The costume was spectacular. The detail was amazing. I dressed; I tightened the belt and put on the boots. The flared trouser bottoms were just as I had seen in photographs and on the big screen. As I prepared to get ready to go on stage, I thought about how I would portray the character with a sense of reality. As I placed the wig on my head, something came over me, and I felt transformed as if I had become Elvis Presley himself, Live from Las Vegas.
It had not been the first time I had dressed as a particular character for this event. Each year my mother-in-law’s dance school would showcase the dancers at the recital held at the local theater. The annual recital had themes around which the music for the dances would be chosen, choreographed and performed. My role had both a practical perspective and added entertainment. With numbers of students dancing in several dances that required costume changes there was a need for some time delay between certain dances. With my stage partner we would carry the theme through comedic interaction and plain silliness and create a diversion from stage sets being moved and allow adequate time. One year I was the rogue computer H.A.L. from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and I was pushed around in a large box painted to look like a computer with only my head showing from within the monitor; another year I was ‘Bubba’ who looked very similar to Larry the Cable Guy but with a long black mullet and 25 children.
Each time I would don the costume I was transported into that character imagining what it would be like to truly be that person. I admit Elvis was one of the hardest for me, trying give my best impression while hindered by my Welsh accent. I knew I wasn’t Elvis or the other characters, but I would find myself getting carried away with the thought and took the pretense very seriously.
There are things that Christians do, they go to church, give money to both the local congregation and other charities. They volunteer in a variety of organizations; they help the poor, and they visit the sick and help people in need. They sing hymns, close their eyes during prayers and sit attentively through sermons, to name but a few. There are many that you could add to a list of things Christians do, and we could probably even start a list of what Christians look like, a list of ‘how Christians act.’ I have even seen a skit entitled ‘Stuff Christians Say.’ All of these can easily be replicated, and all have a level of truth about them but they are all still things that people, both those inside and outside of the church, would recognize as being ‘Christian stuff.’ The problem, however, is that none of these a Christian make.
Becoming a Christian has nothing to do with what we do or how we do it but simply receiving salvation as a gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As we have been recently reminded, it is Jesus + nothing = EVERYTHING. We cannot do the Christian thing and believe that we are Christian. We have to experience Christ for ourselves.
Paul writes to the churches in Galatia challenging them to understand and grasp the purity of the gospel, redirecting their faith experiences back to the simple truth of salvation by grace through faith alone. He recognizes that there has been some who have falsely taught them that they must do the ceremonial and ritualistic parts of the Jewish faith to really be considered as part of the kingdom of God. He clearly believes and is justified in his claims that they are wrong.
We cannot pretend to be a Christian and simply do things Christians do. We could look the part, dress the part, sound the part and act the part but not be a Christian. We must receive Christ through faith and experience true freedom.
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal whether we are truly free in Christ or simply pretending. Experience the joy of knowing and living in that difference.