speak “Christianize.” As a result, we can start just going through the motions of obedience. Such was the problem with the Jews of Jesus’ day. In the quest to fulfill the law's requirements, they focused on the rituals. They went to the temple on the prescribed days and offered their sacrifices. They followed the dietary regulations. They went to the synagogues to listen to the instruction of the local rabbi. They became very adept at obeying the rules. But their faith was exterior rather than interior.
In this passage, Christ is addressing fasting, which the Jews practiced. Fasts were not a significant part of the religious rituals of the Jews and were only required on certain occasions. In the New Testament, we do not find any considerable command or prescription regarding fasting. This lack of frequency and importance attributed to fasting made it more open to abuse. Since it was not a substantial part of religious activities, it quickly became abused by those who wanted to be “super spiritual.” Those who wanted to show that they were super spiritual needed to go beyond the standard practices of the people. Thus the Pharisees fasted twice a week to show that they were above the rest of the people. To make sure that people recognized their religious fervor, the Pharisees would go to great lengths to demonstrate their piety through suffering while fasting. The problem was that they were hiding the lack of authentic faith and obedience in their outward rituals. They wanted recognition from others rather than the approval of God.
In our Christian life, we can fall into the same trap. We can attend church, become involved in ministries within the church, and do all the right things, but we lack genuine authenticity. The reason is not just because we want the approval of others but because it is the easier route. It is easy to play the game when we know the rules. The challenge and difficulty of the Christian life is not going to church on Sunday or being engaged in ministry; it changes our inward motives and attitudes. It is not hard to go to a bible study, say all the right things, and even perform the external acts required in scripture. The challenge of the Christian life is changing the inward heart and motives. It is hard work to change our character and love those who we believe have mistreated and hurt us.
The transformation that God desires to achieve in our life is not external but internal. He wants to change our motives and attitudes so that our life is an outgrowth of the inward character he embraces. However, this requires us to be honest about ourselves. The greatest to authentic transformation is not the false teaching of others or the moral decline of our culture. The greatest threat to our faith is ourselves. We justify our actions while we condemn others. We see ourselves as righteous while we notice the faults of others. Self-deception is a disease that affects us all. It clouds our perspective and stunts our spiritual growth. The Psalmist provides us the cure in Psalm 139 when he prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me.” The first step to authenticity in our faith is recognizing our self-deception and asking God to continually examine our lives and bring to light the things we desire to conceal.