After my true confessions as a “stumble through life” Christian in my last blog post (Second Chances), I realize that comparing myself to other Christians who seem more “successful” is unproductive at best. No doubt I am writing to others who might feel the same way I did. In “image conscience” America, outward appearances can mask over actual heart attitudes quite well. Only God knows each person’s heart. I dare say that Christians struggling in third world countries don’t have to deal with the false images of what “real” Christians are supposed to look and act like as we do here in America. Humility is not one of our strong points.
So, what does a “real” Christian look and act like? Jesus often spoke to his disciples about what theirs and our lives should look like if we are truly following Him. What Jesus has to say is, much of the time, in stark contrast to our “culture” of Christianity in America. Let’s look at Matt 7:13-20 (MSG) which is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount–the greatest treatise on how to live as a follower of Jesus Christ:
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.
“Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.”
The focus of this post is not on false preachers (and there are many), but on how we should act and live as Christians. For starters, we are told not to look for shortcuts to God, because there are none–“but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it” (verse 14 NIV 1984). Charisma and an outwardly showy appearance means nothing to God; it is character that counts. True character will not exploit others’ emotions or pocketbooks. And true faith cannot be bought with money. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (verse 18 NIV 1984). Indeed, we are told that we can recognize real Christians (as well as real preachers) by their fruit (verse 20).
So what does this fruit look like? Galatians 5:22-23 states: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The Message Bible (MSG) states it like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.“
The Apostle Paul tells us in Phil. 4:8-9 (MSG) what we should meditate on: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things–
the best, not the worst;
the beautiful, not the ugly;
things to praise, not things to curse.
“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
The way we live and act and behave towards others far outstrips any outward appearance of “looking good” as a Christian. Anybody can dress up and show up for church on Sunday morning and say all the right words, sing all the right praise songs, and say “amen” with the best of them. The Pharisees were all show in their day. But living it out 24/7 is an entirely different matter, and that is the only place where it counts. And the Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start (Matt. 5-7). My suggestion is to take small chunks of it starting today and ask God to show you how to put it into your heart and into your actions and attitudes in your life and the lives of those you come in contact with throughout your day.
In some final instructions to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 5:12-24) the Apostle Paul told them to “Live in peace with each other; . . . warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”
Whew . . . that’s a lot to remember! Sometimes I feel the weight of it bearing down on me–the responsibility, but let’s never forget that it is His power in us that accomplishes His will in our lives. Our responsibility it to yield everything to Him and let Him use us as He sees fit. All we have to do is get out of our own way and not seek our own will.
And remember . . . it is the One who calls us who is faithful, and He will do it.
YouTube video: “Endless Song” by Shannon Wexelberg on the CD “Faithful God” (2007)
Photo credit here