The Difference Christ Makes

November 17, 2009

Taken in western N.C. in 2008

What is the difference between a Christian and anybody else? Sometimes the best way to define something is by discussing what it is not. The Good Samaritan was not a Christian. He was not even classified as a religious person by the audience to whom Jesus introduced him. His contemporaries considered him a low-life, unacceptable because his ancestry had mixed blood. He was a common person on the street, not clergy and probably not even laity of any particular church.

In the story that made him famous from the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, there are three other characters. For the sake of argument, consider the story backwards: look at the bad guys first. You’d think a priest – one who does good works for the sake of God – would stop and help a wounded man in the road. His job involved keeping every particle of the Law, but it didn’t involve getting his hands dirty. The other passerby was also a clergyman. He had prescribed duties for the sake of ritual, but they didn’t include involvement in strangers’ lives.

Now look at the hero of the story, the nameless Samaritan. Although he is just called a “neighbor,” he has a lot in common with modern Christians. Christians are not necessarily clergy, although some clergymen are Christians. Christians are not law-keepers, but grace-extenders. This Samaritan didn’t even know the religious laws. He probably didn’t observe religious rituals. Jesus was pointing out the man’s heart. The story’s hero acted out of a genuine concern; he got his hands dirty because he cared.

A Christian may look the same on the outside as everybody else, but his motivation is different. Christians are motivated by the perfect, all-powerful God’s initiative in forgiving. If Jesus has forgiven me of the garbage in my life, how can I refuse to forgive another for his offense toward me? My offenses caused Christ’s death; nothing done to me by another has cost me my life. In forgiving me, Christ set me free to forgive others without regret or strings attached.

God’s incredible love and acceptance of me invites me to change my attitude about myself. If God, the Creator of the universe, loved me enough to make such an extreme sacrifice, it makes me worth something. His love gives believers the opportunity for a healthy self-image. I am not to define myself by what I achieve or how I behave, but by to whom I belong: I am a child of God Almighty, a sibling of His Son by adoption. That relationship allows me access to all God offers: His peace, His power, His presence: not only now, but beyond life in eternity. It also affords me assurance that no matter what happens, I can trust Him because He is my Father.

Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, a Christian is also motivated by a sense of urgency. The hero knew that unless he helped the victim in the street, the man would die. A Christian has the privilege of making a difference for good in the world. His heart breaks for the things that break his Father’s heart. As a child of God grows more into the likeness of his heavenly family, he will act more like Christ. “Christian,” after all, means “Christ-like.” Acting on one’s faith is the natural outcome of cultivating a love relationship with God.

Christians also realize their limitations. A Christian is not just a philanthropist. The Samaritan didn’t go rescue every robbery victim on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He had a life to live. Scripture says he laid the wounded man on his own donkey and took him to an inn. He couldn’t stay to nurse him to health, but he paid the innkeeper to take care of the injured one and promised to follow up when he returned and pay any further debt. He demonstrated healthy boundaries and personal integrity. A Christian longs to show the world a life that is consistent with what Scripture teaches. This is called personal holiness. Believers depend on God for power to love, to submit, to make choices, to respond rather than react. A Christian realizes his total need and depends on God for his total supply. If it sounds impossible to be a Christian, it is because within oneself, it is. A Christian struggles to die to selfishness at the juncture of every decision and in the intimate privacy of his own heart. Christ is the One who lives, becoming increasingly more evident in the lives of those surrendered to Him.

What makes a Christian different from anybody else? He is motivated by the love of God, defined by a personal relationship with the living Savior and prompted to serve others through the power of that relationship. The dichotomy between a Christian, and one who is not, is Christ; the only difference between the two is a simple surrender.

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