Embracing Authenticity: What Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year and the Jesus have in common
Written by Brad Jenkins

Every year, Merriam-Webster chooses a few words that defined the year based on the number of searches the dictionary publisher records in its online dictionary. For instance, in 2020, the word of the year was “pandemic” (of course) and in 2021, it was “vaccine.”

The word of the year for 2023? Authentic.

It means real, genuine or true, and it was one of the most-looked-up words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2023. In a year when AI and “deepfakes” have become more prevalent, when we can’t always know what is real and what is fake, it makes sense.

“We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” editor at large Peter Sokolowski told The Associated Press in an interview.

Into that crisis, those who know and follow Jesus have a hopeful message: We know the most authentic person ever to have lived. His name is Jesus, and He shows us how to live authentic lives, too.

We just celebrated Christmas, and if you went to a Christmas Eve service, you probably heard a reading from John 1. In that passage, you may have heard this line: “We have seen (Jesus’) glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

That line, especially that Jesus was “full of … truth” gets at what it means that Jesus was the most authentic person ever to live. He was the embodiment of truth, and everything He did and said pointed to truth, which is at the heart of authenticity.

Later in His life, Jesus was straightforward with the crowds who came to hear his teachings or seek his healing. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” he told them, and he left no room for ambiguity. Not a truth, but the truth. Not one way to authenticity, but the way. No mere mortal, though, Jesus also repeatedly claimed to be the truest representation of God (actually He claimed to be God Himself). As the Nicene Creed puts it, Jesus was “very God of very God.”

So it would stand to reason that to know the truest vision of the world and everything in it, Jesus is the starting place. Fortunately, we have four Gospels that show us what Jesus said and did, and they paint a picture of who God is and who God wants us to be.

Learning about Jesus is the starting place. But simply reading or learning about Jesus doesn’t make me the authentic person Jesus wants me to be any more than reading about cars would make me a mechanic.

I have to put Jesus’ ways into practice to become the authentic person He made me to be. All the self-help people out there have lots to say about how we can become our most authentic selves, and they usually start with “me,” but Jesus’ way is starkly different.

Here’s what Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me (in other words, if you want to follow the most authentic person and become truly authentic), let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Here’s how David Gibson describes the ways of Jesus in his book, “The Lord of Psalm 23:”

“The cost of following (Jesus) is the death of all that is ugly and sinful in me – it is painful – but the new life on the other side of my crucified sinful nature is more precious than can be put into words. Life works with Jesus is a way that it just doesn’t without Him.”

Jesus really does present to us the most authentic way of living: of casting aside those things that are no good for us and walking in the ways He has designed. This is no easy authenticity, of course, and it comes at a cost, each of us with our own particular places where we need to be more authentically who Jesus made us to be.

The good news? Jesus promises that following Him is the most real life, the one with the deepest satisfaction and peace, both now and into eternity.

Look, too, at how Jesus is described in that John 1 passage where we see him full of truth. He is full of truth, yes, but also full of grace: Grace that is sufficient to forgive our failures and help us move toward a more authentic life.

Authenticity. It’s a good word, not just for 2023, but for every year we walk with Jesus. Let’s pursue it by His grace.