We can picture the common media depiction of the person shopping for fruit at the market, and attempting to determine which one to buy. Either by rapping it, or shaking, or squeezing. As if there some way, other than looks, by which a person can tell if fruit is more ripe.
When a person becomes a Christian they do not receive a special tattoo, or secret decoder ring, or any other observable effect by which we can observe and exclaim, “That person must be a Christian, because they can perform the secret hand-shake.” Human believers look exactly like human non-believers. Christians, of course, would explain that the difference is in a person’s soul—something that cannot be perceived by our five senses.
But does the Bible teach that the change in the spiritual entity has a necessary effect on the physical person in that we can obtain the ability, just by observation, to determine which persons are Christians?
I was informed elsewhere, as I was commenting on Christians, that I was “looking at the wrong Christians.” My first thought was, “What Christians am I supposed to be looking at? How do I know which group is the incorrect one to watch, and which one is the appropriate one?”
Without going through an in-depth study of the salvation process, the base requirement is to believe that Christ was raised from the dead and confess that Jesus is Lord. (Rom. 10:8-11) Belief generates results. It manifests itself in action.
If I shout, “FIRE!” in a movie theater, those that believe my simple statement react. While the belief may be unfounded (there may not be a fire) there is no difference in the depth of the belief, nor the person’s reaction. Fire or not, if a patron is convinced there is one, they will necessarily respond to it.
However, if I shout “Fire!” and people lazily turn their heads, shrug and go back to munching popcorn, a strong case could be made, that they do not believe me, just by their reaction. Would anyone seriously claim, “Oh, they truly believed you in their heart a fire was happening in that theater, but because they are human, reacted like most humans do in movie theaters and kept watching the movie”?
James is transparent that Christian belief will necessarily result in a demonstration of activity. The famous “Faith without works is dead.” James 2:14-18
Paul is clear that prior to becoming a Christian, a person would act in one fashion, and afterwards, as a manifestation of that belief, a person would act otherwise. As a child, in Sunday School we were taught the fruits of the spirit:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Gal. 5:22-23
Paul goes on to indicate that those who are identified with Christ (i.e. Christians) have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Immediately prior to providing us with the fruit of the Spirit, in verses 19-21, Paul has contrasted with the works of the flesh, being adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.
It is obvious. “Here are the works of the Flesh. Here are the works of the Spirit. You are now in the Spirit. You have killed the desires of the Flesh.” Gal. 6:7-8. In case the point is not patently clear, Paul reiterates that those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God.
While the Bible is indistinct as to the exact meaning of the Kingdom of God, I doubt anyone will claim that a Christian is a Christian and NOT inheriting the Kingdom of God.
Paul develops a penchant for lists.
In Romans 1 he indicates that certain persons know there is a God, but worship the creature rather than the creator. That God will give them over to a debased mind, to do those things that are not fitting. Again, he trots out the traditional laundry list of items: sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, and unmerciful. (Rom. 1:28-31)
I am not the only person to notice Paul making these distinctions. The author of Colossians, in replicating Paul’s style also trots out a list of their own. Again, we read what a person did before Christianity is different than what a person does after. Col. 3:8-10 The author provides the now-familiar list: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language and lying. (Col. 3:5-9) And reproduces the good list: tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. (Col. 3:12-13)
Following the traditional formula, the author of Ephesians, likewise, indicates recognizable change upon this change in the soul (Eph. 4:22) and likewise replicates the customary list. Bad: Lying, unresolved anger, stealing, corrupt language, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, malice, filthiness, foolish talking, coarse jesting, fornicating, uncleanliness and covetousness. (Eph. 4:25-5:5) Good: kind, tender-hearted, forgiving, loving, goodness, righteousness and truth. (Eph. 4:32-5:9)
Even the author of 1 Timothy has to get into the act, and points out how Paul was only a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent before he believed. (I Tim. 1:13) And, of course, out comes our faithful list, although he does seem to kick it up a notch: murderers of fathers, murderers of mothers, manslayers, fornicators, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. (I Timothy 1:9-10)
All right. I get it. I get it, I get it, I get it. (They seem to like to repeat, so perhaps I must as well.) Before: you do bad things. After: you do good things. This should be an evident change. Something that I see a person acting a certain way, I can confidently place them in either the “Before” picture or the “After” picture.
But is that what we see?
“Lying” seems to consistently appear. Rev. 21:8 states that anyone who lies will not enter Heaven. It is on every list except Galatians. Plain as the nose on your face—lying is in the “Before” picture.
Houston—we have a problem. Christians lie. Lotsa Christians lie. If I am looking at the wrong Christians, can someone point me out to a Christian that does not lie? Ever? Is there a person, believer or not, that will dare comment that they have not lied in the year 2006? One?
