Here's a question that has puzzled me for a while: What one tangible thing sets me apart from an unbeliever? We're called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), but what exactly is it that the world would see in us that they won't see in someone else who doesn't believe? We're supposed to "behave properly toward outsiders" (1 Thess 4:12), but what does that look like? It has to be more than just good works, because good works in and of themselves don't set Christians apart.

The Pharisees had good works. The false prophets had good works. Unbelievers do good works all the time. The Mormon church is one of the most benevolent organizations in the world, and they're a cult that denies the Christ of the Bible. For years secular organizations have run circles around Christians when it comes to doing good works in the world. So the Christian has to have more than good works when it comes to showing the validity of Christianity to a fallen world. The world often behaves better than us.

From the world's perspective, they don't need the virtues of Christianity because they often live more virtuous lives than us. We have good works, so does the world. We have community, so does the world. We have religiosity, so does the world. We have happiness, so does the world. In a large part, for everything the Christian has, the world has developed a counterfeit.

But three things remain: faith, hope, and love.

The world doesn't have faith because faith is based on hope, and hope is absent from the fallen world system. When we really get down to it, there's not even hope for tomorrow in the fallen world.

Just today, I talked to a guy (during my daily visit to Taco Bell) who just gave up giving up smoking. The way he figures it, medicine and technology will catch up with his bad habit before his bad habit catches up with him. He's only been smoking for five years - surely by the time lung cancer comes to him science will be able to clone him a new lung. After all, when he was a kid the idea of a heart transplant was science fiction; now we do them all the time.

Hope in technology? That's not hope. My hope is based on a certainty that has been proven time after time. His hope is built on wishful thinking.

The world also doesn't have a counterfeit for love. The world talks about love a lot, but in the context of "making love," "falling in and out of love," and "finding love." Love that can be made, fallen into and out of, or found is not love. Love is something that must be done. And the only true demonstration of love is that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
The world talks about love because it doesn't understand it. The Christian has the ultimate example from which to live by.

But here's the problem: the Church does a lousy job of believing, hoping, and loving, and we're not doing anything to get better. Most churches do a pretty good job of getting their people to do good works but when those good works are done for the sake of doing good works, and apart from the overt presence of faith, hope, and love as a motivating factor, the works are useless. They fall into the same mental file with unbelievers as what the United Way or some other secular organization does. Consequently, the Church isn't a "city on a hill," but a streetlight in an already well-lit city.

Instead of thinking about how we can do more good stuff, maybe it's time for us to consider how the good stuff that we do can better reflect the things we have that nobody else does.


Terry Rayburn said...

Very important points.

Although not all specifically named in the Gal. 5 passage, Faith, Hope and Love are actually fruits of the Spirit.

As such, they will be manifested as we walk by the Spirit, and not by the flesh.

That also explains why you are certainly correct in saying that the world is missing these things.

I say all that to say that the key is walking by the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). And the key ingredient to that is to live with an understanding of the radical nature of God's Grace after salvation.

If we are Law-oriented, or Performance-based in our Christian lives, we quench the Holy Spirit and inflame sin, and end up looking like the world, at least for that moment.

If we understand that, "Sin shall no longer be master over you, because you are not under law, but under grace," (Rom. 6:14) then we will be inclined to commune with Jesus, who is in us. We will be "contrained" by His love, and will be filled by His Spirit, and walk by His Spirit, and thus not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

(At least until we are again deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil, forgetting Grace, and pulling up our bootstraps to perform by the law....and the cycle repeats itself.)

Exhorting ourselves to "do" faith, hope and love better, falls short of that warm, beautiful fellowship with the Lord, basking in His Grace, knowing that nothing we do can make Him love us more, and nothing we do can make Him love us less. Then, by His Spirit, we will walk in faith, hope and love.

Terry Rayburn
Grace For Life