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Bearing the Marks of Christ

Introspection2 Whether by means of selfish living, unchecked fear, or excessive enculturalization, the number of "professing" Christians -- specifically, those who lack any substantive evidence in their lives that they are indeed a follower of Jesus Christ -- is mind boggling! One reason why more and more people are pursuing their spiritual lives in places OTHER than in the Church, is because the people they see attending church seem to have the same problems and aren't any better off than the people they know outside the church.

Somehow, followers of Jesus ought to live like they are followers of Jesus. In their lives, they should bear the marks of Christ. And I don't necessarily mean marks of a sort that remind us of Christ's passion. Although... there always have been victims and martyrs in the persecuted Church around the world. Rather, I am primarily thinking of "marks" as evidences -- some sort of outward sign or evidence that at least tips off an astute observer that the person is a follower of Jesus.

Within the general Christian population, there remains a deeply-rooted aversion to any kind of personal assessment that is dependant on "externals" such as appearance, language, or in some cases, even behavior.  Because God "looks on the heart" he isn't concerned about such things.  Or is he?  Jesus clearly taught that we would know a tree by it's fruits -- and he wasn't talking about literal trees, he was talking about us!

As part of what is now a well-known "Nooma" video, Rob Bell draws attention to an ancient Jewish proverb: "Follow a rabbi, drink in his words, and be covered with the dust of his feet."  In antiquity, disciples were known to follow so close, they would end up being covered in the dust of their teacher. But today, many people would be hard pressed to find any "dust", any evidence that professing Christians were, in fact, followers of Jesus Christ.

In the book of Acts we encounter a humble disciple, a servant of Christ and of widows, who stands as a powerful example of what it means to bear the marks of the Savior upon one's life.  That disciple is Stephen.  And Luke's record of his life and ministry (Acts 6:5-8:2) should inspire us all, for the correlations between Stephen-the-disciple and Jesus-the-Master are fascinating:

Download stephen_and_jesus.doc

Stephen is one of scripture's great examples of what a fully devoted follower of Jesus is like.  Stephen obviously bore the marks of Christ upon his life.  But what about us? How are OUR lives reflective of our Master, Jesus Christ?

Believe me when I say that there's one thing our world doesn't need any more of -- and that's korny "Christian" stuff that we try to be a witness with (e.g. hats, ties, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers).  That's not what I'm talking about here.  But what I AM talking about are the values, beliefs, decisions, and practices that would betray you and I as followers of Jesus.

This seems to be a touchy subject in today's culture -- a culture that still embraces the dualistic notion of a "private" life, separate from one's "public" life; with spirituality being part of one's private life.  Yet despite the privatized individualism that characterize our culture, the ancient scriptures continue to challenge us:

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?...Faith by itself, if it has no works is dead...Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?" (Jas 2:14,17,20  NRSV)

And so do the life and teachings of Jesus!  We see this by the way he reached out to the socially disenfranchised (e.g. John 4), the way he taught his disciples to go out and minister in his name (e.g. Matt 10), and the way he encouraged his followers to even go beyond what he had been able to do:

"Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father." (Jn 14:12, NRSV)

Here's the bottom line: being a follower of Jesus is not something we are meant to conceal. Jesus told his disciples they were the "light of the world", never to be hidden (Matt 5:14-16).  And before widespread persecution began to break out, early followers did in fact live their faith out in the open -- "And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade" (Acts 5:12, NIV). 

Living our faith out in the open does not mean we are called to be antagonistic or weird.  Those earliest Christians were not making a spectacle of themselves at the arena games or during festive parades.  Rather, they were meeting the needs of "anyone who had need," and were "enjoying the favor of all the people" (Acts 2:45,47). Even Stephen, who we have already mentioned, had a winsome quality about him (i.e. "full of grace and power", Acts 6:8).

Yet despite all of this -- the example of Stephen, that of the early disciples, and even the life and teachings of Jesus himself -- our world is hard pressed in finding "Christians" who have the marks of Jesus upon their lives. And it's certainly not because the world is not interested in Jesus.  By and large, Jesus they like!  It's "Christians" (and thus Christianity) they have doubts about. 

The risk I take in drawing attention to this plight is that it chooses not to focus on the truly wonderful things that are happening in the lives of believers and within certain communities of faith all over the globe. But especially here in the United States, the presence of "exceptions" does not lessen the tragedy observed throughout our nation.  Too many "Christians" are Christian in name or profession only.  They simply fail to bear the marks of Christ upon their lives.

But "which" marks are most needed?  Which evidences -- identifying us as devoted followers of Jesus -- does our world most yearn for and need?  Of all the things that marked and characterized the life and ministry of Jesus, which ones should his disciples most commit themselves to?  Which marks would you like to see more evidence of in your own life?


I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


picture credit: Google images


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I'll go with two: incarnation and graciousness. We ought to fully live in and with the community around us. And we ought to lavish overflowing grace on that community.

