Yesterday, at the beginning of my sermon I made an announcement — and nobody who knows me believed it. In fact, they were so disbelieving that the visitors present didn’t believe it, either! (Is this any way to treat your pastor, I ask? :))
The announcement was very simple. I told people I’m a fan of Arsenal Football Club.
Now, my son is a fan of Arsenal, and they’ve heard me teasing him when they lose. So I guess I might be able to understand their disbelief. But then, I proved it.
From behind the pulpit, I took out an Arsenal shirt, and pulled it on. That should make it clear to everyone which team I’m supporting. Do you know, they still didn’t believe me? How far does a guy have to go? But I wasn’t done — I pulled out a replica sign of Arsenal’s stadium, and an Arsenal key-chain. Anyone who has that stuff must be a real fan, right? Who would have that kind of thing except a fan? I told them I’ve toured Arsenal’s stadium (do you know how much they charge for that?) and their team museum.
For some reason, they still didn’t believe me. You see, they know me, so they know it wasn’t real.
The things I showed them are things an Arsenal fan would have, and going to Arsenal’s stadium for a tour is the kind of thing an Arsenal fan would do.
But doing those things does not make an Arsenal fan.
Those are things an Arsenal fan does because he is a fan.
And anyone can do them, even someone who is not an Arsenal fan.
So they didn’t believe me, which I guess was ok. I took off the shirt, tossed it on the front row of seats, and said, “I’ll never do that again” — I’m not an Arsenal fan, saying so doesn’t change it, and neither does buying Arsenal stuff or going to an Arsenal place or watching Arsenal do what Arsenal does. I could even talk like an Arsenal fan and complain about the referees and it still wouldn’t make me an Arsenal fan!
Yesterday, we had a baptismal service. Baptism is something a Christian does, one of the most important things a new Christian does. But it doesn’t make you a Christian.
You can make an announcement that you are a Christian. You can buy “Christian” stuff, or put money in a “Christian” collection box, or say “Christian” kind of things. You can go to a “Christian” place and do a lot of things Christians do. None of that will make you a Christian, and really, anyone could do them, including someone who is not a Christian.
If I wanted to, I could keep up the facade for long enough to convince a lot of people, maybe even family and friends, that I cared about Arsenal Football Club, that I wanted them to win, that I had become a fan. I could read up on their players, and talk about them, and give every appearance of being an Arsenal fan, while secretly wanting Manchester United, or Chelsea, or even Tottenham (the greatest treachery? :)) to win.
If you want (and are reasonably intelligent) you can fake a decent version of Christianity. You can live a moral life, and you’ll have failings, but you can do pretty well most of the time. You can get baptised, read your Bible, even memorise large portions of it. You can go to church every time the doors open, put money in the collection, sing loudly during the services, and learn to pray like an orator (if not like a true believer). You might even convince people you are spiritual enough to preach or teach occasionally. Maybe you’ll even become a pastor.
You’ve got the team colours on, you’re waving the team banner, you’re in the right place and doing the right things with your money to fit the scenario you’ve created. Everyone is sure of who you are — except some wonder, because you’ll give the game away sometimes, or something will just be missing. No one lives a life of fraud perfectly, but you might fool most people most of the time.
It would be just about as pointless as pretending to be an Arsenal fan, because you’ll never fool God. If Christianity itself is fake, why pretend? If it is real, there is nothing more ridiculous than pretending to be a Christian.
These things are good and right things for Christians to do, because we love God and want to please Him. We know what He’s done for us, and He’s won our hearts — and when your heart is truly won, your behaviour follows. Christians are supposed to act like Christians.
But God knows whether your heart is His, or whether you are just putting on the team strip to try to look like something you aren’t. He knows. That’s like a young guy buying a girl flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day when he’s already told her he isn’t interested. She knows. What is the point?
Baptism, and the Christian life, have all the point in the world for those who have truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from their sin. If you WERE an Arsenal fan, you’d be glad to wear your Arsenal strip, to let people know who you are. That’s the way it is with Christians doing Christian things like baptism. It fits. It is real.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.