Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pithometer / pith’-ō-mē-tər / (n) : an instrument for assessing pithy remarks. Today’s remark: “We’re human beings, not human doings!”

I’ve heard it said – and I think I’ve said it myself – that we are human beings, not human doings. That little phrase is usually mentioned when someone feels they’re experiencing a sense of drivenness in their activities and tasks. Among Christians, it’s a cry from those who feel they’ve lost their sense of rest in God – as though they’re only finding joy in what they do for Him rather than from who they are in Christ.

I have absolutely no difficulty understanding what it’s like to get caught up in the momentum of busyness as though I were mistakenly measuring my significance by what I do. As a Christian, I’ve made the futile mistake of trying to do stuff in an effort to better be in Christ. But the Bible clearly indicates that there’s a proper order for such things. We’re to be in Christ so that we can then do what He calls us to! But I’m still uneasy with addressing such struggles by saying, “We’re human beings, not human doings.”

I think that’s because, rather than setting an order to things, this pithy remark forces me to choose between two valid aspects of the Christian life. Not only that, but it complicates my choice by using terminology that makes the latter option sound ridiculous. Of course I’m not a “human doing.” But rejecting that label then suggests a rejection of, or at the very least, a minimization of the idea of doing.

Doing, though, is an essential part of the Christian life. Without doing, we can’t even call ourselves Christians! Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus later said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Jesus is big on believing in who He is and on knowing Him in a personal way. But He is also not afraid to demand obedience of those who say they know Him.

Other writers of the New Testament obviously felt the same. In writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul said, “And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command” (2 Thessalonians 3:4). Notice Paul didn’t say, that you are being and will be...” It’s not that Paul didn’t care about them being in Christ. In the very next sentence, Paul directs his readers to the “steadfastness of Christ” because he knew that it was only by being in Jesus that they would have the strength to obey. But Paul also knew that if who they were in Christ wasn’t expressed by their actions – by doing – then who they claimed to be in Christ wouldn’t be genuine. James warns us to: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

So let’s dispense with the unnecessary polarization of two vital virtues that are actually meant to go together, in the right order, rather than pitted against each other. As Paul said: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved [start with being], put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience [continue with doing] (Colossians 3:12).

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