In journalism, there’s a standard procedure for identifying someone you’re quoting in a story. You put the person’s name and then you put what they do.
For example, if I’m writing an article about the president’s latest policy idea and I’m quoting a college professor who has experience in the field, I would say something like this: “The President really has a grip on this situation,” said John Smith, professor of economics at Harvard University.
The identification is the name and then the profession, the job, what they do with their lives. It’s common practice for journalists. But it’s also commonplace for how we identify people we meet. The first two questions you usually ask are “What’s your name?” and “What do you do?” What happens in the mind is we begin to associate the person with what they do. Those two things become linked in a crazy way.
God doesn’t work that way. Even if sometimes it might seem like we think He does.
Let me ask you this: how many times have you asked yourself or someone else if a certain person is a Christian because of what they do? You say, “Well, they may be a Christian.” We look at one action and one instance of their behavior and we make an instant judgement. We don’t want to take the time to really get to know them.
Now I know what might be said here. “But the Bible says we must judge them by their fruits!” Let’s look at that verse in context, Matthew 7:15-20:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
The context of that phrase is in talking about false prophets. Should we take that and then apply it to every person we meet? There is something fair to looking at someone and making decisions based on what you’ve seen them do. That’s just common practice by humans. It’s how you hire people, sometimes how you decide who to marry, it’s a crucial thing to be aware of.
But what if you were judged solely by your fruits? Could you be called a Christian? Could you, without a shadow of a doubt, be called a follower of Christ?
Honestly, I don’t think I can. I see the sin in my life and say that, “Well, if I’m being judged as a Christian based on what I do, I don’t think I can claim Christ in good conscience.”
Being a Christian is not about what you do. It’s about what you believe. We’ll never do everything perfectly. We’ll never even believe perfectly. So linking who we are as a person to what we do would lead to all of us being filthy hypocrites with nothing to offer.
But God doesn’t see us that way. He is not necessarily pleased with our actions, but He doesn’t stop loving us because of them. It’s grace by faith that saves us, not our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you’re not a Christian, you will miss out on eternity with God because you didn’t believe rightly.
Give others, and yourself, a break. Just because you screw up doesn’t mean God loves you any less. It just means you need Him more. And if you’re a Christian, He loves you enough to give you the help of the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Gospel and the company of other believers. If you’re not a Christian, those things are offered freely to you. All you must do is believe.
You’re not defined by what you do. You’re defined by who you are in Christ. End of story.