Honest to God: Holiness and Authenticity

A few months ago, The Gospel Coalition published an article called, “Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness?” I think there are some great points made in the article, but I have to say that I disagree with the premise.

The trend towards authenticity in the church is a good thing, a healthy thing, and a Biblical thing.

And it doesn’t mean that we aren’t also pursuing holiness.


In the article, McCracken asks about a hypothetical pastor who has been faithful to his wife and family and feels pressure to be “authentic” but could be, instead, an example of holiness for his church to follow. From the information we have, this hypothetical man is a great example of holiness to follow, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be authentic as well. Authenticity doesn’t mean committing sins so that people will think you’re relatable.

Authenticity means confessing sins that you are already committing, that you wish to stop, and not faking holiness and perfection in the name of saving face. This pastor, by virtue of being human, is committing sins. He can be authentic about that struggle towards holiness, even if his struggle towards holiness doesn’t involve temptation to be unfaithful to his wife.

The article also addresses the “sweet spot of authenticity”- the sins that it is safe and okay to admit you’re struggling with. This is a real thing. There are some things that people will come alongside you and support you in, ranging from pornography addiction to greed, but there are some sins that are “too heavy” or “too light” to confess to church friends. Gossip, for example, is a light-weight sin. Everyone gossips, so people tend to feel like confessing gossip is a cop out confession (it shouldn’t be).

On the other hand, confessing struggling with wanting to act on same-sex attraction would be a little too heavy for your church friends in most Christian circles. They might judge you, even as they say they’ll help you.

Let’s be better than that. If we’re moving towards an age of authenticity in the church, let’s be open for EVERYONE to be authentic, not just the people struggling with porn addiction or lust. Let’s fling the doors open for every kind of sinner (and therefore human) to walk in and tell us what’s going on with them, and let’s include the “heavy-weights” and “light-weights” too. Because Jesus included them and he didn’t see the difference in their struggles. Those light-weights feel like heavy-weights some days and those heavy-weights feel so judged by the church.  Let’s be better than that.

The most important question that was raised for me as I read this article was, “Can we be uncomfortable with our sin and still be honest about it?” I think the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Like every time a student has handed in a test and apologetically said, “I should have studied more, but this is the best I could do,” we hand our lives and temptations to each other and ask for help while humbly bearing openly the parts of us we would rather hide.

“Authenticity comes when we collectively push each other, by grace, in the direction of Christ-likeness,” McCracken writes. I would add that authenticity starts where we screw up, and then comes when we push forward together.

He ends the article by quoting Stephen Mattson: “‘The reality is that there are many things wrong with Christianity,’ Mattson said, ‘but instead of focusing on the bad, let’s attempt to reclaim the hope that Jesus represents—redeeming our world by personifying the sacrifice, service, grace, hope, joy, and love of Christ.'” This is a noble and important cause, and something that I fully agree that the church should be working towards. But this isn’t where we begin.

The world’s perception of Christians isn’t a bunch of sinners saved by grace. The world’s perception of Christians is a bunch of Pharisees trying to one-up the rest of the world on a quest to be the Best and Most Perfect People Who Have Ever Lived. And the world’s perception of Christians is that we are hypocrites in that quest.

If we don’t start from a place of authenticity, then Jesus appears to have come to save the already perfect people. This is not Good News. If we aren’t authentic about sin and struggles in our life, then what has Christ died for? Paul claimed that when he was weak, then Christ was strong. God is in the business of using the underqualified and sinful to accomplish his purposes in the world. Let’s celebrate that!

Let’s be better than the authenticity versus holiness debate. Let’s be both.

Honest to God.


I’m linking up with SheLoves and their monthly word “Authentic” today. Check out the other wonderful linked-up posts here.

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  1. I read that article, too, and it made me wonder if I’m wrong to pursue so much authenticity. This is a super response! What you said about the world’s perception of Christians is so right. We can’t start on a soapbox. We have to start with honest confession and realness.

    1. Thanks Karissa! I totally agree. A few friends from my church had posted the article on facebook and I just felt like it wasn’t the whole picture, or the author didn’t understand what was meant or desired by authenticity. I don’t want to slam the article because I think he made some good points, but I don’t agree with all of it.

  2. Thanks Rachel. Great, thoughtful piece.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Katie!

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  4. Anne-Marie · · Reply

    Rachel, I so agree with you that these two don’t have to be in competition. And that we tend to broadcast which sins are ‘acceptable’ to talk about or struggle with. Perhaps when Jesus made clear that love was first, and humility, and pride the worst, he was speaking of this – the temptation to look right, versus having a tender and repentant heart. Great thoughts and challenges. Thanks for linking up to SheLoves.

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