Earlier this week, I heard a knock at my door late in the day. Expecting it to be the parent of one of the little ones I watch, I instead found two strangers on my porch, clipboard in hand and hope in their eyes. I groaned inwardly, knowing for certain that they were about to try to sell me something.
Most days, unless it's someone about three feet tall selling Girl Scout cookies, I can open the door and very abruptly announce that I'm not in need of whatever is being sold, shut it about as quickly as I open it, and take care of this sort of disruption as easily as if I were swatting away a fly that was buzzing around my head.
This was not to be one of those days.
I opened the door and - before I could indicate I wasn't interested - Clipboard Guy was immediately off on his sales pitch, trying to get me to buy an "amazing" cleaning product that made "everything" shinier, cleaner, newer-looking, and did it all with ease - no scrubbing! Anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes can attest to the fact that "clean" holds a high value for me. So - against my better judgment - I found that I was "mildly interested" in what he was saying, even as I was warily watching his sales partner.
It could all be mine, this exciting new reality of enhanced cleanliness, for a "mere" $87. If I'd just write them a check, they'd come back later with my life-changing concentrated-soap product and drop it off on my doorstep.
"Wait a minute," I said. "You want me to hand you money for something now, and then just...believe that you'll come back later with the product?"
"Oh well, yes ma'am, I promise. I've been doing this for ten years and besides...I'm a Christian."I didn't buy the miracle cleaner. I politely declined his offer and sent him on his way, but haven't been able to shake off that encounter.
My exchange with Concentrated-Soap Clipboard Guy bothered me initially because he had used Christianity as part of his marketing ploy, in the context of providing a reason why I should trust him to do what he said he would do. It felt to me as if he was using Jesus as a reference - someone to "prove" to me that he (Clipboard Guy, not Jesus) deserved my trust.
I'm guessing that he threw this personal fact in as part of his marketing based on the positive aspects of how people outside of the church might traditionally think of people inside the church. While there are also plenty of negative societal connotations to being a Christian - bigoted, closed-minded, self-righteous, stuffy, etc. - in positive terms, we Christians are generally thought of as honest, friendly, kind, perhaps even generous. We Christians "always pay our taxes" and don't cheat the government...or other people. Right? We can only wish that were true.
It took me a day or so to realize that maybe that encounter grated on me because there was something about it that was too close for comfort, something that condemned me as well. Often enough, I think we've got it all backwards.
We claim Christ as the reason why someone should think well of us, when we know full well that we are not living up to that level of trust. In other words, we all sometimes put Christ on our resume and hope He will help "cover up" the things that are still wrong with us.
We tend to forget - or at least I tend to forget - that when we claim Christ, we are freed from feeling as if we have to cover up anything. The very reason we can claim Christ is because we are untrustworthy, inconsistent, sinful people lacking in character, honesty or even basic civility sometimes without Him.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything, and what has become clear to me over and over as I read that book is how very often I am tempted to feel as though what I do in my day-to-day living has an impact on my salvation.
Having trusted in Christ's atoning death and subsequent resurrection for my own eternal salvation, I find that I can drift into living as if I need to continually earn the right to "stay there." Obviously, I don't consciously believe for a minute that this is really true. I trust God's Word when it says that our best efforts are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But there's something in my independent spirit, my "I can do this on my own!" sort of makeup that, if I'm not careful, can move my inner monologue into the area of "Look at me and how good I am, Lord!"
That sort of thinking seems like a kind of "default" for me that I have to keep a wary eye on. I need a constant reminder that not only has Christ saved me in a way I could never save myself, but He continues to refine me in a way I could never refine myself.
And in doing so, He also frees me from needing to "justify" myself by claiming Him. As opposed to falling into thinking something along the lines of, "Because I claim to love Jesus, no one would ever expect me to rip off this woman and/or deprive her of her gallon of concentrated soap." Nonsense. We can all point to Christians who have done horrible things.
Instead, rather than feeling a need to "add" Jesus to my resume, as if doing so provides skeptical customers with a "tipping point" as they decide whether or not I am trustworthy, we ought simply to follow Christ, believe what He says and do our best to follow Him as He changes our hearts. Through Him I will hope to be trustworthy and above reproach, living out the reason for the hope that is within me (1 Peter 3:15).
It's true that when God breathes life into us and gives us a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) instead of a heart of stone, He also begins to change our desires and our character. Where once we may not have thought twice about gray moral issues, our conscience, over time, becomes more and more sensitive and our heart's desire, little by little, is to glorify Christ and please Him with our very lives. Where once we may not have been all that trustworthy, it may well be that as Christians, we become more trustworthy over time. That's obviously not true all the time, but the more obedient we are to the Spirit's prompting in our lives, the more our lives will be changed.
And rather than a line on our resume to be added, as if this is something we've done on our own, this change in a believer's life is all a credit to the sanctifying work of God in us.
Whereas it seemed to me as if the salesman on my porch step was using Christ to cover up potential weaknesses in his product, the company he worked for, maybe even himself, we believers in Christ don't need to cover up anything. We can freely admit how weak, foolish, blind and naked (Revelation 3:17) we are, giving Jesus all the glory if indeed someone sees anything trustworthy in us at all, since it is Christ in us that they see.
That is, after all, the real Truth. And not because of anything I say or do, either, but because God's Word says so.
Colossians 1:27-29 (All citations ESV)
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.