“You are the light of the world; it is not possible for a city established on a mountaintop to hide. Nor does one light a lamp and set it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, thus it illuminates the whole house. In this way, shine your light before mankind so they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”
When we talk about ethics, usually questions of morality come to mind. The dictionary defines ethics in terms of moral principles that guide a person’s or a group’s behavior. It also refers to a study of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any given action. This rightness or wrongness ultimately is determined by a standard of some sort—for many, it is society (which leads to despotism) or their own preferences (which leads to chaos and anarchy), for the Christian, the standard is the Bible and specifically the Ten Commandments (along with Jesus’ summary of the 10 Commandments, that we are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves).
As Christians, we are pretty used to hearing the language of moral norms and guidelines, though oftentimes, we approach them in practice more as practical suggestions than as absolute laws. God commands us to make no idols, yet we idolize celebrities; we are called not to use the Lord’s name for vain purposes, yet many use church or their Christian profession simply as a way to generate more business. We are called to keep the Sabbath holy, yet treat it as we would any other day. We speak of a high moral calling in every area of life, yet often live it out half-heartedly and the world is watching us the whole time. When a non-believer watches a Christian whose walk does not match his talk, there is a term that they rightfully use: “hypocrite.”
The English word, “authentic,” comes from two related Greek terms: aujqentiko/ß (authentikos), which means “original” or “genuine,” and aujqentikwvß (authentikos—with a long “o”), which refers to something that can be seen with perfect clarity (no blurry or grayed edges). While neither word is found within the Biblical texts of either testament, the principle of being authentic is clearly portrayed. Jesus says that we are to be lights to the world, guiding them through the darkness of this life and guiding them in such a way that the light is neither hidden nor distorted. We are to shine our light before men and in such a way that it clearly points to God and not to those doing the works. In a very real sense, Jesus is calling us to be authentic in living out our faith.
While some would argue that the unbeliever is the real hypocrite and others would argue that churches really aren’t filled with hypocrisy, taking this tact of argumentation degenerates swiftly into an ad hominem argument and name calling is neither makes for effective evangelism nor is it the foundation for an honest relationship to be built upon. If we as the church are to genuinely be a light that illuminates everything in the world and to do so with the aim of pointing people to God (the Great Commission), then as a church, we need to be ready to accept the honest criticism of unbelievers in this world and strive to live in an authentic way before watching eyes. Rather than being defensive, let us strive toward authenticity in our faith, always seeking to live with integrity. What the world wants to know is not whether our faith is better than the other alternatives this world has to offer; what the world wants to know is whether or not our faith is real and genuine. They can live with some inconsistency; what they cannot abide with is inauthenticity. Any Christian ethic that we might articulate will find itself entirely undermined unless it begins with the expectation that Christians live authentic—genuine—lives that are transparent and lived honestly (for good or for ill) before the world around us. Until we live authentically and have authentic relationships with others in and out of the church, the watching world won’t be interested in what it is that we have to offer.