Church On The Edge
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Church On The Edge

Doing or Being? That is the Question

Scripture teaches that the Christian life is an inside-out life. Philippians 2:13 tells us that God is at work within us, working with our will, prompting us to live lives pleasing to Him. The prophet, Jeremiah, distinguished between the Old Covenant, written on the stone tablets carved out of Mount Sinai, and the New Covenant, written on the hearts of believers.

I want you to think with me about what this means — as followers of Jesus, our focus should not be on doing but being.

It is so much easier to live by a list, following the rules, checking off our daily Christian duties than it is to allow the Spirit to work deep within our hearts, making us into the disciples Christ is calling us to be.

There are many examples of this difference between doing and being in the New Testament. I’d like to look at three that stand out to me.

First, there are the Pharisees, who constantly criticized Jesus for breaking the rules — healing on the Sabbath, touching lepers, and eating with sinners were some of the man-made rules Jesus broke.

I’d like to pause and say something about this. The Pharisees accused Jesus of violating the commandments of God. The truth is, what Jesus was rejecting was their faulty interpretation and application of scripture. Sadly, this same kind of thing is prevalent in the teaching of many pastors and churches today.

Jesus had an answer for his Pharisee critics. Quoting from the prophet, Hosea, he said, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13) These words of Jesus don’t do away with sacrifice or “doing.” They do, however, emphasize God’s inner work within our hearts, which focuses on “being.”

A second example of the difference between doing and being in the New Testament is seen in Martha’s criticism of her sister, Mary. Busy with preparations, likely for the evening meal, Martha is upset that her sister isn’t helping. Instead, Mary is “sitting at the feet of Jesus.” This is just another way of saying Mary is listening to Jesus’ teaching, which, by the way, was unheard of for women in that day.

When Martha complains to Jesus, the Lord tells her that all her “doing” is actually a distraction. She would be better off following the example of Mary, and instead of focusing on the food for the evening meal, give her attention to Jesus’ teaching, which is food for the heart. (Luke 10:38–42)

Finally, the example of the rich young ruler drives home the difference between those whose attention is given to keeping the rules or doing and those whose focus is on living from the heart or being.

“What am I still lacking?” This question, asked by the rich young ruler after asserting his lifelong faithfulness to the ten commandments, speaks volumes. He has kept all the rules, done everything on the checklist, but he knows he is still missing something.

Jesus responds to this young man’s question by telling him to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and “follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) Don’t get tripped up here by centering on the selling of possessions and giving to the poor. It’s obvious this young man has made an idol of his wealth. But the main point here is Jesus’ call to follow me.

The difference between doing and being is the difference between following a list and following a person; it’s the difference between a Christian life based on rules and a Christian life based on a relationship with Jesus through His Spirit, which lives within each of us.

An emphasis on doing may help us feel good about our discipleship, but it doesn’t really change us on the inside. “Being” transforms us into relational people, living from the heart and serving God with “the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5)

In Christ,




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Dan Armistead

Dan is the former pastor of Seoul International Baptist Church and Adjunct Professor at Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, Korea.