Authentic is a buzzword these days. Authentic cultural cuisine, authentic, hand-made goods, authentic connection, authentic ingredients in baby food and make up. Authentic anything really.
The constant cry for authenticity emerged from the backdrop of decades of synthetic, mass-produced, largely-plastic everything. Assembly-line-produced, shrink-wrapped, cookie-cutter capitalism has been coloring society, beginning with the Industrial Revolution and climaxing in the late 20th century, the church and religious experience sadly included.
Postmodern people want authenticity in relationships and religion, in jeans and in Jesus. Thankfully, even before the postmodern culture, people longed for truth. The Apostle John was the first of the gospel writers to seek to contextualize the gospel to his particular culture: the Greco-Roman culture. John longed to introduce the culture to the Jesus with whom he had personally walked, talked, laughed, and cried.
What authenticity is to our present culture, truth was to the culture John sought to address. As such, it is not surprising that the Greek word aléthinos which is translated “true, authentic, genuine, or real” appears consistently throughout John’s writings (the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation). In fact, 23 of the 28 uses of this word meaning true or authentic are Johannine.
John was clearly concerned with presenting the Greco-Roman truth-seekers with the deepest, most authentic truth which was found in the person of Christ. He shows the surrounding culture that God is serious about authenticity as well.
John introduced Jesus as “the true light which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). He records Jesus having told the woman at the well from Samaria that he was seeking “true worshippers” who would worship in both spirit and truth (John 4:23). Jesus told his disciples that, in him, the Father sent His “true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Jesus reminded those who followed him that the Father who sent him was true (John 7:28) and that his own judgement was true (John 8:16).
In some of his last discourses with his closest friends and disciples, Jesus called himself “the true vine” (John 15:1). In his prayer to the Father on the eve of his death, he addresses his Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3). Later, when John was speaking about the Cross of Christ as an eye-witness, he reassures his readers that “his testimony is true” and that he is “telling the truth” (John 19:35).
Either John (and the Jesus he records) did not have a thesaurus or an expansive vocabulary or he was being quite intentional with his use of the word true.
In a world of thousands of claims of truth, John wants his readers to know that the deepest, fullest, most veracious truth is found In the Triune God. Our absolute God is absolute in His authenticity. What He says and does and thinks is true, authentic, genuine, and real.
While it is not wrong to want to purchase authentic handmade goods and have authentic conversations and express our authentic feelings, we must understand that underneath these pangs for authenticity lies a soul-deep need for an authentic encounter with the authentic God.
What John’s audience needed to hear back then we need to hear today. There is a God who is authentic in all He is and does. And He knows our hearts in all their awful authenticity (both the positive and negative connotations of the term). He experienced live authentically as the God-man and he bore an awful death on our behalf. He invites us into an authentic relationship with him. It doesn’t get more authentic that that, does it?
Oh, that we would be pressed even deeper into our desire for authenticity.