"Just fake it ’til you make it!” The saintly old matriarch quoted the cliché as counsel to Kathy, a recently baptized church member. Kathy had just confessed to her Bible study class that she needed a closer relationship with Jesus but struggled with a dry, meaningless devotional life.
“If I did that,” Kathy asked, “how would I be any different from a Pharisee?”
“I agree with her,” Mildred said. “Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for that very thing, calling them ‘whited sepulchres.’ ”
Jesus’ word picture was a reference to the practice of painting tombs white in order to mark them, thus preventing visitors looking for shelter from accidently defiling themselves by entering a burial cave. From the outside, these whitewashed caves looked clean—better, in fact, than the empty caves. But inside they held dead men’s bones.
“Isn’t faking it just looking good on the outside while being dead inside?”
From the back of the class, a stern-looking man interjected, “I have one word to answer this debate.” Then, pausing for effect, he said, “ ‘Duty!’ Christians should act on what the Bible tells us to do, not on how we feel!”
Obeying from the heart
Many times I’ve heard the adage “fake it ’til you make it,” but for the first time, I felt challenged to determine whether this bit of homespun counsel fits with my theology.
Do I do what is right until I feel like doing what is right? In my devotional life, should I wait to feel a connection with God, or should I go ahead with my study, just pretending that I’m encountering God? Have I fallen into “works” to carry out my duty when I don’t feel like doing it? If the feeling for self-sacrifice doesn’t come naturally, should I just forge ahead until God changes my heart?
Years ago, after intense study, I embraced righteousness by faith in Jesus as a pillar of both my theology and my personal experience with God. From that point on, I felt compelled to have my actions be the outgrowth of Jesus occupying my heart.
Scripturally, I remained convinced that the only obedience acceptable to God is heart obedience. Paul states, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:10). He adds, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance” (Romans 6:17).
These verses appear to be in conflict with the idea of faking it until you make it. One word lingered in my mind: phony. Yet living against God’s will while I wait for the inner prompting didn’t seem compatible with someone claiming to be a Christian either.
A fireproof faith
My dilemma was reframed when I watched the movie Fireproof. The movie portrays a couple with a dying marriage. Firefighter Caleb Holt has respect from everyone in his world except from his wife, Catherine. In his mind, he has basically performed the role of a good husband through the years. He blames her lack of respect for him as the reason for his failing marriage.
When Caleb tells his father about his imminent divorce, his father challenges him to commit to a 40-day “Love Dare” program. Reluctantly, Caleb agrees. He halfheartedly tries performing acts of love toward his wife, but he doesn’t get the expected results and wants to give up. His emotions and even his reasons for finishing the 40-day challenge change as quickly as teen fashions.
Nevertheless, in spite of his flip-flopping emotions, Caleb chooses to stick with his commitment. One day, he finds his wife home from work sick. Even though he knows she professes no feelings for him and that an infatuation for a doctor at work pulls at her heart, he acts toward her in love, caring for her needs.
Seeing his compassionate actions reveals to Catherine that something has changed, that her husband is now motivated by love. She becomes even more convinced of this when she realizes the 40 days have expired, and his loving attention to her needs continues. The love response of putting another first has become ingrained in Caleb’s heart.
This story helped me to recognize that I need a “fireproof” faith to enable me to live righteously toward God, regardless of my feelings. It assists me in placing the fake-it concept into a relational framework.
Suddenly, I understand “faking it” to mean to “act even though you don’t feel like it yet.” I understand this to form the core of love.
I have never liked taking out the garbage, but I do it because I want to lighten my wife’s burden. My heartfelt desire to serve her doesn’t magically change the act of taking out the garbage to be a pleasant, enjoyable task. Not “feeling it” doesn’t make my motivation self-serving. Rather, love for my wife motivates me.
Paul recognized the need to place our will on God’s side even when our human nature cries out for gratification. He testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
He points out that the sinful self must die, and this includes my natural desires. In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul declares, “I face death every day.” I shouldn’t expect a vastly different experience in my walk with God.
When did I buy into the concept that once I made a lifetime choice for God, I would never have to fight against my emotions or desires?
Maybe faking it means that I will choose Him until it becomes a part of my nature. Or maybe it means that the very choice to follow God in spite of my emotions is part of the process God uses to transform my heart and conform it to His will. To live love in every relationship, including my relationship with God, I must deny my natural, selfish nature and put someone else first.
When I choose where to put my will, this informs my emotions, and, in due time, they will follow. Jesus explains in Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” At first I understood this to mean that I would give my money based on my heart’s passion. But I now understand it to mean that my emotions will follow where I choose to place my treasure.
Let me share with you an example. I grew up eating many things that were not good for my health. I especially loved white bread. But then someone pointed out the benefits of whole-grain bread. So I made a choice based, not on what my appetite told me I desired, but on what I intellectually knew would be best for me.
At first, brown bread tasted like sawdust. Eating it felt like I was eating cardboard. But I forced myself to eat it anyway. I pushed the override button, not letting mere taste dictate my health practices and what I would eat. Today, whole-grain bread causes my saliva glands to kick into full gear with the anticipation of its full, rich taste. White bread now seems inferior to me. My eating brown bread while my taste was conforming to my choice was not hypocritical.
Right over feelings
Sometimes, we call “loving by choice” as faking it and “loving emotionally” as the real thing. However, love in its most pure form is motivated by intelligent choice rather than by our natural inclinations.
When a husband works two jobs to put his wife through school, we recognize love. Not mere sentimentalism but love motivates a mother to stay up all night with her sick child and clean up after him.
Jesus certainly modeled a love that went beyond mere feeling. In Gethsemane, He struggled against going to the cross. He knew that paying the ransom for us would bring Him joy, but the means of paying that ransom— taking our defiling sins into His purity—repulsed Him. It meant ripping apart the living connection He had with His Father in heaven. Since His birth in Bethlehem, the Father had dwelt in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words, begging His Father to “take this cup from me,” reveal His desire.
Put simply, Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross, even to save us, because it meant separating from His Father. But Jesus chose right over feeling. He submitted His will to His Father’s will.
I want the kind of fireproof faith that Jesus had. I strive toward a feel-proof faith—a faith that believes in things I don’t feel. I will chose to “faith it, even when I don’t feel it,” and in due time God will help my feelings to come around.