What do your neighbors and relatives think of you? It is time to take a good look from their point of view as well as from God's, to see if you are a real Christian.
LOOK at yourself from your neighbor's point of view. Does he know that you are a true Christian — a disciple of the living Christ? How can someone who does not know Gods ways realize that you are really a servant of the most high God? Does he recognize you as a real disciple of Christ because you obey God and keep His commandments, or because you tithe? Does your keeping of the Sabbath and the Holy Days convince him that you are a true Christian? Does your practice of customs that are different from most other people, or your refusal to celebrate pagan holidays, convince him? Many have carelessly taken for granted that these things show the world that we are Christians. God recognizes us by these standards, bat does your unconverted neighbor?
What He Sees
The world does not recognize God's servants because of the keeping of the Sabbath. This is a sign between God and His people. By this sign we recognize God as the Creator. And by this sign He recognizes us. But the world does not recognize us by this sign as the servants of God. Instead, this same sign convinces the world that we are crackpots or religious fanatics. Our neighbors, our unconverted mates, our relatives, cannot know by these things that we really are servants and disciples of Christ. It is time that you understand how others can know whether or not we really are Christians. Let us quit assuming! We need the facts, and the only place to obtain them is from God's Word. Stop and think a minute. Could a carnal, unconverted, un-enlightened person know that you are a child of God because you keep the Sabbath? Of course not! He doesn't know for sure what day (if any) the Creator God has commanded us to keep. Your neighbor will not even recognize your keeping of God's commandments as proof you are a Christian. He may think it is a "yoke of bondage" instead of evidence that you are a true Christian. Some of you have thought that by doing certain of these things others would just know that you are a Christian. If so, you are mistaken. These things, alone, do not make you a Christian. You may be only partly serving God, as the Pharisees were. They obeyed certain of God's commands such as paying tithes. And yet, they left very important things undone. They neglected the weightier — the more important matters of the law such as judgement and mercy. Just what is the way that people will recognize us as Christ's disciples?
How People Will Know
Let Jesus answer. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, IF YE HAVE LOVE ONE TO ANOTHER" (John 13:35). Do you really have love for the brethren? Do people recognize that love in you with somewhat of amazement? Is it hard for them to understand why you have such love and consideration of other brethren in the Church? Just what is meant by having love for the brethren? First understand that love is not, in any way, shape or form, what the world, influenced by Hollywood, thinks love is. Love is not lust. It is not getting, receiving, taking or obtaining. IT IS GIVING! Giving of the self in service, in helping, exhorting, encouraging. It is CONCERN for others. It is also affection for one another. Do you have this kind of sincere love for the brethren? Is it being expressed by acts of kindness, consideration and help to others? Do you have the kind of love that is recognized by the brethren and by the outsider who may see that love expressed? The people in the world do not in general have this deep love and respect. But God's true servants are different! There are no others in the world like them. Are you different in this way? Do people recognize that you are different (in a good way), and that you really have compassion and love and kindness toward others, especially the brethren?
"I've Never Seen Anyone Like Him Before!"
About twelve years ago I first heard the World Tomorrow broadcast and first heard of the Church of God. An acquaintance told me of a young man who was a ministerial assistant in the church, who had been sent to Portland, Oregon, to temporarily pastor the Church there. At that time the young man was not on full salary and was expected to augment his income by working on the side. He worked for this acquaintance of mine. The friend told me about this young man and I don't think I'll ever forget what he said about him. He said that he had never seen anyone like this before in his whole life. The ministerial assistant was a very hard worker, very sincere, extremely dependable, devout, and he had consideration and kindness toward others. This man loved the brethren! Those of the world who came in close personal contact with him knew he was different from other people! It may have been hard to analyze why this person was so wonderfully different, why he had such admirable and rare traits. A person might not know for sure that this man was a true Christian, since there are so many so-called Christians around, but he stood out as being very unusual and different from all the others who called themselves Christians. The point is this. All of God's true servants should also be like this young man. People in the world are used to calloused, lustful, grasping, deceitful and hypocritical people. A true servant of God stands out like an oasis in the desert in such a world. He is different, "peculiar," or unusual among men (I Pet. 2:9). Are you such an individual? You should be! You can be! Even though your friends and relatives may disagree entirely with your religion, they should recognize that there is something about you different and better than all the others. That difference is caused by the Holy Spirit of God within you. But, some of you have not been the right example to your unconverted relatives and neighbors. You have apparently thought that they would know you were a Christian, when they have not, became you have been a bad example, not showing proper love, affection, kindness, consideration and goodness in your own home. You have been cranky, and at times you have not controlled your temper when you should have been patient. You have been over-demanding of your unconverted mate and children. Under such circumstances, a person would think you are nor a Christian. You are a reproach to God's Church and to the name of Christ who has bought and paid for you with His own life.
