Don’t Just Be a “Doer”; Be a “Be-er”

I can cook some things. This is a skill I have learned over the last 25 or so years, and frankly, it’s been hard fought with lost of mistakes. My wife can tell you about the early days of our marriage when I thought margarine was the same thing as vegetable oil and produced a pretty slimy pot of mac and cheese. My kids can tell you about the time I confused baking powder with baking soda and made a gnarly batch of gritty pancakes. And the list goes on.

But now? Well, now I can cook a few things. But even now when I cook things, I do so while looking at a recipe. And I follow it. Religiously. And that’s one of the differences between me, and someone who is a much more accomplished chef.

A chef might glance at a recipe, but they also have a feel for ingredients. A palette honed to know what spice is needed and at what quantity. A feel for temperature and a knack for combining textures. They know this not only because they have practiced and focused for much longer than I have; they also know this because they probably have more natural talent than I do.

In other words, there is a difference between someone who can cook and someone who is a chef. There is a difference between someone who can do, and someone who is.

And this is an important thing to keep in mind when we come to a well known passage like Acts 1:8. Here is a passage, along with the Great Commission in Matthew 28, that has set the trajectory of the Christian witness and missionary enterprise for 2,000 years. Acts 1:8 is also a kind of summary statement of the Book of Acts as a whole, as we see the early church expanding in concentric circles from Jerusalem, to Judea, then to Samaria, and then to the ends of the known world. But let’s for a moment consider not only what Jesus did command these early disciples to do; let’s consider what he didn’t tell them to do:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

So what didn’t Jesus tell them to do? Technically, He didn’t tell them to do anything. He told them to be something.

He didn’t tell them to witness; He told them to be His witnesses.

Now you might argue that this is splitting hairs, because after all, the result is the same, right? That whether they witness or whether they are His witnesses, they are still meant to share the gospel both far and wide. True enough. And yet recognizing this difference helps us understand not only the weight of Jesus’ command, but also the true depth of what has happened to us in the gospel.

See, when we believe the gospel, it’s not just that our trajectory is changed, although it is. We were headed to hell, and now we are headed to heaven. But something deeper has happened. Our very identity has been changed. We are new people, born again as a new self. We aren’t just going somewhere different; we are someone different.

And our behavior flows from that identity. As a Christian, choosing the way of godliness and holiness isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the thing that is consistent with our new identity. In that regard, the moments when we are walking most closely with the Lord, most surrendered to the Holy Spirit? Those are the moments when we are also acting most like our true selves. That’s a very different thing than Jesus ordering us to behave like someone we are not.

So here, in Acts 1, we don’t just find Jesus issuing a command to be followed regardless of whether we like it or not; we find a reminder that we are new people. Of a new kingdom. With a new identity. And as such, the act of witnessing is entirely consistent with who we’ve become.

Witnesses bear witness. It’s what they do because that’s who they are.

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