Do Good

1 Timothy 6: 18

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.

I have noticed that sometimes when you speak with people about their faith, they respond that they try to be a “good” person and treat others fairly. It is commendable that people are trying to be good but, that is not Christianity. Christianity is not an ethic.

Christianity is more than an ethic. Just trying to be a good person does not make you a Christian. One might use Christian ethics as a personal morality code, but that does not make us Christians. Christianity is a relationship with the Christ and through him, with the Father and the Spirit. At the heart of Christianity is ethical and kind behavior but the core of Christianity is devotion and submission to Jesus who is the Christ. We are devotees of Christ, the Son of Yahweh God. Those who devote their lives to being followers of the Christ should demonstrate ethical behavior. Their lives should demonstrate kindness and generosity. However, kindness and generosity do not make one a Christian anymore than, like Joyce Meyer says, sitting in a garage makes you a car.

There are many ethical codes in the world. They are designed to help us behave as honorable people. They help us to regulate our interactions with other people as we attempt to answer the question, “What is right?” Non-Christians and even people who serve no God attempt to live their lives by a code of morals. Ethics are part of human development and civilization. They are an important part of civilized society. They are not, however, the answer to a life of divine connection.

Christ is the epicenter of Christianity. Our aim should be to follow him and serve him. Thank the Lord that he forgives us when we fail to behave in a way which is becoming to him, but it is not the adherence to a Christian Ethos that makes us Christians. Christianity is us dying to self and living to Christ. Christianity is a life lived with Christ. When we wrap ourselves around Jesus, good behavior ensues. His light shining through us will always rise to the highest level of moral conduct. Ethical conduct is a by-product of walking with Christ. Therefore, we shouldn’t “try” to live a good life. We should live intertwined with the Christ and let our lives be a testament to his goodness rather than our own.

C = L

1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

This passage reminds me a bit of Jesus’ brother, James, who said his faith was demonstrated in his works (James 2: 18). Paul essentially says, “I will show you my Christianity by my love.”

There is one true sign of Christianity. That is love. The world is waiting for a sign from Christians and this is it. When love is shown, God is glorified. Everywhere love is shared, God is shared. This is the true test of our faith.

Someone commented recently about how a mutual acquaintance always seems grumpy and in a bad temper. Yet, I know this individual to be camped at the church. He is very involved in church activities and service yet when he leaves the church, he seems to leave his faith behind. He would never be characterized as a gentle, kind, loving person. One wouldn’t say, “There goes the love of Christ.” He is not alone though. We can all think of folks who profess their Christianity but seem to have no love or kindness for others. They will spout theology all day and try to impress you with their Bible knowledge but to borrow from the book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1: 2). No one is listening. If they don’t see your love, they will not listen to your speech.

Christianity (C) equals love (L). If not love, then not Christianity. Christianity is the dedication to following Christ. Love required Christ to sacrifice his life. This is how we came to know love (1 John 3: 16). It is, likewise, how the world will come to know Christ and see that we are his followers. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13: 35). You see, love is the evidence that something has happened within you. Without love, there is only philosophy. We can espouse our religious philosophy but without the evidence of Christ-like love, it is all vanity. Though we loudly, and even eloquently, pronounce our theology, I imagine Paul saying, “Show me your theology and I will show you my love,” knowing that his love trumps our philosophical, theological banter.”

If the truth were to be told, you could have weak theology but win thousands of people to Christ if you have love. So many people think they have to learn the Bible in order to witness to others but that is all wrong. We don’t learn scripture for them. We learn it for ourselves. All other people need is love. They will figure out the spiritual part if we show them the path and that trail is paved with love. Grace, mercy and love are the gifts God gives us for others. A kind, caring heart and gentle words are the tools of evangelism. Your words are not your witness; your life is. If we are always grouchy and ill tempered; if we are harsh with others, who is going to want to follow us? Who is going to be attracted to our God? This passage from Paul is some of the most important language he wrote. He wants us to acknowledge that love is the key. If we don’t have love, we are that clanging symbol that no one wants to be around. It doesn’t win anyone to God. In fact, they will probably run in the opposite direction. Our great spiritual deeds and faith do them no good. What’s equally alarming is that Paul says that even though you have mountain moving faith, it will do you no good if you don’t have love.

Our today and our future are bound to love because God is love. Love is the essence of our faith. If you don’t have love, then you don’t have the essential part of Christianity. It really is that simple. We may have scars and injuries that effect the way we relate to others, but we also have Jesus who has born our injuries. We must take those things to Christ and receive his mercy, grace and healing so that we can venture forth in the courage of love. Without demonstrative love, our Christianity fails. Christianity equals love. Without love, there is not Christian faith. Take your heart to the Father, to the master healer, and ask Him to conduct a physical. Receive His love so that you have love to give away. Let His love penetrate the deep places of your heart.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” As followers of Christ we are ordered to love one another. If we profess to be his disciples, then we must live out his directive in word and deed. This is not elective; it is the prime directive. Let love become your theology.

Do You Love Me?

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?