Obedience or Service: How Do You Show Christ to Others?
Friday, May 25, 2012Tweet
A while back, our church gave out free copies of the book Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. I didn't get very far through it because it was poorly edited and Kelly kept interspersing good thoughts with vast false generalizations about people. But what really turned me off was his main premise, that the goal of the Christian life is "holiness."
It's not necessarily that I disagreed with this goal, as he defined it: "What is holiness? Holiness It [sic] is all the incredible things God will do in you and through you if you make yourself available to him." Something about his word choice just rubbed me the wrong way.
It wasn't until I ran until a similar concept in Scot McKnight's fantastic The Blue Parakeet that I was able to pinpoint why I had such a bad reaction to this idea. McKnight says that if we listen to God by focusing on what God wants us to do, we will be able to achieve God's goal for us: righteousness. He defines righteousness somewhat similarly to Kelly's holiness: "To be 'righteous' means our minds, our wills, and our behaviors will be conformed to God's will."
I realized that the words "holiness" and "righteousness" were, in my mind, one and the same with "self-righteousness," a Pharisee-like focus on one's own ability to keep all of God's laws.
It got me thinking back to this post about what kind of Christian I want to be, and this post where I said that forceful evangelization is more about the evangelizer than the evangelizee.
It seems to me that there are two main ways I see people trying to lead a "good Christian life": obedience and service.
These are by no means mutually exclusive, but in my experience people tend to focus more on one over the other.
Where do you fall?
You might have an obedience focus if...
-Your go-to Bible verses are Matthew 18:15-18, 2 Timothy 3:16, and anything in Leviticus
-You never miss church, no matter what's going on
-You saved/are saving sex for marriage, and it's important to you that others do too
-You worry constantly about non-Christians you know going to hell, and tell them so
-You would turn down a job you needed before you'd work on a Sunday
-You think the government should pass laws in accordance with Christian morality
You might have a service focus if...
-Your go-to Bible verses are Matthew 25:31-46, Mark 12:28-31, and anything about Jesus eating with sinners
-You volunteer regularly for causes you care about
-You have friends of different faiths, and you sometimes attend their places of worship
-You have an interest in knowing what is important to other people, and you listen more than you talk
-You provide support and comfort to others even when you disagree with their decisions, without telling them what you think
-You think the government's main concern should be that every person has access to food, shelter, and care
Obviously these are generalizations, but I would bet they ring true for a lot of people.
What it comes down to, I think, is this: Are you more concerned about your own fate in the next life, or your neighbor's fate in this one?
(Or as Rachel Held Evans wrote recently, are you willing to risk going to hell to be loving to others?)
I'm not saying that one of these approaches is "right" or "wrong." I understand the reasons behind both. What I want to suggest is that it's helpful to periodically ask yourself: What is my goal with living my life this way? And am I succeeding?
Here's what I've noticed:
If you ask someone, particularly a non-Christian, to describe a person who exemplifies the worst of Christianity, you'll likely hear about a person who lectures others on their sins, who tells them they're going to hell, who makes a big deal of adhering to their own religious obligations, and who puts everything church-related before their own friends and family. In other words, someone with an obedience focus.
But if you ask about the best of Christianity, you hear about that person who took the time to really listen to someone, the person who reached out with love when everyone else turned their back, the person who went out of their way to provide care and support when someone had made a big life mistake, without ever saying, "I told you so." You hear about the person whose door was always open, the person who was on fire with a passion to help the homeless, the person who said they would pray for you and you knew they really meant it because you were that important to them. That is a person with a service focus.
Recently in church we heard the Great Commission: Jesus telling His followers to go out into the world and make disciples.
It seems to me that those with a service focus are far more successful at opening people's hearts to Jesus than those with an obedience focus -- who sometimes even drive people away from Jesus!
I'll point back to the idea that we have limited time, energy, and money. We cannot be all things to all people. And we must make choices. We cannot simultaneously attend a church event and travel out of town for a family event. We cannot simultaneously listen without judgment and share our judgments.
We cannot both love and withhold love.
So where is your focus going to be?
Does this distinction ring true for you? How has your life been affected by having an obedience focus or a service focus, or knowing those who do?