When I started out as a fiery young prophet in Bible college at Lee University, I was convinced that unless you believed exactly like I did on even the most hair splitting of issues, you were quite possibly destined for the eternal fires of hell.
And why not?
I had the Bible. And I had the Holy Spirit living in me. So all I needed to know that I was in the truth, and that you were in error, was simply to read the Bible and then turn inward to find out what was true and what was not. So, if I did that, and you didn't agree with me, well then "bless God," (as us Southerners sometimes say) something was clearly wrong with you! The fate of your eternal soul must be hanging in the balance, and it was my job to make sure you got on my side of the fence lest you perish.
I'm guessing most of us can probably identify with this story. Either, because you've been "that guy" before, or because you've known someone else who was a lot like me (and some of you who read my blog knew me when I was this guy!).
But one day something inside me changed.
One day God showed up in a pretty significant way. And He did so through some of the people I thought were walking a dangerous tight rope over the very fires of hell. All of a sudden I was startled as I discovered something of the Jesus living in me was also living in some of these very same people. At that time, "my heart was strangely warmed," (to echo the words of John Wesley).
And I experienced a change. No longer did I look at these men as possible enemies, but I saw them for who they truly were all along, they were my brothers and sisters in whom Christ dwelled.
Since then as I have grown more and more in my faith, I've begun to realize that the truth of Jesus Christ living in me is not as important as the truth that Jesus Christ is living in other people.
Don't get me wrong, the indwelling presence of Christ, "Christ in you, the hope of glory!" is a very important truth that we all need to grasp and realize as Christians. But we need to grow up from this basic doctrine.
I believe our evangelical expression of the faith has made far too much of this theology, and as foundationally important as it is, it has almost become a doctrine that has crippled us instead of a doctrine that has equipped us.
Yes, Jesus is alive and well in me... but Jesus is also alive and well in a lot of other people.
And as such, I need to be looking to see Him and hear Him in the lives of other people just as much as I am looking for Him inside of me. "The witness" I find confirmed in me I need to look for in others as well. For Jesus is just as much inside of them as He is me.
Therefore, the moment I stop looking to see and hear Jesus in other people is the moment is the moment that I become a danger to myself and others. Not only in the sense of thinking just about everyone besides me is a heretic in the making, and treating them like it, but also in the sense that I am cutting off from myself the opportunity to truly serve others in the body of Christ, and to also be served by them.
Jesus stressed the importance of us grasping this truth. So much so that in the judgment to come, Jesus said we will be judged by how we treated others whom Christ was found to be in:
"I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in...." (Matthew 25:35, NASB).
While there is an undeniable inward focus of our faith, and the need for us to have a personal relationship with God, this relationship only exists as a starting point in our faith. The doctrine of "Christ in you" was never meant to turn you into a prophetic hermit, or to be a doctrine by which you were suddenly empowered to overwhelmingly conquer whatever addictions or personality hang-ups you have going on in your life (although there is truth to that).
Rather, the doctrine of "Christ in you" was always designed by God to turn out outward instead of inward. It was designed by God to make you think twice about how you interact with others and how you treat them. Instead of treating others as deplorably and ignorable, the doctrine of "Christ in you" was designed by God to compel you to start thinking about "the least of these," and actively seeking them out as someone to serve. It was meant to change our focus from that which is inward to that which is outward.
As a result, folks like me should be motivated to play the fiery young prophet role a little less often, and become more like the men and women who have faithfully served Christ by washing the saints' feet.
Is there still a time and place to take bold stands for the truth, to confront an erring apostle Peter with his hypocrisy, and to be a voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the ways of the Lord? Absolutely. Are there times in which we must look inward to summon up incredible Sampson like strength to overcome adversity? Yes!
But such things are few and far in between. They should not be everyday occurrences. What should be something of much more frequency is how often we find ourselves bowed before another, in humble and quiet service, seeing the face of Jesus in others, and tending to them even as we would if it were the Lord Himself. For in truth, through them, we are caring for the Lord himself.
But if all we do is think about the Jesus living inside of us, we will never see Him, even if He is right before our very eyes.