Yet I thought “lying” was on the “Before” list? What went wrong? How can an “After” do a “Before”? Now, I can already envision fingers poised over keyboards, itching to type that these lists do not say a person in an “After” will never commit a “Before.” I am sure pages are being turned to 1 John 1:8 which states that even believers will continue to sin, and (in supreme irony) if they claim they do not sin, they are liars. Which is a sin. Worse, a sin of the “Before” kind.
O.K. Let’s assume I am being too literalistic and legalistic by demanding a bright-line division in the “Befores” and the “Afters.” That there is some wiggle room that allows an “After” to commit a “Before.”
Then explain the purposes of the list. Why do the authors continue to state that prior, these things are done, and those that practice them are not in the kingdom of heaven? After they are not. “Ah,” you may say, “The key word is ‘practice.’ It is not a sin of one occasion, but a perpetual lifestyle.”
Sorry, lived too long. Have you lied in 2006? 2005? 2004? Do I need to go back? Have you been lewd (whatever that means) in 2006? 2005? 2004? What about strife, dissension, selfish ambition. Not a selfish act in 2006? 2005? 2004? No pride?
What I see, in humanity as a whole, are occasions of lying, strife, pride, and selfish ambition. According to the list, all you “Afters” aren’t allowed any of that. I see it on repeated occasions. If that ain’t “practice” I do not know what is.
And if these become guidelines; suggestions, then we have taken all the teeth out of their purpose in the first place. Who couldn’t figure out that murdering and lying is bad, and treating others with respect is good? Knock me over with a feather that someone comes up with that! Thank goodness the authors of the New Testament came along, because without them, no society had EVER been able to quite manufacture the concept that stealing might be a bad thing to do, and charity might be a good thing to do.
Imagine if you and your friends were creating a list of morals. Is it any surprise that much of those list(s) would conform on items such as murder, stealing and lying, with an occasional offshoot of perjury or clamor? And if the same group put together a good list, that it would include love and mercy?
What makes the Bible even remotely unique in that the authors of the various books could do so likewise? If we are to hold the Bible as the only communication from God, should we treat it differently, or the same? Should these lists, unlike any other set of lists ever created, actually have some teeth in them? That when it says, only “Befores” do these items, it means only “Befores.” Or are Christians going to tell me that these lists, like every other moral list ever given, are guidelines, suggestions, in that humans should do more “Afters” and less “Befores”?
I am genuinely curious—what makes these lists unique to Christianity? If they are not, then why should I consider the God of Christianity unique?
Further, these verses claim that because they are Christians their actions have changed. In every person that claims being a Christian, at the least we should see a vast difference (if not a complete elimination) between the occurrences of “Before” and “After.”
It may be pointed out that there certainly are a number of Christians that committed heinous “Befores” and upon converting, stopped. Became “Afters.” It may be pointed out that THESE are the Christians I should be looking at.
However, in any division of society, we find people a certain percentage of people who commit more “Befores” a certain percentage who commit more “Afters” and a great many who commit a spattering of each. We can divide it up by religion, race, culture, country or even hair-color. I could say that some red-heads commit more “Afters” and therefore red-headism is a life-changing event, as long as we look at only those certain red-heads.
I am told that the God of Christianity is the only correct one. Hence unique. I am informed that belief in that God will result in life-changing events. But what I see is humans. Humans that, regardless of belief or non-belief in any particular god, acting in a similar fashion. Nothing unique about it at all.
Even Christ indicated there should be difference in belief. He noted that non-believers can love those that love them. Luke 6:32 What is the credit or surprise in that? You want to see something different? What to see something “Christian”? Love your enemies. Now THAT is something that would make Christianity stand out, right? Luke 6:35.
Unfortunately, just like any other religion, race or creed, we find some humans that are able to love their enemies, and some that are not. Some claim to be Christians, some are red-heads. There is no divine spark, no noticeable difference in Christians that makes other religions stand aside and say, “Nope. We don’t love our enemies. Only Christians do that. Nope. We lie. Only Christians don’t lie.”
What I seem to be told is that I have shouted “FIRE” and all the Christians really, truly believe me, but just like the rest of the humans in the theater, some leave, and some stay. In trying to look at the “right” Christians, I catch quite a few non-Christians in my gaze.
On a personal note, if these lists are to be indicators of a soul-change, they have no depth with me. I recognize within myself the same actions, the same temptations, the same internal strife dealing with these items as before. I have never murdered. Not “Before” not “After” and not “After-After.” I have pride. “Before” “After” and “After-After.” Now I may be informed that means I was never a Christian in the first place. Equally, it could mean I am still a Christian.
Or most likely, it means I am human. A list which is neither surprising nor unique, does not demonstrate belief.
And, for those concerned, this is an academic discussion, so any responses that disagree with my position, I will not consider “dissension, strife, or contention.” Just in case you fear the temptation of committing a “Before.” *smile*