Life seems to get busier and busier these days. There’s always more to do … tasks that demand our attention. Technology is bringing us more automated helpers. Smart vacuum cleaners roam through rooms, hopefully gobbling up unwanted dust; robots are becoming sophisticated assistants. iPhone’s Siri, Android’s Google Now, and GPS devices are to help us to do more … more conveniently.
Nevertheless, in the hectic pace of trying to get more done, a fundamental question should be addressed: Are you a human doing or a human being? Silly question … or is it?
What determines your fundamental identity? Your actions or your birth? Of course, we are human beings because our birth. The same is true in the spiritual realm. A person is not a Christian because of his activities and religious works; he/she is a child of God through a spiritual rebirth. The Lord Jesus instructed the Jewish scholar Nicodemus–and all of us–that unless we are born again (spiritually) we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). So, the way to become a true Christian is to receive Christ by faith and experience regeneration by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-7).
The apostle Paul assured the Galatian believers, “For you are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Christ Jesus … And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 3:26;4:6).
Biblical preaching that emphasizes the gospel is usually clear about salvation by grace through faith. But too often the subculture of our churches fosters the outlook whereby people define themselves more by what they do than by their spiritual identity.
Although spiritual disciplines are important they are not intended as a way of meriting God’s acceptance. Discipleship exercises such as Bible reading, prayer, worship, fellowship, giving, witnessing, and service are all valuable in the right context. But these activities are the fruits of saving faith not the root.
A verse that summarizes the priority and balance of “being in order to do” is Ephesians 2:10:
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Notice how, in this verse, identity precedes ministry. Becoming God’s workmanship is based upon God’s grace not our human merit. The preceding context teaches this: “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). The word “created” in verse 10 is the same term used to describe God’s creation of the heavens and the earth at the beginning. This same Creator puts new life into us at salvation! Our human spirit is made alive and we are reconciled to God.
Although our tendency is to drift into a legalistic attitude of “doing in order to be”, another detour may be taken–passivity This gracious salvation is not just an eternal life insurance policy. True life has vital signs, and spiritual life is demonstrated by love and good works. As verse 10 describes… “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” These good works are not merely based our own agenda. Rather, loving actions should be a fulfillment of God’s unique purpose, plan and direction for our lives. Christ wants to live His resurrection life in and through us in our unique context and set of relationships.
Grasping grace does not lead to complacency or inactivity. If we love Christ we are to keep His commands (John 14:15,21). Note the balance again in Philippians 2:12,13: “…Work out your own salvation [from the remaining influence of sin] with fear and trembling…” But the Lord is the Initiator: “…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
We see this being in order to do pattern throughout Paul’s New Testament epistles. The first part of the book lays the foundation of how to be in Christ (Eph. 1-3; Col. 1,2; Romans 1-5). The second half reveals the practical doing of God’s will (Eph. 4-6;Col. 3,4; Rom. 12-16).
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6,7). How did we begin the discipleship journey? –by grace, through faith. So, how are we to live the Christian life? –by grace through faith.
Norman B. Harrison described the discipleship sequence and balance this way:
“What is a Christian? One in whom God lives; one through whom God would manifest Himself and His essential nature, on the human level, through a human personality. We cannot escape the conclusion, and conviction, that in the outworking of redemption and the accomplishing of His purpose to make God known, we, the church as the body of Christ, are taking the place of the Man “Christ Jesus.” “As He is, so are we in this world” [1 John 4:17 ]. Jesus walked this earth to show what God is like when He lives in a man, and what man is like when God lives in him.”
So, New Testament living is not self-effort imitation, but grace-based cooperation.
This morning a childhood memory came back to me. In our elementary school in New Jersey, students would take turns being recognized as an assistant Crossing Guard. Most of us walked to and from school each day, but had to cross a busy street in front of the school. The Crossing Guard was given the official white vest and waste belt to conduct fellow students across the road for our week! When it was your turn, you felt special and had an important role. The identity (Crossing Guard) preceded the activity (assistance on the crosswalk). Likewise you and I as believers are commissioned by the Lord Jesus to recognize our identity in Him, and then to be faithful on the Cross walk.
Friend, you may have become exhausted because you’ve been living under law (doing in order to be). Instead, God assures you of His acceptance based on the finished work of Christ (Eph. 1:6; Heb. 7:25). Let your new identity be demonstrated in activity that unfolds by walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). This is “being in order to do.”
The phrase “being in order to do” is from Charles R. Solomon in Grace Fellowship International’s Exchanged Life Conference.
The quote by Norman B. Harrison is from His Victorious Indwelling, ed. Nick Harrison (Zondervan, 1998), 427.
Copyright (c) 2016 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and GraceNotebook.com.
Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. (Italics indicated emphasis added.)
“Celebrating Thanksgiving in America” article by Christian historian, David Barton: www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=17984