I am sure that you have heard of the catchphrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it”. This saying came up during a dinner conversation I was having with some friends recently. We were discussing the common battle we face as Christians: A championship cage-match between doing what we know we should do vs doing what we feel we should do. The decision may be to choose forgiveness or choose wrath, spread a juicy bit of gossip or keep information to ourselves, deceive to get our way or confess a harsh truth, access a tempting website or turn off the media device, do good to our spouse or return the cold shoulder in kind. There are countless battlefields upon which this war may be fought, but it is ever present. Will I act out of my feelings or from something much more solid?
Of course, as followers of Christ – we know the right answer. We don’t follow our heart – we lead our hearts. Like a leaf falling from a tree at the mercy of the wind, our emotions are subject to any number of factors that we have no real control over: our stress level, the circumstances of the day, the actions of someone else, even the weather outside. Feelings are not a sure guide because they are too susceptible to influence. Our decision-making needs to be impacted by principles, not by how much coffee we had that day.
So eventually someone at our table said it. It was all on our minds anyway: “Well, you just have to Fake it ‘til you make it”. Honestly, I really dislike that phrase. Even though it is used widely in faith-circles, I do not believe it accurately communicates the strategy of a Christ-follower.
People do not seem to agree about the origins of the ‘fake it’ phrase, although it is often associated with the 12 steps of AA. The idea behind it is that if a person acts out a positive behavior long enough, they will eventually learn to enjoy it. The initial behavior may seem forced, but as the individual experiences the benefits, their happiness becomes real and the new behavior continues. In psychology, this is known as a positive feedback loop. Now, while I would not deny that there can be value in the study of the human psyche, we must never confuse the concepts of man with the design of God. Trust in behavior modification is a crumbling path. Sure-footing is found only in placing our confidence in gospel empowered change.
How does the bible instruct us in this battle between knowing and feeling? Proverbs 23:19 says ‘Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way’. So here we have teaching from the bible that backs up what was mentioned earlier: we should lead our hearts. Specifically, we are to lead them ‘in the way’. In its early days, Christianity was referred to as the way; probably based upon the well-known statement by Jesus in John 14:6, ‘I AM the way and the truth and the life…’. So, looking at this Proverb from a New Testament perspective, we should direct our hearts to Jesus and His way of life. And we do that by hearing God’s word, and applying what we hear through obedience.
So how does the biblical principle of directing our hearts differ from the fake it until we make it philosophy? First, the bible does not call us to pretense. We obey Christ because we love Christ (John 14:15). In the midst of obedience, we may rightly confess that we are going against our natural inclinations. Yet we obey in recognition of God’s authority over us and His majestic love for us. Secondly, the bible promises God will work within us creating a newness of desires. ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…and move you to follow my decrees’, Ezekiel 36:26-27. God has not left us alone to hope that continual behavior modification will spark new habits that we eventually enjoy. Rather His promise is to dwell with us, implementing change at the heart level. As we do the word, even against our feelings, we have the hope that God is empowering our very ability to obey and growing our love for Him. And finally, we have the confidence that God is able to bring about good from every act of obedience (2 Thess 1:11), and make our works effective and fruitful. So no, we do not fake it in hopes to make it. Instead, with our eyes trained on God we strive to direct our hearts through obedience – in full trust that Christ is able to make all things new in and around us.