November 23, 2018

It’s more than outward behavior . . .

Every now and then I’m disappointed that a non-Christian does not act like a Christian. It is rather silly, something like expecting a caterpillar to flit about like a butterfly or a cygnet to have the graceful beauty of a swan. Not only is this not fair; it is impossible.

I suppose this depends on a person’s definition of a Christian. Is it those who attend a Christian church? Not necessarily; being in a garage does not mean I am a car. Is it those who have been baptized? Performing a ritual does not do it. How about a degree in theology? While that exercise should convert the person studying the Bible, it may not do it either.

Even a profession of faith by itself is not enough to pass the test for the Bible says Christians are people in whom Christ dwells . . .

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” (Romans 8:9)

Most who do have Christ will be transparent, obedient and obviously Christian. Others may be caught up in some old fleshy activity and behave as if they didn’t know the Lord at all. Although their behavior will eventually be changed, the true test is about Christ, not the way a person lives.

The people in the church at Corinth were having difficulty shedding their old way of life. Paul wrote to them with reprimands and cautions. He wanted them restored and living the faith they claimed, but asked them first to make sure they were Christians. He knew they could not live for Christ without Christ in them . . . 

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” (2 Corinthians 13:5–10)

I know a few people who attend church and are actively involved in church leadership or church activities, but they never talk about Jesus. I’ve not heard them pray or talk about Jesus. Their advice and ideas never include mention of God guiding them. They may be Christians but I am cautious. The sense of His presence is not there and it seems they need to examine themselves as Paul suggested to the Corinthians. Besides that, if they are Christians, I expect them to act like it, at least part of the time.

On the other hand, I know people who do not pretend they have any faith. They often tell lies, swear, have hateful attitudes, and gripe about other people and life in general. While their behavior is contrary to what the written Word of God teaches, how can they do what it says without the Living Word of God in their lives?

No one can fake it. I need Jesus to live as a child of God. That means any expectation of unsaved people to act as if they are Christian is asking them to be hypocrites. Tozer adds: “A sinner cannot grow into repentance. God’s power puts him there, and being there, then he grows in grace.”

Lord, while it is my deep desire that everyone knows Jesus, keep reminding me to never put the cart before the horse. No one can live like Your child unless You live in them. They can try, and I can expect, hope, or push, but all that is contrary and even harmful because it invites hypocrisy. Instead, grant me the grace to care about people like You do — unmerited love with an invitation but without any attached strings.

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