What’s the Distinction?
I was in the middle of what would roughly be a 14-hour plane ride. My beautiful wife, Yasmin was peacefully sleeping beside me, with her pregnant belly more visible than ever. I felt a deep feeling of contentedness thinking about our startup family. Then my thoughts shifted to work, to the exciting things we’re doing at Bridge and Elevation Partners, to the opportunities with New Leaf Ventures and Issho Genki, and to the doors opening left and right. I prayed a silent thank you to God for being with me and saving me from the Lion and the Bear, as I shared in my last post.
Then my contentedness was interrupted by a challenge: David, are you really a Christian?
I’ve thought about this question many times, especially during periods in my life when I was not living virtuously, but rarely did I think about this when I felt like I was in the “center of God’s will”. Like many others, I make the mistake that being on the center is proven by having no problems and feelings of happiness, that because things are happening for me, God must be blessing something I’m doing right, and He must be pleased with me. But then I thought about the city I had just come from, London, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with so much happening for the people there, so much beauty, so much wealth, so much history, so much legacy, and such a big role in the world, yet not a lot of Jesus in the conversations I had there. (Though I did gain a lot from the Bible studies, church services, and conversations with other local believers.) I highly enjoyed the rational discussions but found over and over that many of these excellent people were not driven by Christian principles. If “the life we always wanted” is the proof of God’s presence in our life, than how does one explain the amazing lives of those who don’t believe in God, much less obey Him, and much less have Him? What is the distinction between an excellent person and a Christian who is also excellent? What is the distinction between a good mother and a Christian who is also a good mother? What is the distinction between a good businessperson and a Christian who is also a good business person?
This brought me back to the original question: Are you a Christian?
I typed a follow-up question: What does it mean to be Christian?
And here’s a simple description of what it means to be Christian:
- Someone who embraces God’s purpose, which is the salvation of all men.
- Someone who obeys God’s commands
- Someone who bears spiritual fruit
A Christian isn’t just someone praying and behaving their way to “the life they’ve always wanted”. A Christian is motivated by the cause that man has major giants, not least are spiritual emptiness and existential questions of meaning, identity, and purpose, and that God wants to redeem every area of man. He wants to save man. He doesn’t merely want to convert man into a Sunday clapper, fellowshipper, cryer, tither. He wants to save man from whatever it is that’s making him or her a slave, whether that be a spiritual issue, a financial one, an emotional one, a physical one, a relational one, or some other concern. And He wisely saves us from the heart first, because that’s where the slavery happens first and foremost. If “Christians” are not primarily motivated by the salvation of man, if we are more motivated by growing our businesses, increasing our respectability, raising impressive kids, experiencing the latest popular liesure or influencer fad, then we must admit that there is no distinction between us and others.
This really shook me on that flight. It shook me more than any turbulence could have. The flight was as smooth as can be, but my soul wrestled. It’s not a bad thing to wrestle with tough questions. In fact, it’s important. It’s important to face the inner person and learn to trust God with even that, not just our physical needs.
I started to pray, “Father, help me be distinguishably Yours. Just like the world knows I’m Yasmin’s, just like the world knows I’m a businessman, let it be obvious that my life is dedicated to the salvation of man…”
“You will know them by their fruit…” this thought intersected with my prayer.
Spiritual fruit distinguishes the Christian, and I don’t mean someone who is a prolific converter, but someone who is bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control, a person who is living virtuously, in order than all men may be saved.
I continued to wrestle with the idea of being distinguishable. If the average Christian has the same daily purpose of materialism, survival, comfort, and security just like everyone else; and if they’re living according to their own feelings just like everyone else; and if their fruit is just as average as well, then what makes them Christian? If there’s nothing important that distinguishes Christians from others, why be Christian at all?
This led me to three questions to ponder on during daily devotions:
- Who is God leading me to serve today?
- What is God having me do today?
- What virtue is God cultivating in me today?
By setting a framework of Godly purpose, Godly commands, and Godly fruit, I am more aware of whether I am truly living a Christian life. I find in my own life that the busyness and urgency of things many times steals the purpose from my heart, the obedience from my actions, and the virtue from my results. It’s more important than ever to be deliberate about being distinguishable, because we will never be a light for others if our motivations, actions, and results are no different from theirs.