At the Gospel Coalition, Brett McCracken takes on authenticity as an evangelical substitute for holiness. He asks, “by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ have evangelicals turned ‘being screwed up’ into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness?” Yup. And perhaps few are as guilty as us wives and mothers.
The mommy wars have made great advances in battling the false fronts of picture-perfect blog posts, where dinners always look fabulous, children are always beautifully dressed, and husbands always come home with roses. But we’ve replaced those filtered versions of our lives with other versions: things like honest mommy blogs, leaving the ring in the toilet for guests to see, and posting pics of the overflowing garbage on facebook. “See what a disaster my kitchen is? I’m no perfectionist, obsessive, hypocritical mother!” We’re being authentic and open with one another.
This is as unhelpful as perfectionism, albeit in another direction. As McCracken points out, “authenticity” can distract us from holiness as we confuse it with being and doing what God requires or doing what God forbids. It’s not “authentic” to leave your bathroom dirty in an effort to be honest with your guests—it’s unkind. And perhaps the honest status about being in your pajamas till noon is excusing our collective tendency to sloth instead of domestic industry, being capable keepers at home as Scripture calls us to (Titus 2:5).
Perfectionism and “authenticity” are both enemies of true holiness: on the one hand, living in self-righteousness and the fear of man; on the other, excusing laziness or some other sin. That’s not to say that there are never days when we just don’t manage to clean the bathroom, despite hard work. It’s to say that a clean bathroom, decent supper, and children who are clothed and in their right minds should be normal goals, normally achieved without boasting, posting, or asking for acclaim for all that hard work. It’s not sin to work hard and not get done everything on your to-do list today. It might be sin to flaunt undone work as “authenticity,” especially if we have time to do it and are tweeting instead.
Attempts at “authenticity” reveal something basic about ourselves: we think about ourselves way too much. We don’t want to be perfectionists, so we are willing to have others use the dirty bathroom, visit (or live) with us when we look dreadful, or scroll past pictures of dirty/messy children in their newsfeeds. This might be honest, but really, does anyone think that you, your children, and your house exist in a state of perpetual perfection? No. “Authenticity” might be honest, but is it helping anyone grow in their calling? Probably not. It’s usually false humility. Why false? Well, real humility doesn’t tell everyone about every failing any more than it tells everyone about every success. Maybe when we think more about others than what they think of us, we’ll be able to interact with them in a way that puts us in the shadow and encourages them in their sanctification.
The Bible, not Pinterest, defines sin and holiness. Holiness is growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; loving God above all else and our neighbour as ourselves; working diligently with our hands. Quietly (1 Thess. 4:11). Part of holiness is doing to others as we would have them do to us. That just might include putting on a clean shirt before our husband gets home from work instead of being “honest” with him about the day’s food, sweat, and tears (the children’s, of course…).
God doesn’t call us to authenticity. He calls us to ask for prayer and accountability where we struggle with sin. He calls us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And He commands us to be holy, even as He is holy, because without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Hunter Boots, KitchenAids, and Hudson Bay blankets should be authentic. Christian wives and mothers should be holy, because holiness is the defining mark of an authentic believer in Jesus.
Holiness can’t be gained through an immaculate home, fabulous meals, clean children, domestic confessions, authenticity, honesty, or anything else. Outside of Christ, any of our works are filthy rags. It’s only in Christ that we are holy before God. And it’s then that working hard at our callings pleases God as we seek to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever by doing the good works that He has prepared in advance for us.