Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill
There is a saying that I heard once, and it goes like this. “Good Christian girls don’t drink, smoke, or chew—and they don’t go with boys that do!” You may have heard this or some variation of it throughout your years in the church—only the lucky or the very new may have been spared from this mindset.
What is implicit in this statement is that Christians are defined by the practices that they avoid, and Christian young women ought to date only those young men who are defined by the same avoidances as they are. Being defined by a negative, however, is not really a definition at all. Suppose you were asked by someone to describe to them the color red. Would you tell them that it is not black, or gray, or blue, or yellow? Would you tell them that pink is not red, although it is too close to the line for comfort? Or, would you tell them that red is the color of the sun when it sets, the color of a rose in a wedding bouquet, and the color of a ripened cherry hanging from a summer tree. I suspect the latter would provide a much better explanation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian in the early 1900s, said that “being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.” I have to agree that often times our messages and conversations within Christian circles are more about character reformation than about actively pursuing God’s purposes for our lives and churches. Even when I think of some of my recent teaching series—one on the parables of Jesus comes to mind—there is much more time spent on behaviour modification than there is on discerning God’s plans. We often teach and talk about the perils of our heart, attitude, sin, self-centeredness…and the list goes on…but fail to define our Christian experience in terms of what we are doing, not what we are avoiding.
Paul defines the kingdom of God in a positive sense in his letter to the Romans, saying “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking” (as the discussion of his day was whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols) “but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17). We are defined by righteousness (which is imputed at salvation, not something we strive to earn and cling to), peace, and joy. Jesus also defines the nature of the kingdom of God at his first preaching gig, saying “the Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…proclaim freedom for the prisoners…recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed… (Luke 4:18). Moreover, James defines our faith as “looking after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Notwithstanding the call to personal holiness that resounds throughout the New Testament, would people define you as someone who caries peace and joy? Do you care for widows and orphans in their distress—those who are the most avoided in our society? Are you walking in a path towards freedom that compels others to walk behind you? Have you defined your faith by what you do instead of what you do not do?
Take a personal assessment and begin to define yourself by who you are in Christ, not by what you no longer are associated with. You will find that the Scriptures provide great insight into what our faith is about, from a positive sense. Dig in and explore!