"Keep it real". This is a pretty common expression. What do people mean when they use it? Here's some definitions from Urbandictionary.com: To not be fake. Be yourself. to not inhibit yourself or pretend to be something you are not. When someone does not change who they are or what they believe due to societal pressures. Especially true with regards to someone who has attained some financial success but does not change their behavior. Alternatively, may relate to someone who maintains connections to their ethnic background in a multicultural environment. Not only tell the truth, but specifically get to the point of the actual matter at hand, rather than beating around the bush. a closing statement used to say goodbye and often by Christians as a reminder to keep their faith real - as in not hypocritical.
For my purposes, let’s begin with some dictionary.com definitions:
"keep" to hold or retain in one's possession; hold as one's own: ie. if you like it, keep it to maintain (some action), especially in accordance with specific requirements, a promise, etc.: ie. to keep watch, keep in step to cause to continue in a given position, state, course, or action:, ie. to keep a light burning to maintain in condition or order, as by care and labor, ie. he keeps his car in good condition. to maintain in usable or edible condition; preserve:, ie. if you want to keep meat for a long time, freeze it.
So whatever 'it' is, we should hold onto it as an invaluable possession. We ought to maintain 'it' according to Biblical requirements. We want to continue in 'it' so we can experience its power and benefit.
"real" true; not merely ostensible, nominal, or apparent:existing or occurring as fact; actual rather than imaginary, ideal, or fictitious: ie. a story taken from real life. being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary: ie. The events you will see in the film are real and not just made up. being actually such; not merely so-called: ie. a real victory. genuine; not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation; authentic: ie. a real antique; a real diamond; real silk. unfeigned or sincere: ie. real sympathy; a real friend. Informal. absolute; complete; utter: ie. She's a real brain.
Also, whatever 'it' is, we should know it is absolute truth and not nominal or just apparent. We ought to be aware that 'it' is actually such and not just so-called. Not just profession but sincere, unfeigned confession!
And the most important definition, what is “it”? What do I want to keep real, to be authentic about? Or a better question might be WHO. Who can say to us we’re being genuine or phony?
Well coming from a Biblical faith background, my answer is God and Jesus - the right answers to 90% of all Sunday school questions, LOL. But why? Saying that it’s God makes sense, since He’s the creator and as such, He knows our purpose; He knows whether we are being real humans or not, ie. true images of Himself. But with Jesus, it may get a bit more complicated. After all, He was a human being. But being a Christian, I also affirm His deity.
See, being being both human and divine actually gives Him even more grounds for defining ‘it’. As God, He knows our purpose and design; as Man, He knows our frailty and even our mortality. Biggest thing that makes Him the One to determine ‘it’ is His resurrection. Being able to come back from death pretty much seals the deal. Whatever He says is truth! But enough of that; all I’m saying is Jesus is the sole determiner of what ‘it’ should be.
But before identifying 'it', I also want to ask why do we need to keep it real.
There has been so much damage done in the name of Christ and the Bible that it really behooves the church and followers of Jesus to put ‘keeping it real’ at the top of each day's priorities. It is so common to read the Bible and have little or no idea how it connects to real life. No wonder why many Christians struggle to connect their church life with their non-church life. As such, many professing believers / church goers don't know what to keep real or how to do it. Yet this is so critically important for those who profess to be followers of Jesus and worshippers of the one true God. Being a disciple means being a learner and being a worshipper means whatever we're learning should be growing our praise and adoration of God to the point of it directing all we do.
It’s even more important for those who teach the Bible (especially to kids) to consistently and meaningfully connect Bible stories and passages to daily living. Jesus warns against false teaching and causing young people to stumble. The book of James tells us that teachers will be judged more harshly.
Keeping it real actually helps you interpret and understand the Bible in the way it was intended - to address the inner life (relationships, emotions, identity, addictions, etc) and teach what it takes to experience true freedom. Keeping it real helps us be clear about the context of our lives. Scholars and seminarians always emphasize context as primary and essential to faithful interpretation. Ultimately, this means that Biblical clarity requires a grasp of the entire Bible (which gives us a comprehensive context with its 7 genres / sections) and seeing Jesus at the center of all its teachings. We must look to Jesus, who He is and what He did, and the Biblical context to define our ‘it’.
First, what is the Biblical context? From Genesis to Revelation, we see God's salvation story of a broken relationship between Him and people who've lost their way. We see God promising and sending His Son, Jesus Christ to redeem, resurrect, and redefine humanity to give all those who believe eternal life. It's about God's rescue of people who couldn't save themselves from wrecking and destroying their relationships, families, communities, and nations with pride and fear.
