Sit down. Watch a TV show. Catch a flick at the theater. Sit in on a stage performance. True actors and actresses are masters of their craft. There's something that draws you in about them, but what? Could it be their portrayal of joy, sorrow, success or struggle? Perhaps you're caught by heroism, gripped by fear, urked by antagonism or warmed by purity? The characters we watch can be lovable, despicable and everything in between. We relate and empathize with some, but shake our heads in disgust at others. We grow familiar with these acting personas and at times, we may even find it difficult to detach the characters "played" from those who play them. The strongest confirmation of "good" acting is one’s ability to portray something other than what one truly is. A good performance can be quite convincing.
The very same thing can be said about our faith. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new believer or a seasoned veteran, we all reach a crossroad that begs us to make one vital decision... “Will my faith be convincing or genuine?” Perhaps both seem admirable, even desirable in their own way. So, to bring clarity to this argument and dig a little deeper, we will be using two new terms. We’ll call them "attentional" and "intentional" faith.
You see, God never intended for us to be actors on a spiritual stage. We weren’t created to be "convincing performers" for an audience of believers. The purpose of our spiritual image is not to entertain or misdirect. We are called to live just as we are- imperfect, transparent, but redeemed. Unfortunately, there is an epidemic seeking to plague every believer. It’s what I’ve come to call "attentional" faith and it reveals itself most notably when “attention” is given to maintaining some outward faith appearance. Attentional faith surfaces in our attempts to maintain the status quo of Christianity or portray a "good" facade among those who may expect us to carry ourselves a certain way. Attentional faith is reflected in the desire to “look right” more than “live right.” It’s evident in the attitude that says “I DID church today” (as if to meet some spiritual requirement) rather than “I EXPERIENCED church today” (from a true desire for spiritual growth). We can even go as far as trying to convince ourselves that our spiritual life is strong (even if it’s not). But, acting, preserving standards, going through the motions and keeping up appearances- these are examples of giving "attention" to convince on the outside. We may manage to fool the world around us with our perfect church attendance and our well-placed Christian words, but God can see the heart. A life with "attentional" faith usually exists to hide some sort of spiritual shortcoming. Eventually, the walls we’ve built to hide behind will crumble (like a house on sand) and wash away in the waves of life, for we have no anchor. This is not the life of fullness God desires for us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
Champions of the faith are watching us, even today. The eyes of fellow believers look for truth in us. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have already run their races and they encourage us to toss away the “acts” of faith that entangle us from running freely to the gift of fullness in God. They did it and we can too! Dropping the "act" to pursue God with desire is a sign of an “intentional” believer. It’s faith built on the rock. The intentional believer is one who listens and understands God's words and looks to put them into action. This believer is genuine; far from perfect, but striving for holiness; willing to expose their weaknesses, admit their faults, let down their walls and confess their sins out of a pure desire to see more Christ and to draw others to His throne. Intentional faith says “I want more God, regardless of who is (or isn’t) watching.”
Yes, we DO want our faith to be convincing (in a sense) but never false. Yes, we DO want to draw others into the faith, but only to share with them what God has adopted us into. Yes, we SHOULD want others to notice how we live, but only so they can ask why we’re living that way- opening a door to effectively acknowledge the fruit we bear from God’s presence. You will not sprout into an athlete simply because you purchase running shoes. In the same way, faith will not sprout in your life simply because you attempt to look faithful. No matter how long an actor plays a role, he can never truly become that character. So, no matter how long you play the role of “follower,” you will never truly become one until you follow. Passion and love for God will only exist in a heart that has been transformed from the inside out. Fire can only exude from an overflow of the Holy Spirit. When we are re-birthed by salvation, we are recreated to be "intentional" - convincing others only with the reality of God in our hearts.
We'll all ping-pong back and forth. We'll all turn on the performance when our heart just isn’t in the spirit. Our audiences vary and we try to keep up a spiritual image from time to time. It’s not always easy to keep faith vibrant and centered, but we must continue to seek the Lord's leadership. God's perfection can (and will) expose our false performances. Ask Him to do so in you! His aim isn't to embarrass you or mar your public image. He wants to refine you- molding your heart to live transparently; to reflect what's within on the outside- bringing glory to Himself. We CAN be convincing Christians IF our faith is genuine. So, are you giving attention to "act" convincing to the world or is your faith real enough to convince on it's own? Your heart will know the difference.