The difference between a life with Christ and a life without Christ should be obvious. Unfortunately, it’s not.
There are several reasons for this. Among them:
1) No one on this earth is God (besides the Lord Himself) and, inherently, no one has an awesome salvation-o-meter to determine the real Christians from the false ones.
2) People are humans. Our behavior often sucks. We make mistakes, break promises, and cheat all the time.
3) Many Christians don’t really care about what they’re doing in comparison to what God wants them to do.
4) Behavior between Christians trying to “act like” Christians varies tremendously, which messes up any hope for a standard.
5) We’re emotional people, and we react all the time according to how we feel.
But the common denominator of this list is BEHAVIOR — Christians are expected and perceived to BEHAVE a certain way, and that is a troubling factor we’ve brought upon ourselves. We say in church, “If we’re saved, we shouldn’t be doing this horrible stuff. We shouldn’t be voting for this guy or buying from this particular corrupt organization.” And then, in the midst of our rampant humanity, we start comparing what is “Christian” and what isn’t, and then, further in our humanity, we wonder why others are snickering at us because we’re squabbling all the time about the correct way to live our lives as Christians.
And here is where I’ll seize an opportunity to say something controversial: your behavior as a Christian is irrelevant.
Yeah, there are standards in the Bible (which are impossible to meet). And your good deeds are going to count for something in heaven (which only God sees and no one else cares about). But what you do on this earth is irrelevant compared to your CHARACTER, which most people will probably miss out on. It’s what you’re doing when no one is watching you on the computer, how you think about your wife, what you say under your breath, and what you’re giving away without telling anyone.
Because, honestly, no one really cares what you’re doing right now. In fact, especially if you did something foolish once, if you’re behaving like a good Christian should, and you say this is your testimony to your righteousness, some guy is going to say, “Well, what about THAT thing you did?” and you’re automatically busted.
Paul’s testimony in court in Acts 26 reveals a few things about how it’s more about character than behavior.
1) Paul sells himself out as the villain he already knows he is. He doesn’t try to hide his past and say, “Well, I was a pretty bad guy, but look at me now!” He knows the destruction he was capable of, and he knows he is STILL capable of carrying it out anew. He even points out that his adversaries know all about his past.
2) Paul tells everyone about his conversion experience. He’s not a better person because he made a decision to follow Jesus. He’s a better person in standing with God because of what God did TO him.
Read this and tell me who is doing the work:
But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.
That’s God talking to Paul, and, as you guessed, it’s God doing the real work. Sure, Paul has to be compliant, but is it really Paul’s good behavior that makes everything happen?
3) Indeed, there is still a difference between pre-Jesus Paul and the Paul standing on trial. His job is no longer to propagate his self-righteousness, but to proclaim Jesus as the means to salvation and encourage those around him to repent and embrace this hope. But it is not because he “made a decision for Jesus”, but because Jesus shaped him to have this boldness, which is a heavy contrast to his character before.
For all the church “lifers”, the ones that got saved at seven years old in Sunday school, I have a question for you: is God shaping you at all? Or, when you tell people about your history as a Christian, do you just have a list of good behaviors and accomplishments that you’ve achieved through self-righteousness or reputation? Even those you’ve been going to church with should recognize a significant change, a chiseling of your character over time.
Let’s be selfless today, recognizing Jesus as the “author and finisher of our faith“, knowing that the tightrope we’ve propped up is a setup for failure. We’re called to be the light of the world, not the main event of a circus.