Matthew 7 talks of knowing Christians by the fruit of their lives. The Bible promises us that we can distinguish the truth by looking at deeds, so you can imagine that Christians ought to look like Christians because they act like Christians.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply that living Christianly is all an “acting” job. It’s about striving after the actions we believe are most in-line with what the Bible teaches. However, I think there’s another important question we should be asking ourselves as Christians:
Do you react like a Christian?
If we have time to plan out our actions, it’s much more feasible that we will respond with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But reacting like a Christian is so much harder. Our instincts are overwhelmed by Original Sin, and snide remarks or derogatory phrases are often our first instincts. In fact, a lot of advice for Christian living will talk about how you can recognize your sinful nature and learn to live by the fruit of the Spirit consciously, instead. There’s nothing wrong with that. I fully support that reflection and self-control. However, I think it’s wise to look a bit further and seek more in the pursuit of the righteousness Christ showed us. Our conscious actions should always seek to mirror Christ, but why not strive to have our unconscious reactions do the same?
Think about it this way: in the New Testament, how often did Jesus respond to a question by saying he needed a few days to pray about it to make sure he considered all the possibilities and gave the most Scripturally-accurate answer? Instead, Jesus responded immediately, and his answers were spot-on each time. Now, with a healthy dose of reality we can quickly recognize that we are not perfect like Jesus and will never be able to respond perfectly every time, but that’s no reason not to strive after what Jesus demonstrated.
So if we’re supposed to react in a Christ-like way, how do we reprogram our instincts? Those are supposed to be hard-wired, right? Well, by the world’s standards, they are hard-wired. The mind is very complex, and as was already mentioned, Original Sin tends to fight against that goal our whole lives. This world cannot offer you the opportunity to choose your own instincts, but God is greater than this world. Therefore, if you want to overcome something in the natural, seek the only power that goes beyond this world. Seek better instincts through prayer and meditation.
In Scripture we see some inspiring examples. Two often-quoted examples are “turning the other cheek” and “going the extra mile.” Those are both fantastic principles by which to live. I, however, just read out of Acts 5 this morning, and there I find my favorite example:
“And when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
Acts 5:40-42 (ESV)
The apostles were flogged publicly, and their first response (their reaction) was to rejoice that they were worthy to suffer. They suffered, yet they were thrilled about it because it was an honor to be treated like Christ in that manner! I can say that reacting to suffering with rejoicing just isn’t normal. That’s not the world’s way of doing things because that’s not our typical instinct. Clearly, the apostles’ instincts had been transformed. They were so focused on God and so passionate about preaching the Gospel that suffering triggered the exact opposite reaction as we might expect.
So ask yourself, how do you react to suffering? Are you excited by a future in which you have the opportunity to suffer for your faith? And beyond just suffering, what do your instinctual reactions say about your priorities and your desires?