This past weekend I spent a lot of time playing with my son. Sarah had to work, met with some friends and took sometime to herself (which mother’s deserve!) and that meant I got to spend time with my son. Let’s be clear, in no way am I complaining. I thoroughly love spending time with Luke. We play with tractors, we (he) goes down the slide we brought in the house during the winter months, we listen to a lot of music, we dance (in case your wondering he inherited my Dutch dancing ability), we wrestle and read books. As his ability to learn has begun to match his curiosity the world, for both he and I, has become a lot of fun to explore. I relish these times because I know this season will lead to another season. That season will be good and full of joy, but it won’t be this season again. So I will drink deep of this one now.
But that’s not what I want to write about.
As I was reflecting on my time with Luke I was struck with this thought. For all the activity we did this week, none of it made me a father. Playing tractors with Luke, hiding under the covers of the bed with a flashlight, reading books and changing diapers; none of it made me Luke’s father. A babysitter could have done all that just as well. And they would have been a babysitter, not a father or mother. I am Luke’s father, not because of what I do, but because God saw it fitting that we should be blessed with Luke.
In the same way, I am not a Christian by what I do. I am a Christian, a Christ follower, a disciple, because of God’s divine love towards me and the Spirit’s softening of my heart to be stirred with affection for Christ. And that shapes what I do to be the things a Christ follower does.
This seems so straightforward, and yet, for all it’s simpleness we continue to return to the idea that what we do determines who we are. If I stay away from rated-R movies, don’t drink beer, don’t cuss, don’t cheat on my spouse, don’t listen to certain music then I am a Christian. Or maybe we should say it in the positive. If I do go to church most Sundays, if I do volunteer and serve at church, if I do give some money to church, if I do go on a missions trip then I am a Christian. But what we do (or don’t do) doesn’t determine what we are.
This isn’t to say that what we do is of no importance. The reality is that if I am a follower of Christ, then I am going to do and not do a lot of those things. But outward actions are not determinative of my heart’s affections for Christ. Rather it is reverse. My heart’s affections for Christ are determinative of my outward actions. This is what James was getting at when he says, “I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18). So the truth is that what we do is of extreme importance as it is evidence of our saving faith.
For some, this means they need to stop trying to become something by what they do. Still for others it means they need to start doing. And then for many it means we need to stop trying to judge who is in and who is out. Because here’s the thing, I can’t see the heart. Which means the only thing I can see regarding someone’s faith is their outward actions. And sometimes those actions are done because of the heart’s desire for Jesus. And sometimes those actions are done because they are trying to earn approval from Jesus. But I cannot tell the difference.
I can only give grace.
Which is exactly what has been given to me.