December 13, 2012

Identified by words and actions

In 1995, my sister and her husband went with us to Scotland for a Leslie Clan reunion. We ate supper in a small nearby inn the night before the event started. Another couple sat opposite and the four of us began a whispered debate about which one was the Leslie. From their appearance, it could have been either. Finally my sister went over and asked them. She came back laughing; they were brother and sister, both Leslies.

In this situation, appearance was the identifying factor. In fact, it replayed the next few days as we mingled with more than 500 people who looked like members of our immediate family.

Other than having a joyful countenance, appearance has little to do with how Christians should be identified. Some say it should be by our words. Others say it should be by the way we act. Obviously something should be noticed, something that makes us different from those around us.

For a whole year they (Barnabas and Saul/Paul) met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:26)

What made the people of Antioch call these disciples by this title? The broad answer might be that they proclaimed themselves followers of Christ. Yet when anyone ‘follows’ someone else, the implication is that that follower begins to act like their leader, even as they do what their leader tells them.

 The context of this verse gives more clues. It says that Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24) This indicates that Christians ought to be good, even in the eyes of those who do not follow Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit should also be obvious, as is openness about their faith. Very few can bear the title ‘Christian’ if they have never declared themselves to be one. One more clue is that disciples of Jesus Christ tend to be involved in the reproduction of more disciples.

A few verses later describe another action, how we should respond to difficulties experienced by other Christians.

And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:28–30)

Prophetic utterances aside, when the church in Judea faced a severe famine, the Christians in Antioch took a collection and sent it to them. One major evidence of being a Christian is that we take care of one another. This is why the Bible speaks much of unity and loving one another; a church spat shamefully destroys the evidence.

From the context then, being identified as a Christian involves both words and deeds. A ‘good’ person may or may not believe in Jesus, but no one knows unless that person shares their faith with others, particularly when the result is that others also believe.

Yet speaking is hollow and worthless if it is not accompanied by action. I must ‘walk the talk’ or my words have no weight. Without suitable action to go with my claims, instead of earning the title of Christian, I would be called a hypocrite. Being a Christian should be plain for others to see, in both what I say and what I do.

Lord, being Your child means that I should show evidence of that relationship. Today, help me talk and behave in a manner that is both worthy and descriptive of a disciple who loves and follows You.

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