Earlier this week, I saw a weather forecast that was posted online by a TV station near where I grew up. Their headline said, "Easter will be here before you know it, but before that comes Palm Sunday. Find out what the weather will be like then in the Long-Range Forecast." Does anything about that headline stand out to you?
I thought it was interesting because it demonstrated the presence of Christian influence that's still prevalent in our culture, even among those who don't necessarily profess a personal belief in Christ.
When you take a close look at your heart, can you truly say you're someone who has a strong relationship with Jesus, or would you primarily describe yourself as someone who has been influenced by Christians without necessarily adopting their beliefs as your own?
When a person truly comes to faith in Christ, things change. Spiritually speaking, they are raised from death to life, and that new life tends to come with some obvious and visible signs. In Romans 12:9-21, the Apostle Paul describes at least three ways we might be able to tell someone has actually come to a place of genuine faith in Jesus.
I. Christ's love is having a transformative effect on them
Several years ago, I heard a retired professional athlete share his life story during an interview. For much of his career, he was known to be abrasive and arrogant. He was also an admitted womanizer and drug user. Later in his career, he got married and his wife became a believer in Christ. She began regularly praying for him and inviting him to come to church with her. For some time, he resisted. Then, one afternoon, after he had taken some drugs and was lying down on the couch trying to sleep them off, he heard his son say something about his father always being tired and sleeping. That was a wake up call for him. He finally accepted his wife's invitation to attend church, gave his life to Christ, and has been walking with the Lord ever since. Those who knew him before often comment on the drastic difference they are able to see in his life. The love of Christ is having an obvious transformative effect on him.
Christ makes a point to do this in our lives, doesn't He? And the transformation the Lord is doing in our lives serves as a powerful and visible testimony to others. I can still remember my younger sisters watching with amazement as the Lord was accomplishing this transformation within me. The version of me they had grown up used to interacting with was being replaced with a version that treated them better, spoke to them with grace, and sought to actively display the fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence in my life, toward them.
The Apostle Paul goes into additional detail in Romans 12:9-13 of what it looks like when a person truly comes to faith in Christ, and their life is transformed by Him. Look at the picture he paints as he describes the life of a growing believer.
Paul describes a person who displays genuine love. As one who is conscious of the love of Christ that they have received, they begin manifesting that love toward others. Sometimes, they manifest that love through showing brotherly affection. Other times, they manifest that love by honoring others over themselves. Frequently, they show that love through generously giving to meet the needs of their other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul also speaks of believers making a point to avoid inviting evil into their lives, while at the same time embracing what is good. He also explains the effect Christ's presence in their lives is having on their attitude. They're becoming zealous for good works. They're looking for opportunities to actively serve the Lord. They're learning to rejoice with hope in all circumstances and remain patient during seasons of persecution or tribulation.
We're also told that one who is being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, through faith in Jesus, will become constant in prayer. This is a logical outpouring of faith. As we become more conscious of the Lord's nearness to us, and His power that's available to us, we're more likely to communicate with Him and seek His intervention in our lives.
II. They're treating people they once avoided in a new way
Who do you tend to gravitate toward? Have you ever noticed a pattern? Do you gravitate toward funny people? Confident people? Quiet people? People with authority? Why do you suppose you gravitate toward them? Is there something you're trying to learn from them? Are you more comfortable around them? Is there something you're hoping they'll give you that you feel you're currently lacking?
On the other hand, who have you historically tried to avoid? Do you avoid those who have hurt you in the past? Do you avoid those who are sad or downcast? Do you avoid those who seem to be in a lower station of life than you are? Do you avoid those who don't seem as wise or well-learned as you? Why do you suppose this is? Are you trying to protect your heart from pain? Are you trying to avoid being stretched or inconvenienced in some way?
Our greatest example of how to interact with others is Jesus. During the course of Christ's earthly ministry, He treated people in a way that amazed them. He confronted those who thought they were better than others while joyfully associating with people who were ostracized by others.
One of the most visible ways you can tell that Jesus lives within someone comes to light when that person begins treating people they once avoided in a new way. They bless those who persecute them. They fellowship with those who rejoice and those who weep. They seek to live in harmony with others, to the best of their ability instead of provoking fruitless division. They exhibit humility and are willing to be known as a friend to those who are in a more lowly position than themself (even without bragging about it on social media!).
Admittedly, this can be quite the challenge to live out, but can I offer a suggestion to you that I have found personally helpful? Like all people, there are people in my life who have blessed me, and there are people in my life who have hurt or persecuted me. My natural impulse is to hurt those who have hurt me, but Christ's calling on my life is for me to treat others like He has graciously treated me. One of the things He has been teaching me to do that helps facilitate forgiveness in my heart, is to begin praying for those who have hurt me, then following that up with doing something nice for the person I'm struggling to forgive. It forces me to interact with them in a healthy way, and it helps me to release my feelings of resentment.
If you can identify with what I'm saying, let me encourage you to pray for those who have hurt you. Write them a note of encouragement. Send them a gift card to go out to eat. Meet a need that you know they have. Do something that follows up your prayers with visible action, and do it even before you feel "emotionally ready." I believe it can speed up the healing and reconciliation process, while also giving glory to Jesus who empowers you to do this.
III. They're overcoming evil, instead of being overcome by it
As a child, did you believe that your parents loved you? If yes, how did they convince you of it? I'm guessing if you felt loved, you also felt cared for and defended. I still remember a time when I was in fourth grade and a kid punched me for no reason when I got off the bus after school. My mother saw it and ran after that kid, chasing him up a pretty steep hill. In the moment, I was embarrassed, but now that I look back on that event, I realize that it was one of many examples that assured my heart that I was loved.
Do you believe God loves you? If Christ lives within you, keep in mind that when the Father looks at you, He sees the Son living within you, and He loves you with the same love He has for Christ. And since you're loved by Him, He also cares for you and defends you. In fact, He makes it clear that you don't need to avenge yourself against your adversaries. We can leave that up to Him because He is our God who defends us.
God displays His care and defense of His children all throughout His word. I was recently reading in the book of Exodus and noticed a particular set of verses in which God described how He was going to protect and defend the people of Israel as they walked toward, and moved into the Promised Land. He said, "I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you." (Exodus 23:27-28, ESV). Imagine that. God is even willing to sting your adversaries with hornets in order to defend you. He's willing to use bugs to stop them from bugging you!
We don't have to attend every fight or argument we're invited to. We don't have to stoop to the level of sinister activity employed by those who try to harm us. Rather, we can feed those who hurt us. We can give them something to drink. We can show them kindness because the Lord will take care of fighting battles for us when they really need to be fought.
Instead of being overcome by evil like so many are, we can overcome evil with the goodness of God that lives within us through Jesus Christ. When we overcome evil with good, instead of being overcome by evil like we once were, we once again demonstrate that our hearts have been transformed by the Holy Spirit who is making us more and more like Christ.
If you truly believe in Christ, there will be evidence of that belief in your life. I believe Romans 12 teaches us that Christ's love will have a transformative effect on you, you'll treat people you once avoided in a new way, and you'll overcome evil instead of being overcome by it. This is more than just an improvement to your character. This is evidence that you've actually been taken from death and brought to life through Jesus.
© John Stange, 2019