Fake it 'til you make it?

Question
I heard a sermon on Christian growth and the pastor told the congregation to "fake it 'til they make it." In other words, fake obedience to Christ until it becomes more natural or more of a habit to live out. While I'm not a Christian, the phrase "fake it" doesn't seem very Christ-like. It gives the appearance that the Christian life is an unauthentic one. Is it?
Answer
Thank you for your question. It is sometimes stated that in Christian growth one should "fake it 'til you make it." However, just because two words may rhyme doesn't make a phrase biblical truth. While those that espouse such a saying normally mean well, "faking it" to most is considered a deceptive practice. It reminds a person of such words as impersonator or illusionist, mimic, imitate, or masquerade. For instance, a con man fakes being another person while he practices and perfects his ruse to gain confidence so he can cheat, defraud, and be a thief.

However, this said, neither is sanctification like an actor merely getting into character. Pretending to be who you really aren't — wouldn't this be more like lying?

What is genuinely intended with the two illustrations above? They intend show that Christians should practice righteousness until it is perfected in them. However, while it's true that we should practice righteousness (1 John 3:10; 3 John 1:11; cf. Psa. 34:14; 37:27; 1 John 2:29), we should do it from a correct foundation, from a proper beginning point.

How then should we view sanctification or Christian growth? Simply put, sanctification is practicing who the Christian "already is" in Christ. This "already is" reality is what the two illustrations above completely miss. It's not faking it and it's not pretending to be someone you're not. Rather, we can live righteously because we are already members of God's royal forgiven family (cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This doesn't mean that we will be sinless this side of glory, but it does mean that the genuine Christian will sin less, and less, and less (cf. 1 John 1:8-10).

The Bible teaches that Christians are new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17; cf. John 3:3; Rom. 6:4). Being a new creation in Christ is a present tense reality. This new creation principle is a foundation of Christian growth. Since we're already brand new, there is no need to fake anything. God doesn't make mere actors, rather he transforms his children making them sanctified saints (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; cf. Rom. 1:7).

Being "in Christ" (Rom. 8:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Pet. 5:14) makes Christians different people: "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). As Colossians 3:3 states, "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and endued with power and authority to obey Christ and his word (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7). So, it is from this perspective we are to live out the gospel-centered life.

When Paul tells the church to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13:14) or "walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16) or "to put on the new self" (Eph. 4:24), he's not implying that one should "fake it 'til they make it" or just pretend to be who they really aren't. Rather, he is saying to live out who you already are in Christ. You're already brand new, so be all you can be for the glory of Christ alone.

The Christian reality is that our citizenship is already in heaven (Phil. 3:20; cf. Rom. 8:30). We're already seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1; Heb. 12:1-3). And the Christian life begins from a position of power and authority! Things have changed, and our perspective on Christian growth should reflect and embrace this "already" reality in Christ.  

Therefore, sanctification begins from the foundation of realizing that one is free in Christ to live righteously (cf. John 8:36). The Christian is no longer a slave to sin (cf. John 8:34). As a matter of fact, he is already dead to sin. As Paul states, "We know that our old self was crucified [past tense] with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Rom. 6:14). Because of this reality, the apostle Paul tells us to consider ourselves to be who we already are in Christ: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11). Why? Because Christians already have the ability "in Christ" to present themselves to God as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:12-14; Phil. 4:13). They can walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16, 25; cf. Rom. 8:4; 13:14).

The Christian life shouldn't be a mere act. It's not just someone playing a part. It's an authentic life that one already has in Christ and has been enabled to live out. This is the proper and biblical position of the foundation of Christian growth.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).