For far too long, Christianity has been defined by behavior. We love keeping spirituality on the basis of what we do and don’t do, because then we are in control of it. We can demand certain codes of conduct for our families and our Christian institutions. It’s plain and simple: a Christian looks like this, and we can hold up a model of behavior as a standard. So students at Christian colleges sign a pledge, as do staff members of churches and Christian businesses, that guarantees a certain code of conduct. That way pastors and administrators can assure a uniformity of Christian behavior, and keep the money flowing in from wealthy constituents who want to make sure everything looks good on the surface.
But as our dear friend Dave Roper pointed out, after encountering one of these pledges for a code of behavior, “I thought, having agreed to their restraints, I should then ask for the right to be arrogant, insensitive, harsh, spiritually indifferent, critical, troublesome and defensive. None of these issues were addressed by this organization’s rules.” That’s because these things have to do with character (or in this case, lack of it). But Jesus is far more concerned about issues of character than He is behavior, and character is built by trials, failure and brokenness. Give Jesus a group of smoking, drinking, card-playing, movie-going dancing idiots and He will change the world. Give Him a group of impeccably-behaved Christians who fall well within the code of ethics demanded by any Christian group and their pride will make them useless to Him. It’s the Pharisees against the sinners, and the sinners are the best messengers of the gospel of grace any day.
That’s because the issue is character, not conduct, and character issues from brokenness. This is why the truly happy people, in the deepest sense of the word — those who are “blessed” according to Jesus — are those who are described by the “Beatitudes” from the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes are just that: attitudes, not behaviors, and they are attitudes brought about by poverty of soul and loss.
Roper sums these up in the following way: “Those who are indwelled by and dependent upon the Spirit of Jesus are humble and self-effacing. They are deeply touched by the weakness and suffering of others. They are gentle and kind. They long for goodness in themselves and in others. They are merciful to those that struggle and fail. They are single-minded in their love for Jesus. They are peaceful and leave behind a legacy of peace. They are kind to those that ill-use them, returning good for evil.”
They have these attitudes because they have been humbled by life — by their own sin and need of a savior. They are recipients of God’s grace who can then turn around and give that grace to others. They are the epitome of Grace Turned Outward. They are the hungry, the thirsty, the poor in spirit. There is no code that applies to any of these people except the code of emptiness. You qualify for this group out of need, and if you qualify, welcome to the kingdom of God on earth.