From Acting to Authenticity
Our word for “actor” comes from the Greek word hypocrite. The ancient Greek theater often used a small ensemble of actors who played many parts. They changed characters by wearing different masks.
Jesus described pious people like Greek actors. They wore the masks of piety outwardly but failed to meet the standard of Christ’s righteousness. In Matthew 6, he warned us about three of them that were publicly displayed in his day– praying, giving, and fasting. They treated the practices as the ends. “As long as we’re doing what everyone else can see, we’re fine.” They measured themselves, and each other, accordingly.
We Baptists have long had our own mental markers. We think that as long as we do these things, we’re free to get on with the rest of our lives. They are the public practices of faith that show others that we measure up. If we meet the minimum requirements of prayer, Bible reading, mission projects, and church attendance, we think we’re good to go.
Anything we keep track of in our spiritual lives, however, is not the end. It’s just the means to an end of complete fulfillment in Christ. That’s why Jesus often parodied the super-pious and sent the faithful to the secret place. He said things like, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” “Pray to your father who is unseen.” “Put oil on your face, wash your hair, so that no one will know you are fasting.”
While the pious look for the right shampoo to grab in the morning, Jesus’ disciples understood the joke. Jesus wants us to be in the habit of an authentic life so that prayer, fasting, giving, and everything else we do spiritually just come naturally. As Dallas Willard suggests, we are to live so that if by chance someone else might recognize us for doing something that Jesus said to do, we would be surprised at their statement because we were not even aware, or keeping track, of our spiritual progress.
How do we start?
- Turn off the scoreboard. The metrics of the spiritual life can’t be measured with numbers. There is no “Sabermetrics” to spirituality.
- Throw away the masks. It’s ok to struggle through the spiritual life. That’s where the real growth comes from. Share those challenges with someone you trust.
- Practice being anonymous. The best spiritual growth happens when no one except God is watching. Be real by doing kind things for others without getting the credit.
Jesus doesn’t need theatrics or publicity. He really just wants you to go to practice.