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3 Key Principles To Grasp If You Want To Practice Authentic Christianity

By Chip Ingram

At a pivotal moment in my teenage years, I came to realize that God genuinely cared about me. But it wasn’t until later that I understood the difference between following the rules and practicing authentic Christianity. 

Let’s unpack Romans 12 and discover what an authentic Christian looks and acts like. If you want to jump ahead to the 3 principles, use the links here:

  1. Start with an accurate picture of God.
  2. Authentic Christianity is not built on rules or religion. 
  3. To be a genuine, authentic Christian, value relationships. 
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What about you? When did you come to understand the Creator of the Universe knew you, cared about you, and wanted to have a relationship with you? Is that moment now? 

Here’s how it happened for me.

Achievement was ingrained in me from a very young age. I worked multiple jobs in my pre-teen and teenage years, making sure to maintain my near-perfect grades and continuing to check off sports accomplishments. I had a list in my head that I strived to achieve — and for the most part, did — and I was willing to be the hardest worker in the room to ensure my success. 

During my senior year, when I was at the very top of my game, a friend looked at me and said, “Chip, you must be so happy right now.” 

“Why,” I asked?

She rattled off my achievements: I’d gotten the girl, the grades, and the scholarships. 

But in that moment, I’d never been more aware of my unhappiness and my emptiness. 

She was right—everything I’d set to accomplish had been achieved. Just as I’d been taught, I set and attained goals, one after the other, feeling pretty good about my drive and stamina. 

But where was it going to end? If I couldn’t experience happiness in this moment, when would it come? At the end of the next set of goals?

MY INTRODUCTION TO AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY 

Soon after, a friend invited me to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp where I experienced God’s pull on my life. For the first time, I decided to follow Him.

God’s impact was quickly evident in my life! In my new, redeemed life, He allowed me to experience freedom and joy, and a lot of my “big sins” fell by the wayside. I was crushing this faith thing. 

But, as college progressed, my faith was put to the test. I’d become a student of the Bible and quickly noticed the co-ed way of life I was choosing didn’t seem to fit what He was teaching me in the Scriptures. Honestly, I was a little annoyed — I was glad He forgave my sins, but this running-my-life thing wasn’t what I signed up for. 

As a result, I became a back-and-forth believer. I would live like I wanted to half the week, and feel repentant and interested in God the other half. 

Not all of you are co-eds and maybe some of you have healthier boundaries regarding achievements, but can you relate to this kind of “schizophrenic” Christianity? Statistics say that 90% of believers live this way: behaving instinctively however we want to live, then repenting and drawing close to Him again. 

Try hard, fail.
Try harder, fail again. 

I had come to understand forgiveness, but I hadn’t yet come to understand authentic Christianity. 

Can you relate? Some of you have experienced forgiveness, but your faith is built on a foundation of “shoulds” and achievements … and then failures. 

Others have gotten caught up in a faith culture of “doing” church and then separating that part of your life from your family, work, school and relationships.

What is authentic Chrisianity? How do we move beyond religion, church programs, legalism, performance orientation and compartmentalized lives to a grace-filled, authentic relationship with Christ?

3 Key Principles To Grasp If You Want To Practice Authentic Christianity

1. Start with an accurate picture of God. 

Every single one of us has an image of God in our minds. Stop and consider yours. Whatever your picture, here’s how it impacts your everyday faith and impacts authentic Christianity

  • Do you think God is an angry deity, waiting to punish you? You’re likely working hard to tiptoe around Him and appease His anger.
  • In your mind, is God a cosmic scorekeeper? You probably assume you’ll never measure up, hoping that in the end your good choices will outweigh your bad ones. 
  • Is God an impersonal, invisible force inside everything and possibly every person? And through Him we become one with the universe?  Then you’re probably seeking a formula, technique or a method to develop oneness with the cosmos. 
  • Is God a loving Father to you? One who wants to know you personally so He can love, direct and guide you, and give you the very best? If so, then you’re probably experiencing peace and contentment in your faith.

Here’s what the Scriptures say:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. -1 John 3:1

When your kids make unwise choices, doesn’t it grieve you? In the same way, God’s heart breaks when we, His children, live in ways that aren’t good for us. 

God wants good things for every one of His kids. 

Read more: 10 Reminders From the Bible to Pray Faithfully and Confidently

2. Authentic Christianity is not built on rules or religion. 

Following Jesus is not about following rules and keeping life inside the lines. Of course, as a believer, you’ll likely honor the precepts and live in obedience. But the question is whether or not you’re motivated by an effort to fend off an angry deity or by love for the Father?

What’s the motivation for your obedience? 

When the Pharisees asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment in the Law:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” -Matthew 22:37-39

Paul was a great rule-keeper before he became a believer. And yet he considered all of his impressive accomplishments as complete garbage compared to knowing Christ and the resurrection! 

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11

Paul had zero interest in uncovering the secret methods for following God’s rules or impressing Him. Instead, he understood what his heart truly yearned for: to know Christ and share in His sufferings. 

We’ve taken Christianity and turned it into a moral code that directs us to act politely and calmly. Rather, the Jesus of the New Testament was a strong, passionate, righteous man who got angry when confronted with evil! He wasn’t motivated by keeping the rules.

Authentic Christianity — true spirituality — is not about a code or regimen or rules, it’s about a relationship with the Father. It’s about loving God and loving people, 24/7, from the heart.

True spirituality is not about a code or regimen or rules, it’s about a relationship with the Father. It’s about loving God and loving people, 24/7, from the heart, with the right motives. Click To Tweet

What exactly does this look like? Thankfully, Paul spells it out for us in the book of Romans.

3. To be an authentic Christian, value relationships. 

In Romans 12 we are given the relational, grace-based pathway to true spirituality.

After Paul teaches for many chapters on grace, he then describes how to spot an authentic Christian. Interestingly, every point is based on relationships. Our relationship with—

  1. God
  2. The world
  3. Ourselves
  4. Other believers
  5. Unbelievers

It’s a heart change — reflected in these relationships — that demonstrates a genuine, authentic faith. Often, we’d prefer to do the “work” and follow the rules, impressing a cosmic scorekeeper. But God’s asking for something harder than following the rules: He’s asking for our hearts. 

Reflect on the relationships God calls us to in a recent article, How To Pray To God For Help When Life Feels Impossible.

Oftentimes, we’d prefer to do the “work” and follow the rules, impressing a cosmic scorekeeper. But God’s asking for something harder than following the rules: He’s asking for our hearts. Click To Tweet 

Practicing genuine, authentic Christianity starts by grasping an accurate picture of God and His love for you as His child, an understanding that it’s not about the rules or religion, and an otherworldly value on relationships. 

Don’t let these principles hinder you; it’s not about checking off these boxes. God wants to ignite your faith, and these foundational truths will give you momentum to transform your faith and experience true spirituality. 

Examine the relatable and authentic faith of heroes like Abraham, Daniel and Moses and more when you check out my latest Daily Discipleship Series, Momentum. We’ll also tackle the 5 key relationships that will be impacted everyday by our authentic Christianity, and how to come to grips with who God made you to be.

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Written By

Chip Ingram

Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge

Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.

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