How do you know if someone is really a Christian? Is it a mission trip, being on fire for God, hands raised Sunday morning, their offering, their fighting for a given political cause; are they a good person?
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does. – Martin Luther
How do you know if someone is really a Christian? Is it a mission trip, being on fire for God, hands raised Sunday morning, their offering, their fighting for a given political cause; are they a good person? And another question: what is the Gospel?
These two questions are so tied into each other, how you answer one defines how you answer the other. And ultimately, if I’m honest, they can be either uplifting or destructive. A Christian defined by what they do? Paul had something to say about that:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:21-14
And even if he hadn’t, what does it say when our neighbors and friends, Mormons and Muslims, atheists and agnostics, Buddhists and Hindu, can volunteer at a soup kitchen, love their kids, give to charity and just be as great people as we are? We often think of the struggle of “keeping up with the Jones” as wanting what they have, a problem of envy: the house, the car, the family, the money, the vacations. But what if we want their relationships, their goodness, their pristine looking outer life, the perfect volunteer record? These are the things we see, sure, but “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b). What despair for me to consider that I don’t love like I should!
And that’s just the point. We don’t love like we should.
But Jesus does.
And Jesus, in His mercy and wisdom, tells us how we are to be doing good works: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). The work of God is to believe, to trust, in Christ and Christ alone. His unfailing love alone.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Grace alone, faith alone, a gift of God alone. And then verse 10 shows up: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” There are good works prepared in advance for us. What do we do, except as Jesus said immediately following the parable of the Good Samaritan: “You go, and do likewise.”
The Gospel is that it is finished, all is accomplished in Christ. Believing in Christ – no more and no less – is the mark of a Christian. Now, go, and love your neighbor. Because there are good works God already has prepared for you, and it looks a lot like living your life.SKM: below-content placeholder