Secondly, who is Jesus and what did He do? He is the Word of God become a human being to be a sacrificial atonement for our sins. He fully identified with us so that He could truly be our substitute in taking our just punishment. As one of us, He died in our place and reconciled us to God. Moreover why and how He did this are of equal importance. Jesus’ motivation was love and oneness - He wanted to be one with us just as He is one with the Father, in an intimate, covenant-based relationship (like a marriage). How He did this is even more revealing of the ‘it’. He did this through a Roman execution instrument - a wooden cross. This cruel tool was intended to maximize shame and pain by a public, prolonged display of the condemned, whose hands and feet were nailed thus keeping the person in an exposed, vulnerable position and unable to physically protect himself in any manner. He suffered all this to make a new and living way back to God the Father.
Why God the Father? Because at the core, we have an identity crisis. We are sinners through our lineage to Adam. The choice of unbelief resulted in shame and a loss of union with God. The Garden of Delight (Eden) was no longer their home. Then came jealousy and hostility, the offspring of enmity (opposite of intimacy). Through the fall, people become trouble makers rather than peacemakers. Look at history and it’s easy to see our identity crisis. If not for God, we all die spiritually, relationally, and emotionally by avoidance (suicide) or aggression (homicide).
In Jesus’ words, we need to be born again. Another way to put it is, we need to receive a new identity by trusting in His death on the cross which resulted in resurrection. Put another way, God transforms us when we wholeheartedly believe in Christ as the way, truth, and life and resultingly expose our shame and pain to Him with whatever vulnerability we can muster. Real change requires vulnerability and transparency in the midst of an intimate relationship. This is ‘it’. We need to keep our relationships with God and loved ones ‘real’; intimacy, vulnerability, and transparency as core values. We must prioritize them everyday so that we show up as different people (on the inside) wherever we go and in whatever we’re doing. Most importantly when conflict and tensions arise, we need to be people who seek God's help to not fall into the temptation to avoid or attack. We also need to be honest about our tendencies to distract and addict ourselves with work, play, or substances to comfort our pain and stresses. When we approach life differently in an authentic relationship with God, we will show up differently in our relationships with people.
In addition, when we mention relationships, we must be aware that we are also talking about identity. Relationships define and affect identity. I guess you could say they are 2 sides of the same coin. If our relationships (with God and others) are healthy and strong, we know who we are, what we’re worth, and what life is about. In the absence of healthy relationships, we’re lost and alone with little or no sense of worth or purpose, spiraling out of control, all the while frantically grasping for control that we’ll never obtain. When we keep it real, it brings health to our relationships which will in turn help us build healthy ways of seeing ourselves.
To sum up the why, we need to keep it real because it moves us into relationship with God, engages us into the very passionate work of God as revealed in His Word to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Keeping it real is abiding in what is most important to Him as He is the One who determines what's real or not, as well as who is real or not.
So what is ‘it’?
‘It’ is our identity in Christ.
Jesus said in John 15:1-4, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”
Do you see how central this is to following Jesus? Every fruitless branch is cut off. Remaining in Christ is the ONLY way to experience fruitfulness.
There are 2 very important things to see here. Pruned: A real connection with God results in pruning by the message of Christ. This means He cuts off other confidences, trusts, and loyalties. In the process of growing up, struggling through adolescence and functioning as productive members of society, we develop many internal loyalties to culture and family of origin dysfunctions. Through the Gospel, God wants to prune those loyalties that are anti-Gospel / anti-Christ so that we can experience fruit in our lives, the outcomes of spiritual and emotional health and maturity - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. Remain: In a real relationship with God, we ought to pursue remaining in this pruned state. We have many situations and opportunities to function in a non-pruned state because much of the time, this is a default mode which does not involve conscious thought. An example would be my tendency to avoid conflict when I get into tensions and arguments with my wife, kids, or coworkers. Or perhaps it is the inclination to distract myself with work and play in order to not think about relational stress and dysfunction.
To experience the powerful, transforming results of the Gospel, we need to live from the peacemaker identity of Christ, wholehearted confidence in Him while keeping in mind / abiding in heart the why and how of His death and resurrection. Keeping it real is about being preoccupied with God’s heart, our hearts, and the hearts of those we live and work with. This spiritual focus gets us doing things that God wants us doing - doing what is just, loving mercy, and humbly walking with Him (Micah 6:8).
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
God calls them His children because they’re keeping it real!