I am going to say unconditional love and being non-judgmental. I believe that as we love people where they are at and do not put them down, many people will come to know Jesus Christ as their Personal Savior and they will also see Jesus in us.


Good comment. I have wrestled with the thought of the community issue. I recently moved to a new area and have thus begun the horrid "church search." Rather than drive miles and miles to find the "perfect" church (and we have done that, whew!), where everyone may be like-minded-and-worship-just-like-me, I'm drawn to the local church. Maybe even one I would never have considered (Catholic,) because this is where my "neighbors" are, literally. In our calling to love our neighbors, is it wise to ignore this literal meaning of neighbor? I wonder if Christians filled the local churches and truly loved these neighbors with Christ's transforming love, despite differences, would we bear greater fruit? I think this would be "bearing the mark" for me.

The laying down of our lives ...

I think we need to wear Mercy, Grace, and Love.
I've heard people say that since the Church was for the body of Christ, they didn't have to worry about what people outside the Church thought about them. One said, "I sick of people saying that it is the Hypocrites in the church that are keeping people from being saved...if they are meant to be saved they will be, it's the Holy Spirit's business, not mine" Others ask, who cares what the "world" thinks of us. I say, we are supposed to care. It is our job to care.


I think that if you go with your instinct then you will truely grow. The mindset of current Christianity here is a consumerist mindset where people shop for a church to get the best deal. Steven's mindset was that of a servant. literally! He was a deacon! A waiter.

I believe that if you go to your catholic church and ignore the desire to get what you can from them and instead go there to contribute to the Kingdom, then you will really recieve something directly from God. Because then you will really understand Steven. Otherwise you never will.

When you get to the local Roman church, it may be a horrible situation, or it might be OK. I would say as long as it is able to limp along and that they affirm the Nicean Creed then go for it. If they are saying that Christ is *NOT* the only way to heaven, then you have nothing in common. Because you dont have Christ in common.

Maryellen said: "Others ask, who cares what the "world" thinks of us. I say, we are supposed to care. It is our job to care."

Interestingly, Paul has judged in your favor:

If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer,[a] he desires a noble task. 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5(If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11In the same way, their wives[b] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

- - -

Unfortunately, I believe in the new 'seeker sensitive churches', they end up trying to accomodate the World or reorient the church for inquirers. Maybe what you are seeing is a reaction to that.

One reason why more and more people are pursuing their spiritual lives in places OTHER than in the Church, is because the people they see attending church seem to have the same problems and aren't any better off than the people they know outside the church.

I completely disagree with this statement. I believe that it's not about 'living better' but being real and authentic. I really like the Casting Crowns song "Stained Glass Masquerade". Very seldom do I see anyone at 'church' confessing anything like sin, or problems or asking for help. We still shoot our wounded.

The Christian Faith is not about changing Bad people to Good people. Or about making Ugly folk Beautiful folk.

It's about Reconciling us to the Father and taking that which was Dead (us) and making us Alive. If we had transparency, vulnerability and love in the buildings, where we cared about one another Sunday thru Saturday, well.. couldn't build a room to house the Church.

There must be some signs that people read as evidence of being a "good Christian." A number of strangers have accused me of being such. I have never been rude enough to disabuse them of this notion. So perhaps the focus should be first to identify the markers people are already reading.

"I believe that it's not about 'living better' but being real and authentic."

Seraphim, must these be seen as mutually exclusive? Just wondering out loud here. My hunch is that ordinary people in our world do value authenticity, but what I was suggesting was that ordinary people could often use some help or encouragement or hope regarding the problems and challenges in their lives. Why should they turn to "Christians" if their only encounters with "Christians" have left them disappointed by what they've seen (or failed to see)in their lives?

Your point about our still shooting our own wounded is sadly still true. If we are failing at helping each other, how in the world can we succeed in helping the world around us? Lord, have mercy.

It is interesting that no one has mentioned any the common "measurable" qualities of being a good Christian that is often popular with Barna and others. (To which I say "Hurray and Amem.") The church in the 20th Cen. has too often used cultural indicators to judge Christians and non-Christians. As I long as I don't go to R rated movies, don't cuss (words are culturally relative symbols), don't drink, don't gamble (too much?), go to church 3 X's a week, then who cares about extending grace and forgiveness to others.

I see that many people are looking for more than superficial evidence but unwilling truly "seek" the kingdom in desperation. I personally see more grace extended in AA meetings then many churches and that is a sad commentary on the church.

However, even my comments drift toward a lack of grace for those who seem to show little grace themselves. Catch 22? Perhaps, and then it just shows that I have a lot of ambivalence in my belief system along with a tendency to be too critical. Praise God that Jesus still died and lives for this foolish man.

In Christ,
Mark Eberly

Bald Man -- I especially liked this:

"And we ought to lavish overflowing grace on that community."

This would change everything.

"I believe that as we love people where they are at and do not put them down, many people will... see Jesus in us."

Michelle, why do you suppose so many Christians don't get this?

glad you do, though! :)

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