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09 January 2014

Abstinence of Evidence

"Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions." (Jesus in Matthew 7:20, NLT)

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (Jesus in John 13:34-35, NLT, emphasis obviously mine)

Believe it or not, unassailable doctrine, large churches, observance of strict moral codes, etc., are not the best indicators that we're followers of Jesus, although they may sometimes come along for the ride. But it doesn't get much simpler than this: our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Jesus' disciples.

Is it possible that followers of Christ tend to live under the impression -- and teach and imply -- that our abstinence from such-and-such "evil" will prove to the world that we're indeed Jesus' disciples? Certainly there are codes of conduct that are taught to the believer in Scripture, and often those things begin with "do not." I'm not saying or implying otherwise.

The problem, though, may be that we're so concerned with the "do not" parts that we tend to forget the "do" parts. Consider the fact that Jesus did not make any of these statements:
  • "If you do not associate with sinners, you will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not use foul speech, this will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "Your abstinence from alcohol will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not support businesses that act in a way that is contrary to Scriptural principles, the world will know that you are my disciples."
  • "If you do not gossip, it will be obvious to the world that you are my disciples."

Some of those things are fine (unless they're accompanied by legalism, at which point they're tainted), but according to Jesus, none are the most solid evidence that we are His disciples. In fact, our reliance on "do not" rules can have a tremendous negative effect. (Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' eye-opening 2007 book, unChristian, is a great place to start in learning about this, and I highly recommend it.)

One of my favorite quotes about the Church is one made by a man known as Julian the Apostate, emperor of Rome from 361-363. He wrote in a letter to Arsacius, the high priest in Galatia, "These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes." It wasn't that this early group of believers stood up for their religious rights, abstained from certain foods and drinks, or didn't associate with pagans. It was direct outward evidence of their love for other people (which blossomed out of their love for Jesus) that was evidence that they were followers of The Way.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, let us become a generation of believers that is known for what it does rather than what it does not do.

(This post was originally made quite some time ago; you've just read a re-post. But that's okay. It was free!)

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