I am not 5’7. My eyes are not green. I do not like the Green Bay Packers. I have not driven a stock car before. I am not Jewish. Based on those statements alone how clear of a picture do you have of who I am? My guess is that most of you still have almost no idea who I really am based on those statements alone. Why are those statements less than helpful in drawing a picture of who I am? Each of these statements is a negative. I am not 5’7, so then am I 5’1 or 6’5? Are my eyes blue, brown, or another color? Since I’m not Jewish, then am I Hindu, or Buddhist, or even Christian? Often negative statements do not tell us anything about what is.
In his book unChristian, author David Kinnaman lays out a number of perceptions about Christians and Church that are held by many outside of Christianity and churches. Every perception he writes about is a negative. Kinnaman found that people believed Christians and the Christian church are defined by what they are not, and what they are against.
As Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples he sits them down once more to remind them of who they are, what their identity and calling are. Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV) Jesus’ reminder to His disciples is that your identity lies in what you are, instead of what you are not, or what you are against. People will know you are my followers by how you care for one another, and by how you live your life. Your identity does not lie in what political party you rally against, the causes and people you deride as evil or bad, the actions you denounce, or even what kind of Christian you are not like.
John, the apostle, repeats Jesus’ teaching this way, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18, ESV) Again what defines a Christian, what they are, what they do, not what they are against.
For many, their reservations about faith do not lie in what faith or Jesus is. Instead they worry about what Christians and churches say they are against and what they are not. If someone asked you today about your church and faith what would you say? Remember a list of all the things you are against or that you are not, may make a statement, but truly doesn’t say a whole lot about the actual identity of Jesus, Christianity, or churches. Finish these sentences for me, “A Christian is…..”, “A Church is….”, “Jesus is….”
- Is it easier to define ourselves with negative or positive statements? Why is that?
- What do you believe you are? What are you passionate about, what do you believe, what is important to you?
- What do you believe defines your church, your faith, yourself?