Our Relationship With Each Other is Through Christ
If we keep the words of Christ, that is — obey them — we know we are His disciples. In this same way we recognize others as being His disciples or learners. But, the world does not recognize us by this means. We have come to recognize this as God's true Church through the words of Christ and through the signs and identification given by Christ. The world is not looking for these same signs or identifying marks. And yet, they do recognize certain traits that set us apart as different. As a result of our relationship with Jesus Christ and the Father, we have received the Holy Spirit and are being changed from what we used to be to become more and more like Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we have fellowship with each other and receive the love we have for each other. Jesus taught that He was the true vine and we are branches joined to Him. We are joined together and have fellowship with each other through Him (John 15:1-6). If we are joined to Him in love we will bring forth much fruit (verse 5). What kind of fruit should Christian love in us produce? It should be the same kind of fruit that Jesus had, which came as a result of God's Spirit within Him, and is an expression of God's love. We should continue in this same love (verse 9) and by having this same love we have His joy also (verse 11).
Do Others See These Fruits in You?
Jesus said that if we are a good tree we would bring forth good fruit, and if a bad tree we would bring forth bad fruit. We are to know others by their fruit, and others know u~ by our fruits. If we have the love of Christ in us, we will produce the same fruits He produced. We know an apple tree by the fruit it produces. We know a Christian by the fruit produced in his life. By the same means even the unconverted will recognize us by our fruits. They may not be able to evaluate our fruits to know why we have them, or how we received them, since they are cut off from God and do not understand God's ways. But even the unconverted recognize a rare quality when they see it. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). These ate the fruits produced in one who truly loves others. Let us examine these fruits and understand them clearly. These are things that we can see in our own lives (if we have them) and others can see them too! The first fruit that is mentioned is love. We have already seen that love is outgoing, and giving rather than receiving. The whole theme of the Bible is this same love. God's love is shown to us in making known His plan of salvation and how we may obtain it. It also shows His love in giving Christ to the world as a sacrifice for sin. The scriptures show us the way to eternal life. The way to this eternal life is to accept the love and sacrifice of Christ, and, in turn, to show our love and fidelity to God by obeying His commands. His commands and laws are summed up in the ten commandments. The first four tell us how to love God and the last six tell us how to love others. Before we can have Christ's kind of love as mentioned here and elaborated upon in I Corinthians 13, we must begin to keep God's commandments (I John 5:3), although the keeping of the commandments does not convince others we are Christ's disciples. In addition to expressing our love by obedience to God, we also express it in affection, acts of kindness, and help to others. Many people in the world have a kind of love, but it is not the deep down sincere love that the Bible talks about! It is a counterfeit kind of love. The second fruit mentioned is joy. Have you ever noticed how much happiness and joy are expressed by the members of God's Church who are really growing spiritually? They have problems and trials too, and yet they are abundantly happy and joyful. Do your neighbors and relatives find you happy and joyful, or are you sad, discouraged and unhappy? You should have more real deep-down joy in your own personal life than any of the unconverted people around you! Closely related to joy is peace. Peace with God, peace with yourself, and peace with men. A worldly person can not have peace with God or himself! Even though others may hate and dislike you, you have no animosity or anger toward them. Patience is a virtue that is almost entirely lacking in the world. We live in a fast society which is notoriously impatient. The more of God's Holy Spirit we have, the more patience we will have toward others. The world is anything but gentle today, and yet that is another of the important and necessary fruits that we will have if we have God's Spirit. Jesus set us an example in all of these characteristics. He was a meek and humble person. We will also be meek if we are following His steps The world today wants to live without restraint. They want to live lives where there is no self-control. People do not want to be restrained by man or God. It seems that everyone wants to be unbridled and unrestrained. A person following God's ways wants to be restrained and controlled by his own mind, and also by God and His laws. A Christian wants to be master of his own body and not mastered by his lusts or carnal desires. All of these traits are outwardly evident in many ways. Do your neighbors and relatives see these traits in you? If they do, they know that you are different from all of their other acquaintances. They may not realize why you are different, they may not realize that these are fruits of God's Spirit, but they will realize that you are really different, and that you love others. Are these fruits increasing in your life, or are the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:13-21) increasing? We are instructed by the Apostle Peter to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). These fruits are a part of the grace that Christ has. We must grow in these characteristics or we will lose what little of the Holy Spirit we may have and find ourselves in great tribulation in a few short years.
