Get a real job!” I’ve heard this countless times while handing out tracts on the streets.
The “suggestion” to get a real job is intended to denigrate the proclamation of the gospel as lacking authenticity or importance. Many Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers will hear similar remarks as they labor on our summer witnessing campaign in New York City. After spending hours passing out tracts in the hot sun or an even hotter, muggy subway station, the idea of doing something else somewhere else is certainly appealing. But in my heart I know that nothing is more real than Jesus, or more important than letting people know about Him.
The questions of authenticity and reality have caught the attention of the business world. I recently read a book titled, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. In a society where reality television seems to be the latest and greatest form of entertainment, where advertisements for Macaroni and Cheese boast of containing “authentic Velveeta,” it is reasonable to question standards of reality.
Businesses seem to view authenticity in terms of their ability to respond effectively to the felt needs and identity of the consumer. That kind of authenticity is subjective and often self-serving. It enables people to make a profit by delivering what customers believe they need or want. But accurately assessing what consumers want is far too small a thing to be labeled as “truth.”
Businesses aren’t the only ones seeking authenticity on subjective grounds. Our entire culture tends to deconstruct truth as a universal value. Sin and self-absorption make it difficult for people to separate truth from their own set of preferences—yet people hunger for a semblance of truth. They may call it something else: genuineness, authenticity or integrity, but none of those things means anything if there is no objective standard by which to measure them.
In a recent Barna Research Group survey about truth, 87% of the respondents believed that living with a high degree of integrity was a top priority. That same survey asked people to respond to the statement: “There is no such thing as absolute truth; people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct.” 30% of those surveyed agreed strongly with the statement; 40% agreed somewhat; 10% disagreed somewhat and only 15% disagreed strongly. People who took the survey wanted to believe that they care about integrity, but most refused to recognize the foundation upon which integrity must be built.
The question of truth is not new. When Jesus told Pilate, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth,” Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:37, 38).
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines truth as, “That which accords with fact or reality.” In other words, truth is the stuff of which reality is made. How do we measure reality, authenticity and truth? According to the very One that people commonly consider a matter of taste rather than truth—God Himself. God is the first reality, the original fact to which everything else either does or does not correspond. When we’re talking about truth, we are talking about the very existence, nature and character of God. And like God, truth exists independently of people’s opinions and preferences. It is not for customers, consumers or culture to determine; rather, it corresponds to objective standards rooted in God’s reality.
Because God created us, it stands to reason that He is the source of Truth concerning our most basic and profound needs. Jesus personifies that Truth. He said, “I am the truth,” and He promised us a Counselor who is the Spirit of Truth.
Further, the Bible sets a standard for what is authentic and holds up a mirror for those who care to look, so that we don’t deceive ourselves with false realities (James 1:23-25).
The choice to live authentically and truthfully is more than refraining from lies. It is an entire disposition, an orientation of the mind and heart that views ourselves and others from a godly, accurate perspective. Every day we choose, moment by moment, either to operate within reality or cling to our favorite illusions. If we do not choose truth consciously, we are choosing to operate according to our own impulses. I’ve had glimpses of myself as someone who, at times, prefers to believe what is convenient rather than what is true. Convenience is one of those standards that is often built on rationalizations rather than reality, and therefore can set itself up against truth. Anything that violates truth is against God’s character. The good news is, if I find I’ve slipped into that trap, I can and do repent of it, as can anyone else.
Authenticity is godly genuineness. It compels us to admit our failures, and to recognize the realities necessary to cultivate grace and strength in our lives and in the lives of those to whom we relate. Authentic people have an inward reality that matches their outward presentation. What you see is what you get. No pretense, no sales pitch. Authenticity is biblical reality fleshed out in person. We need to be authentic. That means we can’t shy away from biblical realities.
Everyone prefers comfort to condemnation, but the gospel truth we are called to proclaim points to our sin and our need for a Savior. As messengers who don’t want to be rejected along with the message, we are continually tempted to blunt the sharp edges of spiritual realities. But if we are to witness to people, they need to understand the problem in order to see the authenticity of the solution.
Eventually all that is false will be stripped away, and that includes false comfort. It is no mercy to leave lies and illusions unchallenged. Each and every human being must eventually deal with reality.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Complete truthfulness is only possible where sin has been uncovered and forgiven by Jesus. Only those who have honestly faced their weakness through the confession of their sin to Jesus are not ashamed to tell the truth wherever it must be told. The truthfulness which Jesus demands of his followers is the self-abnegation which does not hide sin. Nothing is then hidden; everything is brought forth to the light of his day. The cross is God’s truth about us, and therefore, the only power, which can help make us truthful. When we know the cross, we are no longer afraid of the truth. The truth cuts false fellowship to pieces, and establishes genuine brotherhood.”
As our Jews for Jesus New York City Summer Witnessing Campaign is underway throughout this month, our staff and volunteers are out sharing the reality of the risen Lord, the truth of the gospel and the power of Messiah’s love. Inevitably some passersby will shout out, “Get a real job!” But others will stop and listen and believe. And still others may walk away thinking and wondering and ready to stop and talk to the next Christian they meet. Being misunderstood by some isn’t too high a price to pay if we can help others to understand the life and love Jesus offers them.
Jesus said, “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). He is the standard of truth and authenticity, and if we would be people of authenticity we must be willing to stand as He stood, forthrightly and without fear. Let us commit to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.”