I'm an admirer of Billy Graham. The reason for this is simple: Graham makes no pretense of being perfect. In short, he's authentic in saying that he trusts a Savior Who gives him the "blessed assurance" of an everlasting relationship with God not because Billy Graham is good, but because the Savior is good. "I'm a sinner," I've heard Graham say of himself more than once.
In that simple statement, Graham is owning his humanity. Quoting a string of Old Testament passages in the New Testament book of Romans, the first-century preacher Paul writes:
There's nobody living right, not even one,But, whether in the Old Testament time period when God established His own people through a man named Abraham or in the New Testament, through the God-Man Jesus, God has always been the friend of sinners. God's object has always been to effect reconcilation between Himself and all of us. That reconciliation only comes about in those who come to the end of themselves and humbly admit their need of God. After committing adultery and murder, the Old Testament's King David cried out poignantly:
nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They've all taken the wrong turn;
they've all wandered down blind alleys.
No one's living right;
I can't find a single one...(Romans 3:10-12, The Message)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:1-12)
Authenticity opens the door to relationship with God. This is what lay behind Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:1-18.
In verses 1 to 4, Jesus says to be authentic in our faith. "Playacting" doesn't prove anything to anybody, especially not to God.
In verses 5 to 18, Jesus talks about authentic prayer. When you pray, Jesus says, "Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace." Grace is the charitable regard God extends to those honest enough to admit their sin and their need of Him.
You may want to think of what Jesus is saying here in this way. Imagine a hermetically-sealed room with no oxygen in it. Imagine further that you are in that room. Religious pretense and going-through-the-motions spirituality will keep that room sealed. But the moment we admit that we need God's help and quit pretending to be better than we are, God cracks open the room in which we've been hiding, allowing His grace, His charitable and empowering love to give us new life. Until we pray to God with that kind of desperation and trust, we aren't really praying.
In the balance of the chapter, Jesus gives several rapid-fire teachings about giving priority to our relationship with God in our lives:
6:19-21 Be charitable to others as God has been to us. Treasure your relationship with God, Who lives and can give to us forever, more than you do money, whose run ends when our lives here end.
6:22-23 Be careful of the perspective with which you look at life. What you focus on in your life will eventually take control of you. Keep your focus on the God Who wants what's best for you.
6:24 You can't walk in two directions at once. You've either got to allow God or your money define you.
6:25-34 Trust God, no matter what. He is absolutely trustworthy.
This isn't easy stuff. But if you think you'd like to take Jesus up on this offer, be authentic with Him. Tell Him you're not sure about entrusting yourself completely to Him, but that you'd like to do that. Through Jesus, I've learned that God likes authenticity.