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John 21: 17

“Simon, son of John Do you love Me? Tend My sheep.”

I have pondered for several years now what it means to be a Christian? We come in so many varieties and place our values on different things. Where is the commonality that makes each of us Christian? Are we simply behaviorists, each with our own list of what a Christian “should do?” If so, which of us has the right list? Truly, most will recognize that we can easily produce a long list of Christian behaviors that we think every “true” Christian will perform. And yet, even as we produce our list out of our heart bubbles the cautionary declaration that we are professing law rather than a covenant of grace.

I have heard people refer to others as not true Christians or not really a Christian even though the person of whom they speak has said the saving prayer and attends church. What are they saying then? I think they are saying there is something about that person’s behavior that makes one doubt that their heart has been touched by the power of Jesus. Perhaps the speaker believes there is a lack of transformation (Romans 12: 2). So apparently some people think that having once said a prayer of salvation is not sufficient for actually being saved and wearing the coveted mantle of “Christian.” These people would, again, seem to be behaviorists. They believe that our Christianity should be recognizable through our behaviors. In this way of thinking transformation is key. We must be remade in the image of Christ. That would make us true Christians.

I do not disagree that we should be transformed. Reading the Epistles of Paul clearly leads us to that conclusion. The problem with this position is two–fold. First, the test of our Christianity is still completely external. Paul talked about our being transformed but we must be transformed on the inside. In other words, Christianity is not something that happens on the outside of us, it happens on the inside and transforms us from inside out. Second, as long as we are judging behaviors we will always have the problem of whose list of do’s and don’ts is correct.

As I pondered this question the Lord revealed the answer to me and it is profound in its simplicity. That which makes us Christian is that we love the Father and Jesus whom He sent. The marker which identifies us as Christian is not the salvation prayer or anything else which may be seen with the physical eye. True Christians are marked in their heart. Theirs is a heart which loves God. David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139: 23). As this epiphany unfolded before me I said, “Okay Father, you can search my heart and see if I truly love you.” But still unsatisfied I asked another question. “How, Father, shall I know that I really love you?” Can I search my own heart? Can I believe what I think I see there? Perhaps I am only projecting what I want to see. How can I test this transformation to determine if it is real?

His answer was so short, sweet and so profound. “Tend my sheep.” Wow! The foundation of Christianity turns out to be simple. A Christian is one who loves God and the Christ whom He sent. We know that we love God not by a goo-goo feeling within us but with a love for His sheep. I don’t deny that feeling of love for God but Dad says that is not the way to know that our love for Him is real. The way we will know that we have truly been transformed in our hearts is that we love His kids. The transformation of our hearts will surely been seen on the outside but this is the manifestation form that it should take, that we love God’s kids and bless them. So it is not that I go on a mission trip that is important. That again is the behaviorist view not taking into account the condition and motivation of my heart. I may go on the mission trip because I believe it is the thing to do, I may believe that “good” Christians do missions. I may choose a mission trip out of a works mentality. All of this is rot and putrefaction to God. When, however, my heart longs to go somewhere to aid others out of love for them then I may see that yes, transformation is affecting the place where God lives, my heart.

This transformation of our heart should affect us every day. If I go on three mission trips this year but am not kind and generous to my friends and family I might wonder if this is a true transformation or only a façade. Have I become a giver by nature or am I still tight fisted? Are my thoughts continually on me and the things I want or has my heart learned to think about what I can do or give to another. The measure of my transformation, the foundation of Christianity is my tending of the sheep. 

Romans 12: 2 says that through our personal transformation we may “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It is love which leads us. So in the end the proof of whether or not I am a true Christian turns out to be pretty simple. Am I tending God’s sheep?

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