Stir Up God's Gift!
The Apostle Paul gave Timothy instructions about Gods Spirit that we should apply in our own lives. "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (II Tim. 1:6). The gift that Timothy received by the laying on of hands was the Holy Spirit which imparted the special attributes Timothy needed to be a faithful minister. If Timothy needed to "stir UP" that gift, we need to do so even more! Just what does it mean to stir up this gift? The Greek expression used here is possibly better translated in some other versions. The RSV says "rekindle." It means literally to revive a fire, to kindle up a dormant fire, to revive, excite, stir up, or quicken. A fire that is smouldering, or is about to go out, can be revived by adding oxygen such as by fanning, or by adding more fuel. It is imperative that we stir LIP or rekindle the "fire" of God's Spirit within us. We need to keep this fire burning brightly. God has supplied the fire, but it is our job to go back daily for more fuel, by diligent prayer. And we need to keep the fire fanned, so that there will be sufficient oxygen to keep it going. We can fan the fire of God's Spirit by using, exercising the opportunities given to us in service and help to others. We can keep the fire burning by staying close to God in taking into our minds generous portions of His Word daily. Paul also exhorted Timothy in his first letter about this same problem — enjoining him not to neglect the gift (I Tim. 4:14). We also, even more than the zealous evangelist Timothy, need to be concerned and active in our exercising and using of God's Spirit. Otherwise, our neglect will in due time cause us to lose it entirely. The fire will die down and go out, unless we apply ourselves! These fruits of God's Holy Spirit — the fruits of love — are expressed in many ways that are apparent to others, whether they are converted or not. They are evident in our attitude toward others, both in and out of the Church. How we help the needy in the Church, the widows in their affliction, the sick and afflicted, are indications as to whether or not we have the love which is motivated by God's Spirit. The lack of these fruits is often expressed in little things, such as whether or not we regularly attend available church social activities. In the church areas where such activities are scheduled for members, the same people usually come each time. They enjoy this additional opportunity to be with the brethren and to express love for the brethren and to have Christian fellowship. Others who could be are never there. They have transportation, they are not working, nor are they sick. They just do not have the love for the brethren that Christ said his disciples would have. Many people in the Church have shown that they loved the brethren by helping a poor widow paint her house, or possibly making other needed repairs to her home. God sees such good works and sometimes other people see them. Christian life is one of service to God, to the brethren, and to the world. Each person has ample opportunity to help in many ways, no matter what his occupation, sex, age, or abilities may be. The problem is that many people, lacking love, are looking for excuses to keep from serving and helping others, rather than looking for opportunities to be of service! We all need to apply ourselves more diligently in showing and expressing love for others. We must do our part! We cannot wait for God to do everything for us. After we do our part, God will supply what we lack or cannot do. If we have love for others, we cannot sit at home in our easy chair and have kind thoughts about others and then do nothing about it. Love is active and expressive. Too many people in God's Church arc not stirring up the Spirit; instead they "quench," or put out, the Spirit (I Thess. 5:19). They quench it by not acting when they know they should act in expressing love and kindness to others.
God's People Are Different
Christ stated that we are the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). Salt gives a loaf of bread an agreeable flavor — makes it desirable. There are no others on this round earth who are the salt except Gods people. Gods people are the salt because they are different from all other people. If we as God's people are not different, if we have lost our salty flavor, then what use are we, but to be destroyed? We are the light of the earth if Christ lives in us (Matt. 5:14). THERE IS NO OTHER LIGHT! If our light is not shining brightly in this darkened and cursed world, by oar good deeds, then where is there any light?
Be SEEN Not HEARD
If we are the light of the world, the people will see it, even though they may not comprehend it now, or recognize why, now; but later they will remember that we were different, that there were no others like us. They will then remember that in addition to our living example of love, we did obey the living God. They will realize that our "fruits" came from our relationship with God and because we had God's Holy Spirit. They will then cry out to God in repentance and receive the same Holy Spirit that we have received. We must let our light shine. Our light is our good works (Matt. 5:16), that light is SEEN of men. By this way people may know that we are Christ's disciples and that we are true Christians. There is no other way now for the world and for our unconverted friends and relatives to know. Don't falsely assume that Sabbath-keeping, discipline in the home, obedience, or rejection of pagan customs are signs to the unbeliever. Let us have love and kindness that bring forth GOOD WORKS which others can see as Christian attributes in our daily lives. "Let your light so shine before men. that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).